Posted in Revision, Solas Travel Writing Awards, Writers' Groups, Writing Partners

3 Reasons to Join Writing Groups

Without the persistent support and serious critique of writing groups and partners throughout my writing career, starting in the early 1990s, I likely would not be a published author or had the success I’ve had to date. Groups and partners are necessary to the revision process of writing.

Let’s look at three reasons for getting feedback from other writers so we can revise with input and confidence.

Three Purposes of Receiving Feedback from Fellow Writers

ONE. Writing partners and groups offer support to the fragile souls of writers. Positive feedback is just as important as negative, if not more so. Partners and groups answering , “What do you like or what works for you as the reader?” lets the writer know what already enhances their piece.

Examples of feedback:

  • “The author’s work is paced so that it heightens the tension.”
  • “The audience is kept informed of details that keep the reader from stopping to ask ‘huh?’”
  • “The essay on forgiveness is a difficult and humbling topic, one needed in our public and private lives today. I commend the author for tackling the topic.”

TWO. Members of a writing group give brutally honest responses to another’s writing product — called constructive feedback. This gives the author a chance to listen and determine if the review feels on target or is deemed unimportant to their work.

Examples of feedback:

  • “The dialogue on pages 3-4 is clunky and extraneous and could be deleted without loss to the story.”
  • “The use of the adjective ‘really’ adds no value to a sentence, is overused, so can be eliminated throughout the story.”
  • “The sequence of events feels out of order. Perhaps placing the second event as the fourth will improve the logical occurrences of the scene.”

THREE. When a writer hears group members express what they are curious about or what they want more of in the story, it opens up possibilities. This often lets the writer find new scene-worthy material.

Examples of feedback:

  • “When the writer mentions rubies being found, is there a chance of other jewels being discovered in the treasure hunt?”
  • “As the author describes Hemingway’s life, what role do his four wives play in his literary career? ”
  • “When the protagonist fades from the scene, what is her emotional state? What physical ways can you show that?”

Writing Success through Publications and Awards

My most recent achievement was winning a bronze Solas travel writing award in “Elders” category for my story, “From the Back of the Van,” when traveling in Chiapas, Mexico with two friends.

My travel writing group is the backbone of my success. We take classes together and review each others’ work, going on about three years now. The group expands and contracts over time, but there are eight to fifteen of us, Zooming from San Diego to New York and all in between.

What’s remarkable is that ten of us placed in the Solas awards this year; last year, six of us. Solid proof that writing partners and groups work.

The Travelers’ Tales editors and this year’s guest judge Scott Dominic Carpenter announced the winners of the Seventeenth Annual Solas Awards for Best Travel Story of the Year on March 15, 2023. Scores of entries in 21 categories kept the judges busy. As usual, not every story that deserved an award received one. Here’s the complete list of winners. 

Winning stories will be posted on the Great Stories page and as Editors’ Choice stories on, and may appear in future Travelers’ Tales books. (Taken from the 17th Solas Awards Announcement page)

Travel is the Subject of my Two Books

Travel writing was not just aspirational, but a driving feature of my life and my work. At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away was my coming-of-age, travel memoir that follows me from a girl of ten to a young woman of twenty-seven. Travel experiences helped me grow up with a nuanced view of the world and a telling tale to gain self-confidence and agency as a result of my travels.

Novel writing grew from a dream one morning of a woman in a salwar kameez. It became the inspiration for Song of Myself, an historical novel, set in 1906 about a young horsewoman that traveled to India to sell her uncle’s quarter horses to the British Indian army for breeding.

Both book themes assert the transformative nature of building agency during travel, especially for women.

You can purchase each at Amazon as a paperback or an eBook.

Posted in Craft of writing, Editing & Revision, fiction, Revision, Writing exercises

Three Elements for Power-packed First Sentences

INTRODUCTION: Writers continue to learn the craft no matter where they are in their writing development. Recently, I read in the January 2022 issue of The Writer magazine an article by Alison Acheson, “In The Beginning: Three elements that create a strong opening sentence,” pages 26-29. First sentences draw the reader in and give them a sense of character, setting, and emotion. They carry a lot of weight to gain your readers interest and trust in your writing. The author suggests that there are three elements to carry that responsibility of reeling in the reader. Here is my take on reading her article. I hope you will reader her article.

Three Elements in First Sentences

CHARACTER: Readers want to have a sense of the main character(s). We may not know their names, but we know something about them that will show up again or throughout the novel.

SETTING: The first sentence will offer a sense of place, maybe a location, time in history, or an event.

EMOTION: This may be indirect or implied by the setting or action or event. We likely won’t be told in the first sentence what the emotion is, but the writer will hint at it. We will get a sense of it.


I’ll offer an example from Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms. I’ll give you the first sentence then I’ll dissect it to learn what Hemingway accomplished in using those three elements. Your take on it maybe somewhat different than mine, but that’s okay.

HEMINGWAY in Farewell to Arms. “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountain.”

CHARACTER: The word, “we,” implies two or more people. The rest of the sentence tells us that they live together in a house. My assumption before reading the book would be that it is a couple, which it is.

SETTING: “In the late summer of that year,” tells me it is about a point in time that we will learn more about later. But it happens in a season that is waning, which gives me the feeling that something is in decline, about to hibernate, or die.

The phrase, “a house in a village,” makes me think of a remote location, perhaps isolated.

The prepositional phrase, “across the river and plain,” again gives me the feeling of being in a valley far from the big picture, or where the action occurs.

Finally, the last expression, “to the mountain,” tells me they are looking to what is or might be happening on that mountain. Or perhaps it is just a goal, a wish, or even an illusion.

EMOTION: The setting has carried a lot of metaphorical and emotional weight of distance, foreboding, remoteness. A moment in time that might entail a connection, an affair, an event that does not bode well.


As you can see, Hemingway’s sentence deftly implies a decision by his main character’s to give up his arms to fight in World War I. The relationship between he and his lover is waning because they are looking at what they need and want, which is not each other.

What’s next in the coming weeks?

Look next week for another example taken from a narrative nonfiction classic. The next week another one from a short story; and finally the last week the example from my own novel, Song of Herself, to be published next year (soon I hope).

What about you?

Does this help you think about the first sentence in your story, novel or narrative nonfiction? Examine your first sentence and tell us what you find.

Posted in Craft of writing, Memoir writing, Revision, Travel Writing, Writing exercises, Writing Groups

Endings: The Power and Types of Endings

ENDINGS. Philip Lopate in To Show and To Tell talks about a typology of endings. Here are the kinds that he mentions. This is a summarized list and paraphrased in some cases by me. My travel writing group that meets every two weeks, discussed this list in our last Zoom time together. We are eager to use this list and see where it takes us in add the power and punch of a satisfying ending. Join us in discussing these through this blog post.

Step #1: Identify the type of ending you have used in one of your last stories. 

  1. An image (metaphorical or real)
  2. A pithy saying in a clever or humorous way
  3. A line of dialogue 
  4. A joke (use this one with care)
  5. A question
  6. A quote
  7. An ellipsis (…)
  8. A return of a refrain or a different spin on the phrase 
  9. A new insight
  10. A resolve
  11. A sigh, a shrug, a sudden mood change
  12. A platitude, ONLY IF it is humorous or non-preachy 
  13. A summary in the form of a series of semicolons
  14. Restating conflicting elements (ideas, images, thoughts, etc.) and how to live with them 
  15. ________________________________
  16. ________________________________
  17. ________________________________

Step 2: Develop multiple endings to your next story by trying several of these types of endings. 

Step 3: Choose three of your favorite endings you have written. Think through those and select the most impactful for your story.

Step 4: Add to these types of endings overtime from your own experience and from your reading of others work.

Which ones have you used? Which ones would you like to use in the future? Which ones have you added to this list? I’m curious to learn what you think about the types of endings to our stories.

Posted in Craft of writing, Revision, Writing exercises

Edit your own Writing

Are you ever in a crunch when you don’t have time for your writing group to critique your work? Working on your own and your client says your work sounds too repetitious? Wish you could see the problems in your own work that you see in other’s? Then this post is a first step for you.

Editing your own writing—to find the problems and develop solutions for them—is work. Often, revision is not considered the fun part of writing, but it can be when we see the results of our hard-won success.

While teaching a writing course this month, I have included an assessment of our sentence structures. This will help us see the multiple ways we start sentences and how we can add variety to our sentences and paragraphs to improve readability.

I decided to apply the assignment for my students to my own work as an illustration. When I did that, I saw my example essay still needed revision. So I went to work to get it ready for submission to publications.

Let me offer the assignment and then two paragraphs from my illustrative essay. One paragraph is varied, so I will not make changes; on the other hand, the second one needs work.


Analyze each paragraph in your story to see if your sentences start in a variety of ways to create interest for the reader.

  1. Subject-verb structure. EX. He walked away. She ran to town.
  2. Prepositional phrase. EX. For too long, we’ve put up with this. With that said, I left.
  3. Transition word. EX. However, I concede. Subsequently, the lady gave in. 
  4. Gerund or “-ing” word. EX. Hunting for shoes, I found a new dress.
  5. Conjunction phrases. EX. While shopping for shoes, I found a dress. Because life is difficult, we stumble on.
  6. Incomplete sentences. EX. Right on time. Never again. For the cause.


This paragraph is taken from a story when I was fifteen-years-old, trying to find the right souvenir to take home to my mother from my first trip abroad.

Finally, my eyes land on world globes. One would mean a lot to Mom because we study missions at church. Like her, I enjoy learning geography by studying the world map and learning about other cultures by reading about missionaries in other countries. Mom has rarely been outside of Arkansas—me either until now.

Assessment of sentence variety for purposes of revision (3 of the 6 types of sentence starts)

  • Sentence #1 Transition word or phrase
  • Sentence #2 Subject/verb
  • Sentence #3 Conjunction word or phrase
  • Sentence #4 Subject/verb


The following paragraph also is taken from the same story.

Some globes stand on the floor; others sit on tabletops. The globes look like they were made from old-world parchment, like expensive antiques. The wooden stand in which one sets would suit our house—and Mother. She will smile when she pulls it out of the box and exclaims, “I love it.”

Analysis (1 of the six ways to start sentences–pretty boring)

  • Sentence #1 Subject/verb
  • Sentence #2 Subject/verb
  • Sentence #3 Subject/verb
  • Sentence #4 Subject/verb


There are infinite ways to make the revisions, but here is one attempt to add variety to my sentence structures in a single paragraph.

While a few globes stand on the floor; others sit on tabletops. Leaning toward the latter, I like the ones that have an old-fashioned, weathered look. The maple wood frame in which one sits would suit our house. And suit Mother. I can imagine her opening it. After prying open the box, she’ll pull it out and look at me to exclaim, “I love it.”

Assessment of sentence variety (5 of the 6 types of sentence starts–and less boring)

  • Sentence #1 Conjunction
  • Sentence #2 Gerund (-ing word)
  • Sentence #3 Incomplete sentence
  • Sentence #4 Subject/verb
  • Sentence #5 Preposition


That’s the fun of revision, to make your writing easier to read for your audience.