Your Weekly Writing Exercise
 My latest writing exercise to inspire and encourage your creativity.

May 8
, 2020
"Great content on this blog. 
Great tips!" 
"The only weekly blog I read--always great ideas and approach." 
Join me for a writing workshop on Zoom!

May 15, 12-5, $87.50

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June 13, 10-5

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Online classes 

Your Book Starts Here:  Learn to Storyboard Your Book!

(4 weeks in June; details coming soon)


Week-long writing and story boarding intensive
on beautiful 
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July 20-24
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Small group learning, workshop and coaching daily plus time to write, lots of personal help with your book at any stage.  Plus the beauty of Madeline Island.

(Private coaching)
July 20-24
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Deep into your project?  Craving time to write and think without interruptions?  But you'd also benefit from daily private coaching from an experienced published writer and teacher?  Choose the Independent Study option and cu stomize your week  to fit your book's needs right now.  Includes option to attend workshops and feedback on your writing.  

"Since taking classes with you, I've tried a couple of work-shopping classes with other teachers.  It's just not the same.  I have not yet found anyone of your caliber.  
"You are generous
with your time, so thoughtful and insightful in knowing just what type of comments will move writers forward, and obviously knowledgeable
about book structure. Whatever it is you are doing to create such a supportive online community is NOT the norm.  No other online class I've taken has come close to creating the kind of support
I've felt in
your classes." 
--L.B., Boston
"How to bake a book:
  Start with a big love of words, add a generous helping of  
Mary Carroll Moore,  
mix with leavening from your peers, knead vigorously
for twelve weeks,
and voila!  
Your book has risen!"

 --Eric Utne, founder of Utne Reader and past attendee of Mary's classes
Laptop photo by Allie Smith, Upsplash 

"The best writing book I've ever used."  --P.W. ,CA

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 I love hearing from readers!  If you have a question about writing or book structure, email me at mary[at]marycarrollmoore [dot]com and I'll happily respond in a blog post.  (To read any posts you missed, visit my award-winning website: www[dot] marycarrollmoore[dot]com.)
Creative Resistance to Hard Times--Guest Blog by Author Ellen Prentiss Campbell

Ellen Prentiss Campbell's Known By Heart: Collected Stories , appeared May 1 (Apprentice House Press). In 2016 her debut novel The Bowl with Gold Seams (Indy Excellence Award for Historical Fiction) and her story collection Contents Under Pressure  (National Book Award nominee) were published. Ellen's home in Washington D.C., hosting an online book group for children, writing essays, reading War and Peace and mysteries, and making soup. 

I've invited her to share her view on creativity and Covid times, as her new book launches.  

Looking back, we see the signs. It was coming for us, not reserved for others, not restricted to Over There. But denial is a powerful force. The pandemic arrived stealthily, catching most of us absorbed in routine. Startling us, kidnapping us, blowing away our routine, our assumptions, our plans. The lights went out on Broadway; the stay-at-home mandates swept across the land. Even if we were lucky and healthy, we were hostages, grieving lost expectations, fearful, and uncertain.

Personally, and professionally as a former psychotherapist (one of those occupations, like being a writer, that is part of you forever), I've often seen how new loss re-awakens past grief. And I know, especially as a writer, that when grief brings us to our knees, it cracks us open--and that can spark creative resistance. But now, even if we are lucky and only our psychic immune system is under chronic attack, it takes effort to push back, to live on, to write on.

The global scope and uncertain term of this pandemic crisis are new to most of us, but elements of the experience are familiar. We need to remember and reclaim our prior coping mechanisms as writers. If we are among the fortunate (and so many are not), if we have sufficient health, shelter, and resources, perhaps already an impulse to work, to write begins to rise up from the deep well of this dark time. But if sorrow, anxiety, and tedium are draining us, we can take some seemingly simple steps, to prime the pump.

I am re-discovering this, reminded of what compelled me to write after many years of reflective, responsive listening as a therapist: the twin towers fell on 9/11 and then my parents, coincidentally, died soon after. I have realized since that those conjoined events blasted routine and expectations, shocked me back to writing. I see now, looking back over almost twenty years, how those events and earlier ones are continuous threads woven into all my work: my first collection of stories, my debut novel, my novel in progress, my new collection of stories. Continuous, intertwined threads, themes of love and loss, life and death, resistance and resilience, run through my writing, as well as what I love to read.
So now again, as writers, we must prime the pump, start our creative resistance flowing. How? Here are a few recipe tips if you will, that have helped me.
First, reclaim routine writing time--structure and habit help. Morning or evening, whatever works for you.
At bedtime, before I could read or write, my parents prompted, What was the best thing that happened today; tell me the worst thing that happened today? They took down my dictation in what became a first journal, teaching me the power of putting experience into words. That's where it still begins. Journal. Do your daily pages, or one page if that's all you can manage--or one line. Start small, let this be the season for haiku not epic poetry, flash fiction not novel. First and foremost, just connect, connect with the page.
And if you are too worried and weary to even put pen to paper, to touch the keyboard? Ease yourself into writing with another creative act.
Make soup.
Years ago, I listened to Maya Angelou talk to a small group of us. She was a big voice, a warm presence in a cozy living room. What about writer's block? someone must have asked--I don't remember the question, but have never forgotten her answer.
"Make soup."

She explained that once it's cooking, once that aroma fills the rooms, it will remind you, prove to you, that you can nourish yourself, and be creative, even in a bad time.

I remembered her advice, last month--stuck, stymied--when a friend shared a poem by Elena Mikhalkova. She's a Russian writer, unfamiliar to me, apparently known more for mysteries than poetry until "The Room of Ancient Keys" began to circulate on social media. Here's a small taste, a sample of her grandmother's tips for getting through difficult times:          

Do what you have to do, but little by bit.
Don't think about the future, not even what might happen tomorrow. Wash the dishes.
Take off the dust. Write a letter.  [ ... ]
Make some soup. [...]
And time will come when you can think about the future without crying. Good morning.
                       --Elena Mikhalkova
Make soup. I tried it, Maya Angelou and Elena Mikhalkova's recipe. I prepared my favorite minestrone. Diced the carrots, potatoes, celery, green beans, cabbage. Added them to the pot, with the (canned) broth, tomatoes, beans. Let it bubble all day.

And while it percolated and perfumed the apartment, I wrote a letter to someone I care about. We speak rarely, email occasionally. There is something magic about putting pen to paper. I stamped and sealed the envelope. Next, I printed out an essay, promised months ago and never finished. I began again, from the beginning, from before all of this. Revising, which means of course Re-visioning.

It was a good morning.

You can read more about Ellen's new book and her writing on her website
Refining Your Writing Space for Sheltering at Home

One of my favorite writing treats when life seemed normal was an afternoon at our local coffee shop. Surrounded by a dozen others, all plugged into their laptops and earbuds, we wrote.  Sun came in the big windows, I sank into my leather chair, and I sipped a new choice of tea in the coffee shop's huge mugs.    

I wrote at home too, when my family was out of the house.  But mostly at the coffee shop.  I was insanely productive there, even with the music and crowd and cramped space.

Then my coffee shop went to take-out only. For the first month of Covid life, my writing stalled completely, so I didn't even miss the coffee shop.  After a month, I began missing my story. But where to write? 

I began asking other sheltering-at-home writers what they did.  Most found it hard to suddenly have company around, trying to create at the kitchen table while spouse worked in the guest bedroom/office and kids played in the living room.  A casual question from a passing family member could derail the thought train for the day.  Some succeeded with good earbuds.  Others, needing to be more unobserved, suffered.

I'm lucky enough to have a home office.  A  sunlit and pleasant room, it has a door and plenty of privacy.  But it's where I teach, edit, and coach other writers, where I get immersed in other people's writing.  Not my own.  It's not set up as a creative space.  

I thought about options.  The bedroom was one.  A cozy chair by the window alcove, my laptop on its EMR lap board, the door closed.  That worked for a few writing sessions.  Another was my office but away from my desk--using a stand-up counter above a low bookshelf.   A third just opened up:  our screened porch.  It's still April chilly most days, typical of New England, but soon I can use it.  

All this searching led me to ask:  What's really essential to creativity?  How can I adapt, what do I absolutely need?

1.  I need a sense of privacy. To lose myself in my writing means being unobserved.  This can't easily happen within a sheltering family, but I can negotiate.  Put up the do-not-disturb sign for an hour or two if agreed in advance.  

2.  Sound controlled by me.  I don't need quiet, just white noise, be that other people's blurred-out conversations in the coffee shop or no-words music.  Earbuds worked well.  Even when I didn't listen to music, just blocked ambient noise.  

3.  I really prefer a very comfortable chair and laptop on lapboard or a stand-up desk to my office desk and chair.  Best of all, having my feet up.  Or if I get the rare moment alone in the house, using a the dining room table to spread out story notes and storyboard.

For fun, here are a few links to read about writing spaces preferred by well-known writers.  They are so varied, which confirms that our search for creative space during Covid times will be quite individual.  I wish you all good results from your journey.

If any of the links don't work, go to the sponsoring website and search for the topic.  Enjoy the cool photos, too!

From The Write Life:  Where 9 creative writers do their best work.

From Writing Cooperative:  100 famous authors and their writing spaces.
Ways to Inch Back into Writing--If You've Stalled Out (Some Good Habits to Test Out during a Pandemic)

I subscribe to Jane Friedman's excellent newsletter and her recent article, "Writing from the Bottom Rung." by guest writer Lisa Cooper Ellison hit home (if the link doesn't work, go to her website and search her blog for that title).  

Jane discussed Maslow's hierarchy of needs: the bottom rung is food, shelter, and warmth, the top is self-actualization, where creativity happens.  

Online Connection--How to Find Your Virtual Writing Tribe While Sheltering at Home

One of my students emailed me this week with a good question.  He's been part of a writing group and loved the social and creative time.  But now that he's sheltering from home, he wondered what else was available for writers?

So I'm running a past post this week, sharing my tips on how to find your virtual tribe.  Hope they are helpful to those of you self-isolating and looking for writerly companionship.

Making Time for Writing When You Have Nothing to Do

Last week I taught my first Zoom class to five writers from across the U.S. when our weeklong retreat in Santa Fe was cancelled thanks to Covid.  Three were working on memoirs, two on novels, all in progress.  Each day, we gathered to learn and inspire each other virtually.  I read their writing and offered feedback.  They were patient as I practiced intricacies of teaching remotely.  I think we all learned a lot.

Our final Zoom meeting was especially heart-opening.  

Three Practices to Keep Creatively Healthy Right Now

I'm back to writing this week.  You may not be, yet.  I've heard from a steady stream of students and coaching clients and many are still stalled out, unable to resume a book project.  Life in its new normal demands ridiculous amounts of time.  A recent foray to shop for produce took five hours out of my day, given the protective gear, the controlled shopping experience, the time to clean everything when I got home.

It's understandable, too, that fear for self, family, friends, the world can prevent any creativity.  Who has time or energy for it?  And is it really that important, in the face of all that's happening?

Interview Your Characters:  Character Lists Coax Them Out of Hiding 

In one of my favorite, easy-read, writing-craft book, Write Away, mystery author Elizabeth George talks about her writing process as she begins a new book.  She first writes detailed ideas about the plot.  She also researches the setting, often with trips to the location she's thinking of using.  And she always puts together a character list.

Are We There Yet?  How to Tell When Your Book Is  Really Done

Each book I write, I struggle with this question.  And I'm not alone.  Even with many publications behind me, it's incredibly difficult to tell when a book is really done.  

There is an end point.  Truly.  Part subjective, part objective. But it can be confusing or depressing en route to that place.  One of my students recently questioned whether her book could ever be ready. "Some ideas may not be worth the effort or the money," she told me.

Benefits of a Writing Group or Writing Partner--How They Can Improve Your Writing (and What to Watch Out For)

Some writers create in a vacuum.  But most artistic types need human contact, if only for reality checks.  Writing groups and writing partners have been a foundation for my creative life for decades.  If you don't belong to such a collaboration, consider it!  It's nearly impossible to make serious headway as a writer without constructive feedback.

Reading Your Writing Aloud--How It Gives You the Necessary Distance for Revision

Revising a book requires distance.  Ideally, the writer has to detach enough from the emotional content of the writing, or the love of her characters, to "hear" the story as a reader would.  

Revising without this distance usually means we repeat ourselves.  We run the same track over and over.  

Maybe words get tweaked.  But  the overall sense of the story doesn't change that much.

Staying Authentic with Your Intentions as a Writer--Not Always Easy?

I had a very lucky and much too fast beginning as a published author.  My first book, now long out of print, was a huge success--the press's best seller and winner of a prestigious award.  I was in my twenties, busy with a new  relationship and a new business, and fairly ignorant about what was happening.  It was just a fast train, I was on it, and I didn't know the writing life could be any different.  That first book landed me an agent who helped me with several others.  Out of it came  a nationally syndicated column and good income for a number of years.

Really Good Creative Writing Prompts--for Exercising Your Inner Author

This week I've been teaching on retreat at MISA West, Tanque Verde Ranch, in the beautiful Rincon Mountains outside Tucson. Along with the workshops and coaching each day, I always offer creativity-stretching sessions before dinner. A perennial favorite at these retreats is freewriting hour.  

Setting Writing Goals for the New Year:  Three Different Approaches

I'm a goal setter by nature, so I enjoy the chance each new year to look at what I've accomplished in the past twelve months and think about where I'd like to be with my writing in the next twelve.  I've learned not to be too rigid with my writing goals: I don't know what I don't know, after all, and I may need to correct my direction if new ideas or information arrives midcourse.  

Too Slow? Too Fast? How Are You Communicating? (And How to Tell When Your Pacing Is Off)

Storytelling is all about communication, right? You, the writer, have something to say. Ideally, you present it in a way that's authentic to you but also communicates to your readers exactly the meaning you're after. 

If you "talk" your story too fast, readers can miss the point.  Just like in real conversation, they may start to get confused or irritated, or disconnect entirely.

If you "talk" too slow, same problem.  They'll skip sections.  Ever do this yourself, when reading?  You know what I mean.

How to Help Your Manuscript Submission Stand Out--Being Part of a "Discourse Community"

I often refer clients and students to Jane Friedman, clearly one of the most savvy publishing gurus out there today.  Friedman is the former publisher of  Writer's Digest magazine, and author of
The Business of Being a Writer, a primer on publishing that every hopeful author needs to read.

A Cool Character-Building Exercise from Comic-Artist Lynda Barry 

January is often a good time to shake up the writing routine, examine different ways of approaching recurring problems in your book, get inspiration from those who bust the barrier, which is why last week's post from Mo Willems got me thinking about publishing in a new way.

Best-Selling Children's Book Author Shares How He Busted Tradition and Won Anyway

Winner of three Caldecott Medals (the best win in kid lit), Mo Willems was rejected some billion times (his words) by publishers who said his work was "too unusual."  

Getting Away from Your Life to "Entrain" at a New Level:  Benefits of a Writing Retreat or Class Away from Home

Winter is the time of year when I think about entrainment.  Entrainment, as it pertains to the writer's life, is the art and science of learning by proximity to writers who are working at a higher level than you.  It's skill by osmosis, by community.  For me, it's an absolute necessity.

Explicit or Implicit Interiority?  How Much Should You Show or Tell about Your Characters' Inner Lives?

Interiority or "internals" is a fancy way to describe the reader's view into your characters' thoughts, feelings, and inner lives.  Some genres require a lot of this (memoir), some much less (thrillers).  Interiority is what makes a character real to the reader.  Skilled writers reveal interiority in several ways.  It's important to know what your genre requires and how to plant and build the interior lives, without having them slow the momentum of the story.

Can You Use Real Place Names in Your Novels? Can You Fictionalize Details?

Maggie is writing a novel about a group of people living in a made-up place, based on a real location.  She faced a dilemma this month about how much freedom she has, as a fiction writer, to use real places in her story. 

"The reader knows my novel takes place in Minnesota," Maggie told me. "I want to reference lakes, counties and towns that one of the characters--a realtor--covers.  These places are my real-world reference points."  

Finding a Writing Group or Writing Partner--From Afar (Online and On Demand)

Nikki, who travels a lot, took one of my writing workshops and recently emailed me with a great question:  how do you find a writing group or writing partner when you can't physically meet regularly?

Wisdom from the Irreverent Anne Lamott--on Writing and the Writer's Life

We all need inspiration.  Writing can be a solitary, even lonely, process, often discouraging.  Thanks to my student Mary for this excellent inspiration break from the always-inspiring Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird and many other books.  She shares her wisdom in this TED talk.  Enjoy.  (And take notes!)  I promise it'll give you writing fuel if you're even a wee bit stuck this week.

Link is here.  If it doesn't work, go to and search for her name.
Should You Pursue Your Manuscript--Or Set It Aside--After Multiple Rejections (AKA Who Are You Writing This For?)

One of my students from Canada recently contacted me after the third small press rejected her memoir manuscript.  The publisher was seriously interested but, after some thought. changed his mind.  The press offered detailed feedback--in itself an encouragement--which she appreciated.

The Confusing World of Copyrights and Permissions--A Brief Overview for the New Author

Although I don't recommend spending much time on the legal aspects of publishing until you are close to that long-awaited time, there are some good rules of thumb to know about.  Here are a few questions I get regularly.

On Hooks and Other Excellent Ways to Start Your Story

When I was shopping my first novel, Qualities of Light, to publishers, along with the rejections, I received an incredibly valuable piece of advice:  start the story later.  

Organizing Your Book:  How I Learned to Love Scrivener 

Books become unweildy fast.  Unlike a poem, essay, or short story, a book may generate thousands of pages by the time it's revised down to three hundred and fifty.  Most writers don't realize or remember this when starting a new book.  But after a few revisions, there's just too much to keep track of.

I get this question in most of my classes:  how do you organize your book-in-process? 

Layers of Time in Fiction and Memoir:  How Does a Writer Weave Past, Present, and Future into Scenes without Creating Too Much Exposition?

Your scenes have voltage, electric current, for readers.  But in most novels and memoirs, there are layers of electricity, because there are layers of time.  We move between past, present, and future in our real lives all the time, even more so on the page.  One of those times will have the most electricity, and it's good to know that.  But how do you bring in the less-alive times and make sure the reader knows enough about them, without delivering too much exposition?

How Do You Create Section Breaks--the White Space Pause--in Your Chapters or the Whole Book?

A great question, simple but important, this came my way from a former student who is working on the first draft of her memoir.  When you construct chapters, when you look at the book as a whole, you do have the option to give the reader small moments of pause, usually created with a few paragraph returns and white space (in chapters) or a couple of blank pages (in the larger book).  

What are the rules around doing this?  How often, and why?

Creating Believable Characters on the Page--Tips for Fiction and Memoir Book Writers 

I've been struggling with my antagonist. That might sound like a normal situation--antagonists create conflict--but my challenge is less about what he does than how believable he is on the page.

Famous Writers' Favorite Tips

I'm just back from a marathon teaching trip so this week's post will be short and sweet:  a wonderful article from the newsletter,  BrainPickings, on famous writers' favorite writing tips, compiled by The Guardian.  (Thanks to reader Mary K. for the link.)  Enjoy!  

(If the link doesn't work, go to and search for Jeanette Winterson.)

To Storyboard or Not to Storyboard:  How This Cool Planning Tool Compares to Outlines, Charts, and Maps

I'm working on my third novel, my fifteenth book, and I'm approaching it as many writers do:  from nowhere!  It's an exploratory process, and I don't really know what the book will be about.  I have a good idea, a handful of characters I already love (and hate), and a kind of plot.  But I do have my storyboard, and that's gotten me a lot further along than I would be without it.

Beta Readers--Who Are They, How Do They Help Your Book, How to Find Them

  Linda is closing in on the finish line with her memoir and sent a great question this week:  "I'd like to hear what you have to say about beta readers, particularly if it's a good idea to find complete strangers or folks I've already worked with (such as from online classes).  Who makes good beta readers?"