40 Days of Worksheets – Day 4

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgWorksheet #4 – Therapy

Your manuscript is a mess, or maybe you don’t know where to go with it, or maybe you doubt this is a story you can write, or maybe you’re just frustrated. For whatever reason, you are sorry you ever started the thing.

You and your WIP need help. This workshop will send you to therapy.

Step 1: Find a quiet spot where you can write–longhand or on screen–for a few uninterrupted minutes.

Step 2: Use some kind of timer. Set it for 15 minutes.

Step 3: You will free write everything that is bugging you about this MS, uninterrupted, for 15 minutes.

Step 4: Start your timer and go.

Step 5: Stop writing. Walk around or take a break for another 15 minutes, then settle back into your quiet writing spot.

Step 6: You will free write everything that drew you to this story and why you wanted to write it.

Step 7: Start your timer and go.

Step 8: Read both free writes. Do you want to continue with this WIP?

Please note: All worksheets posted are my original work and intellectual property. I ask that you share the links on social media, and you are welcome to share the worksheets with your critique groups and writing friends with credit given. That being said, these worksheets—despite being posted on the Internet—may not be copied, distributed, or published as anyone’s work but mine. In short: sharing is good, plagiarism is bad.

Disclaimer #2: You may post your completed worksheet if you’d like, but please remember that, by doing so, you are sharing your ideas with all of the Internet. You’ve been warned.

Meet Linda K. Schmitmeyer & Rambler

RamblerToday I have the pleasure of hosting my friend and fellow Mindful Writer, Linda Schmitmeyer.

Linda’s newly published memoir, Rambler, is a compelling and touching read about the impact of mental illness on a family. “A family pushes through the fog of mental illness” is a hint of what’s to come in this story of challenge, love, fear, and patience.

Her appearance here is timely–October 7-13 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Linda’s Q&A below was enlightening to me, and I hope to you as well.

You can purchase Rambler here.

  1. What is the origin of the title, Rambler?

Linda: My husband, Steve, has always been a car guy, but after he was diagnosed with a mental illness, his enthusiasm for these cheap, boxy sedans was excessive. During the acute stage of his illness—before he was properly medicated—he acquired almost a dozen of these 1950s- ‘60-era automobiles. Most didn’t run, but he used them as parts cars to keep a couple other Ramblers running.

There is a more ominous reason for choosing the title Rambler, though. When Steve’s mania flared and his thinking was impaired, he’d slip away in his Rambler for several days without telling anyone he was leaving or where he was going. This was by far the most terrifying aspect of his illness because his leave-taking occurred when his mind was unstable and his judgment most impaired.

  1. You wrote a personal newspaper column for many years. How did that experience affect your approach to writing Rambler?

Linda: I wrote a biweekly column for more than a decade. In it I shared aspects of my everyday life: raising children at a time that didn’t align neatly with my 1950s childhood, the idiosyncratic behaviors of my car-centric husband, and the poignancy of watching aging parents slip slowly from life. I wrote more than two hundred columns, many through the acute stage of Steve’s illness, but I never mentioned his illness. Instead, I referred indirectly to it by writing about his obsessive behaviors. In one I complained light-heartedly about the score of Rambler hubcaps Steve nailed to the perimeter of our garage, in another about all the cheap VO5 shampoo bottles he bought at the Dollar Store. Writing a regular column allowed me to vent my frustrations about the many challenges I faced.

As a writer, though, penning a newspaper column helped me develop the ability to share a personal story to which readers could relate. While no reader may be dealing with a spouse who nails Rambler hubcaps to a garage, there are many who can identify with the excessive nature of their husbands’ hobbies. Although “Rambler” is about living with my husband’s mental illness, my hope is that it will speak to the many who live with life-altering illnesses.

  1. What was the most difficult part of writing it? The easiest?

Linda: It was extremely difficult to depict a fair and honest telling of such an emotionally charged period of our lives. It took many years for me to achieve the perspective necessary to share our family’s story. After the tumultuous decade in which Steve’s mental health problems surfaced and resettled into a manageable routine, I was exhausted and angry. I needed time to process the various aspects of what happened. That includes appreciating Steve’s struggle to regain the life he’d lost; giving voice to the support of friends and family, even those who steadfastly denied he had an illness; realizing the role Steve’s and my upbringing played in dealing with his illness; and understanding how intuitively I learned to respond to Steve’s manic, depressive, and psychotic episodes. I wanted Rambler to show what really happens to a family when a loved one has a mental illness. That, by far, was the most challenging aspect of writing Rambler.

There really wasn’t anything easy about writing my memoir, except the Epilogue. It’s about a bicycle trip Steve and I took from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., more than a dozen years after his mood stabilized. It was in celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary. Every chapter in Rambler took months, sometimes even years, to write. But I wrote the Epilogue in a week, and had fun doing it.

  1. What kind of self-care did you practice (and/or wished you had practiced) during the experiences of the book, and while writing about them?

Linda: For me, self-care came in the form of writing. Through the acute stage of Steve’s illness, I frequently turned to late-night journaling, which allowed me let go of the day’s drama. I also learned to walk my angst away—on my lunch hour at work or after the kids went to bed at night. It was a way of dispelling the pent-up anger that built throughout the day.

Mostly, though, I turned to my sister for support. We talked almost daily by phone, and together we worked to understand what was happening and find effective ways to deal with the baffling challenges that stemmed from Steve’s illness. Throughout the years of dealing with the fallout of a mental illness, my sister always reminded me that to be an effective caregiver, I must take care of myself. I wish I better understood that going into this experience, because it’s true.

  1. What is the takeaway you hope readers will understand or learn after reading Rambler?

Linda: There are several takeaways from reading Rambler; foremost is that severe mental illness is treatable. With good medical care, the love and support of family and friends, and the grit and determination of the people involved—the afflicted as well as the caregivers—people with severe mental illness can go on to live happy, productive (albeit changed) lives.

Another important point in Rambler, one essential for anyone caring for a loved one with a mental illness, is to remain open to the experience. In the early stages of Steve’s illness, I viewed what was happening as a weakness in his character. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am an educator and naturally sought opportunities to learn more about what was happening. I attended workshops and support groups sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness and went with Steve to many of his psychiatrist appointments. A mental illness diagnosis involves a steep learning curve, one that took years for me to work through and a lifetime to really understand.

Linda Sinda K. Schmitmeyer is a freelance writer and editor and adjunct university instructor. Formerly a high school English teacher, beat reporter, features editor, and public relations professional, she wrote a newspaper column for years about the everyday adventures of parenting with her car-centric husband, Steve. Now she blogs about her experience with caring for a husband with a mental illness when her children were young at www.lindaschmitmeyer.com. She and Steve live Butler County, Pennsylvania; they have three adult children.

Website: https://lindaschmitmeyer.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LindaKSchmitmeyer/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LKSchm



Writing from Writes of Spring

This spring, I had the pleasure of joining Delaware poet Maggie Rowe for a day teaching prose and poetry at the lovely estate of former federal judge and Delaware native, Hugh M. Morris. The fieldstone house known as the Judge Morris Estate was built in the late 1700s, and is decorated in the style of the 1930s, the period when Judge Morris resided there. The home is now part of White Clay Creek State Park. Continue reading “Writing from Writes of Spring”

How To Run a Free Write

What is a Free Write?

A Free Write is an informal gathering of writers who meet to practice their writing. Free writing can help you discover new story ideas, dissolve writer’s block, or move forward on a work in progress.

Some Free Writes are guided, using prompts and round robin sharing of what was created during the session. Other Free Writers meet in a specified location, fire up their laptops, and work on individual projects in a quiet, supportive atmosphere.

Some writing organizations hold regular Free Write sessions for their members and visitors. One group in my area, the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild, posts prompts via a Facebook page. Both organized and informal groups hold Free Writes during intense writing times, such as November during NaNoWriMo.

To host an unguided Free Write is simple: select a space (library meeting room, coffee shop), invite people, and show up to write.

A guided Free Write requires a little more work. It needs a plan, a program, and a facilitator.

A Free Write plan includes the purpose of the session and how that will be demonstrated. Will the Free Write focus on one area of writing, such as sensory details; story openings; colors; encounters both hostile and friendly? Will there be a theme, with specific prompts from broad categories such as holidays, childhood, marriage?

A Free Write’s program is like a meeting agenda: the order of business and length of each prompt session. For a guided Free Write, the program should include time to write but also time to read aloud if the group includes sharing as part of the experience.

A Free Write facilitator is the person who runs the meeting: she states the rules, offers the prompts, watches the clock, and guides the sharing sessions.

Here’s a sample 2-hour, Free Write program based on a Memorial Day theme:

Arrival and welcome by the Facilitator- 15 minutes, which includes:

…the purpose of the Free Write (to have fun and explore ourselves as writers)

…the theme of the day (Memorial Day)

… the guidelines about the Free Write (prompts will be offered, time given to write, and round robin sharing to follow. Sharing is optional. Anyone who wishes to pass on a particular prompt or share can simply say, “Pass.”)

Prompt #1 : “in the trenches” – 5 minutes to write, 15 minutes to share

Prompt #2: “poppies” – 5 minutes to write, 15 minutes to share

Free writing time: Unguided time for writers to expand on prompts or write on any subject of their choosing – 20 minutes

Prompt #3: “parade” – 2 minutes to write, 10 minutes to share

Prompt #4: “picnic disaster” – 2 minutes to write, 10 minutes to share

Prompt #5: “sacrifice” – 5 minutes to write, 15 minutes to share

Free writing time – whatever time is left over from prompts and sharing

Memorial Day was used as a Free Write theme a year ago, at a local Get Out & Write Free Write. Click here for a sampling of what writers created from the “poppies” prompt.

Free Writes can be a boon to a writer’s creativity as well as an introduction to other writers. Try one!


Tomorrow’s Topic – How To Choose Strong Verbs

12 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 2012

Here are some easy actions and activities than can sharpen your skill set. Most are free. All you need is willingness and an open mind.

1.  Attend a live reading! Hearing an author read their prose or poetry aloud is a special treat—and it helps you, a writer, hear emphasis on words or dialogue that’s not possible on a printed page. Many writers like to begin with an anecdote about the story, and that’s an added bonus. In my neck of the woods, we have a 30 year tradition called 2nd Saturday Poets, but we also have library readings, poetry slams, book talks at bookstores, visiting author series at the university. Attending shows your support for the local arts scene. We all want to support the arts, right?

2.  Read your work out loud. This is a follow-up to the above. Reading aloud helps you hear the rhythm of the writing. If you construct short sentence after short sentence, a live read will help you hear if your prose imitates Hemingway’s or if it sounds choppy and monotonous. Reading aloud also helps catch awkward lines and clunky dialogue.

3.  Try out an online class.  There’s a plethora of learning happening in cyberspace, so you never need to leave your house or get out of your jammies to polish your skills in characterization, active scenes, or figuring out what the heck is subtext. Professional organizations (RWA, Sisters in Crime, Pennwriters), writing services and private editors (ahem!) offer courses that run the range from one day to months. Give one a whirl.

4.  Free Write. A free write is an informal gathering of writers who meet to practice their writing, often through guided activities and prompts.  In 2011, I helped to facilitate a monthly free write at the county library. We met for three hours and combined prompts, sharing and quiet writing time. It was great fun to write on the spot, and to see how others responded to the same prompts and guides.

5.  Join a supportive group—a face to face group, an online forum, a Facebook writers group. This is to combat the whole “writing is lonely” thing, but also to give you a peek into how other writers operate. Talking shop or talking out problems can rev your creative engines, or make the struggle seem less isolating. And if there is good news, it’s always nice to have a cheering squad.

6.  Deconstruct movies and TV shows. Learn the meaning of a “cold opening” or a “meet cute.” Watch the clock and see how a TV drama breaks off at commercial (as you would with a chapter ending) or how a 2-hour movie will have a significant plot development every twenty minutes.  Imagine this TV show or movie as a novel and how it would be narrated, plotted, and told.

7.  Choose a favorite author. Think about why you like what this writer does—what in your chosen author’s body of work speaks to you as a reader. Jot down a few memorable scenes or favorite  plot developments.  Analyze—what’s so special about this writer’s work? What pulled you in? What did you admire? What was your emotional reaction?

8.  Challenge yourself and try to write something new: flash, poetry, a memoir piece, a story told in second person. Do this every few months.

9.  Think of a book you hated from school. (Mine would be Wuthering Heights. Blech. What do people see in Heathcliff? I don’t get it.) Read it now, with an open mind.  What did you dislike about it when you were younger? Do you still dislike this now?

10.  Get into the habit of running the Spelling & Grammar function when you shut down your work-in-progress for the day. Notice what pops up—typos? Sentence structure problems? Fragments? Improper word choice? Pay attention to the habitual problems in your work. Sometimes all it takes to repair a bad habit is to recognize that habit exists. Spell & Gram is a free, easy, and readily available resource to help you find those habits. Make using it your new habit.

11.  Read every day.

12.  Write every day.

 Best of luck in your writing endeavors in 2012!


Get Out & Write! Free Write

Get Out & Write! Community Free Write

Saturday, July 30, 10:00 a.m. – Noon

Kirkwood Library Community Room


A free write is an informal gathering of writers who meet to practice their writing. Free writing can help you discover new story ideas, dissolve writer’s block, or move forward on a work in progress. Most importantly, free writing is fun and a great way to fellowship with other writers!

The series is open to anyone interested in writing. Writers of all skill levels are welcome. Bring a notebook, pen/pencil or laptop. There is no charge. No RSVP is required. Just show up with a desire to write.



In honor of Memorial Day, the Get Out & Write! Community Free Write devoted two prompts to commemorate the holiday: “in the trenches” and “poppies.”

The poppies prompt was inspired by the poem, “In Flanders Fields,” written in 1915 by Lt. Col. John McCrae, but instructions were to write anything related to poppies.

Below are several of the results of our POPPIES prompt:

“The field next to our house was planted with wheat, and poppies, gorgeous, velvet and red, grew in among the stalks, as well as morning glories, the black throats of the poppies and the white throats of the blue morning trumpets like ventriloquists’ dummies mouthing the liquid songs of invisible skylarks overhead. Before the combine harvester came through, and again after the harvest was cut down, we children would rescue nests of harvest mice to save them from being burnt up in the stubble fires, carrying the squirming little drops of pink in their round purse-pockets to the hedgerows where we thought they might be safe. There were endless jobs to be done at home, but our parents didn’t realize how many impossible jobs we were also trying to do in the wider world, where the wheat fields filled with pockets of mice stretched to the horizon.”Maggie Rowe

“I found the poppy on a grave. It was because the poppy was there, like a bright splash of blood, that I noticed the grave at all. Obscured by grass, the marker, a gray, shapeless lump, had all but dissolved. Other markers near this one, of a similar stone, appeared to be from the same time period. All were weathered, streaked and discolored, but the names of the dead were still visible. Why then was this one stone in an extreme state of decay? And, I wondered, if this grave was the same age as its fellows, who was the nameless soul buried here who still attracted visitors bearing flowers 150 years after his or her death?” – JM Reinbold

   “It’s a derivative of poppies.” His eyes are glazed, the pupils so dilated they seem to be devouring his irises. “It’s natural.”
   “Dog shit is natural, but I wouldn’t want to grind that into a powder and snort it,” Kelly says.
   They sit together, knees brushing. Dave nurses a beer, while she sips a flat Captain and diet.   The bar is crowded; it’s the only one within ten miles of the dry college campus. It’s dim and smoky, and the people are hushed, dismal and attenuated like the cigarette smoke floating in the air. Dull eyes. Everyone’s got such dull eyes.
   “It’s not that easy. You’re so judgmental.” Dave looks down and starts peeling the label off his Stella.
   “I am. You’re right. I miss you, though. I miss my brother. Where did you go?”
   “Oh, Kelly. I think I must have left when Mom did.” He grimaces at her boxy suit and conservative shoes. “Don’t try and pretend that you didn’t leave, too.” – Kristy Truax-Nichols

“Every year my two brothers and I met at Mom’s to plant the annual garden. Never before Mother’s Day and mostly on Memorial Day weekend, we would gather before the break of dawn on the front porch that looked a bit more forlorn each Spring. My brothers, never early risers, would wait for me, coffees in hand,and sleep still clinging to their eyes. I would pull the flats of flowers from the backseat of my Toyota while the two of them watched from the top of the steps.   A tray of Dusty Miller for the border, a few pots of Snap Dragons, Mom’s favorite, and a box of red Poppies to honor Dad.
   Mom never came out until she called us for breakfast about an hour or so after we arrived. My oldest brother, Paul,had begun raking while Billy gave advice as to how he could do it better if the raking were his job.” Kimberly Kurth-Gray

“I heard a marvelous story about “Tall Poppies” that turned a paradigm on its head.  I’ve forgotten what country or culture it is, maybe Australia, but they teach their children not to be “tall poppies” – for it is the tall poppies that get noticed and cut down, presumably for floral arrangements or, maybe, to make all the flowers the same height, a strong message for fitting in.  So the children grow up in fear of being cut down one way or another, and they rarely dare to let their special gifts raise them above the average level.

A far-seeing woman in the States heard this teaching and was very troubled by it.  She knew it is our special gifts that raise us to our highest potential.  Kendall SummerHawk wanted to encourage this in other women.  So she started a program for women called “Tall Poppies”.  She sent out the word, seeking women who dared to believe that with support they might fulfill themselves and become all they could be.

I don’t know the details of this program but from other programs of Kendall’s I’ve been in, I would hazard several guesses.  Most likely they explored their dreams and unfulfilled goals.  Probably the women wrote and talked about what they’d been discouraged from doing or being, things like

“Don’t be so sensitive.

 “Of course, there’s nothing beyond solid, scientific fact.”

 “Curb your exuberance.”     

 “Writers and artists can’t make a living at their craft.”

 “Major in something practical.”

 “Women can’t …….(fill in the blank).”

 “People in our family don’t do that.”

And from what I have heard I imagine that the women listened to their hearts and their spirits.  They became tall poppies, supporting each other and going for their dreams, exploring their talents and taking big risks.  They rose to heights never before attempted – and no one was cut down.”  –           Betty Powell