Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Overcoming Overwriting: The Art of Consolidating Thoughts

Kellyn Vale

We’ve all been there, writing a piece, drilling down thoughts as quickly as our brains will allow. Each idea seems more profound than the next until suddenly we come out of our creative haze and realize our 500-word short story has evolved into a 10-page jumble of words!

As creative writers, it can be difficult to tame all the ideas fighting to get out of our heads. There are countless ways to approach even one topic, and if you’re like me, you get personally attached to your sentences on an emotional level. You’ve created them from nothing, you see such potential for them, you desperately want them all to work, yet you have to cut something out! These can be some of the toughest times for us writers, but no need to fear! Here’s a process you could try to deal with those heart-wrenching moments when you have to *gasp* condense your precious thoughts.

Step 1: Make an Outline

Creating a basic outline of your piece before you write can help you stay on track by immediately pointing out the major details you want to focus on. It gets the wheels turning in your brain, and once you clearly identify the points you need to get across, your subconscious will already naturally be focusing on those when you begin your writing phase.

Step 2: Write Everything Out (and I mean EVERYTHING!)

When writing your piece, put every single thought you have on paper; don’t overthink it, just let it flow and blast words onto the page until you’ve drained your brain of all ideas related to your piece – key words being “related to the piece.” You want your thoughts to flow, but you also want to keep them on topic. I call this an “Objective Subject Word Splurge.” This step is similar to freewriting, but with slightly more direction. With a free write, your train of thought may make stops on several different topics. For example, you may begin free writing about experiences in nature, then shift your thoughts to forests, then to rivers, then to bodies of water, then the ocean, then the beach, then summer . . . and before you know it your mind went from nature to eating a popsicle in the sand and the content of the piece falls apart. With a free write you’re just a passenger riding the train of thought, whereas with a subject splurge you’re the conductor.

Step 3: Revise and Reread: Chop ‘til You Drop!

This probably sounds like old news to you seasoned writers, but never overlook the importance of a few quality revision sessions; read it on the computer, print it out and read it, is the whole passage in line with the theme of the work as a whole? Most editing tends to take the form of hunting for grammar errors and making sure the general organization of the piece flows. When your focus is cutting down on words, however, revising has to be a little more specific. For this step, refer back to the outline you made in step one. Revisit those key ideas that you absolutely need to include, and then go over all the content you’ve written; read it out loud – do some parts stand out as outliers that don’t really belong? They don’t fit no matter how bad you might want them to, like puzzle pieces from the wrong box. Identify those, and give them the axe; if a sentence does not directly contribute to developing those key thoughts into a masterpiece, then (you guessed it) out it goes!


Chopping words and sentences out of your piece doesn’t mean you have to throw them in the metaphorical fire and lose them forever! After identifying what needs to go, don’t just delete it and never see it again, cut and paste it into a new document or folder and come back to it later; if it’s really that good of a thought, you’ll come back to it and create a whole new masterpiece of words, I guarantee it. Maybe even something you never imagined would come from its original purpose!

For many writers, consolidation is a brutal process. However, if you approach it with an open mind and positive outlook, it can feel cleansing and leave us feeling lighter at the end of the day; don’t be afraid to cut things out, it could benefit you more in the end.

Kellyn Vale is a 22 year old student at Calumet College of St. Joseph. She has a passion for running, coffee, and writing. Kellyn is currently working as a New Media Journalist for Ideas in Motion Media and plans to continue to incorporate writing into her future career.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Inspire Creative Writing by Creating Art

Shelbey Collins

INTRODUCTORY NOTE: IWC thanks Professor Janine Harrison and the students in her Editing class at Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting, Indiana, for providing the posts to round out the final year of the IWC blog. Here is the first one.

Writing ideas can be sparked by almost anything, but working in an illustrated journal is my favorite way to get my creative juices flowing. An illustrated journal is the art of daily life, a workshop for ideas, and a practice of attention and creativity. Creating a journal can help you balance self-reflection, creation, an exercise for the mind. Just like a normal notebook or journal, an illustrated journal is a great way to write down ideas, feelings, and stories. However, an illustrated journal takes your creativity a little further. Every journal is unique; some journalists draw with markers or pencils, some paint with watercolors and acrylics, some even make collages out of scraps of newspaper articles or old photos. Some of my favorite ways to get an idea for the next page in my journal is by listening to music or taking a walk outside. Anything can be turned into art, and the act of creating it will help spark even more ideas; some that might even aid in your writing. It doesn’t matter how you artistically depict your thoughts, just the act of expanding your mind and looking at ideas in a different way can help spark a new creative side to yourself that you can implement in your writing.

The thing is, as writers we sit and ponder, racking our brains for something new and inspiring to write. But this can put us all in what many people call “a writer's block.”  Starting a journal filled with colors, ideas and photos is a way to let your creative side prosper. According to “Artist network,” “Art journals open doors to our unique brands of creativity as places to plan, dream, respond to something that catches our eye and process the events in our lives.” This is a way to “Trace your creative path.”

You don’t have to be an amazing artist. Heck, you can be terrible! This illustrated journal is for you, and you alone. Hear a poem you like, draw the picture you see in your mind when reading it. Find a news article, cut it out and paste it in! There are no limits to an illustrated journal, and that is exactly why it the perfect way for creative writers to expand and see their thoughts on paper but in the form of art!

I have included some of my own journal pages. Most of these were illustrated after I had read a poem or seen a piece of artwork that I loved.
Inspired by Fiddler Jones excerpt from Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology.

"Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret" -- "Milkweed" by James Wright
Drawn after an English professor referred me to the poem 
"Not Waving but Drowning" by Stevie Smith because he noticed 
that I always seemed panicked whenever I raised my hand for a question.
A rendition of Monet's Water Lily series 1897-1899.
Shelbey Collins is a junior English major specializing in both creative writing and communications. Shelbey enjoys dancing, journaling and spending time with family and friends. Shelbey hopes her love of writing, travel and art can lead her down a path to a future career in travel journalism.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Grand Way to End It

On October 27, Indiana Writers’ Consortium held its fifth—and last—Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference. But it was a grand way to end it.

Unfortunately, IWC is closing down on December 31 because it can’t generate enough funds or volunteer hours to continue. The January 2, 2019 blog post will provide more information in a tribute to ten great years, but this post is a celebration of a conference that was almost perfect.

The day began with continental breakfast and a panel on writing science fiction and fantasy. Lunch was a filling sandwich buffet and an entertaining and inspirational speech by Michael Poore, or rather by Emily Dickinson. It ended with a cocktail hour with a wide selection of appetizers and a costume contest. If you get the impression that we like to eat, you got it right.

The rest of the day contained five breakout sessions with two choices at each. Agent Kaitlyn Johnson and two other writers also provided critiques.

It was a great day of learning and networking, but the most fun came at the end with the costume contest. The MC (Edgar Allan Poe) didn’t participate, nor did our keynote speaker Emily Dickinson. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo before she shed her wig, but the next photo shows everything else. Emily was accompanied by two of her poems in their own costumes as Death and Hope, but I didn’t get pictures of them, either.
Laura Ingalls Wilder (Juliana Clayton) won the female literary figure category, and the Mad Hatter (Grant Fitch) won the literary character category and the grand prize. There were no entrants in the male literary figure category, so that $20 Amazon gift card went to Louisa May Alcott (Mariah Julio), who was the third highest vote getter. The next photo shows these three winners.
Personally, I wonder if Juliana Clayton wasn’t the smartest of them all. The costume works for Laura Ingalls Wilder in her younger days, but when I first saw her I thought of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, who would have been in the literary character category. I should have asked Juliana if she originally came as Anne but changed her mind when she saw the competition she was up against. If that’s what happened, it was a brilliant move. After all, would you want to compete against the Mad Hatter?

Here are a few more pictures from a really great conference.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

How to Get the Most Out of a Writers' Conference

With the 2018 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference a week and a half away, we don’t have any time to write new blog posts. Instead, we are reprinting one from September 27, 2017 with minor modifications.

Registration for this year’s conference is already closed, but the suggestions in this post apply to any writers’ conference, not just ours. So whether you are signed up for the 2018 Steel Pen conference or considering attending a different one, this advice is for you.

What can you get from a writers’ conference, and how do you make the best use of your time? Here are some tips based on the Steel Pen Conference Committee members’ experiences.

1.     Prepare before you go.

a.      Research the presenters as well as reading the breakout session descriptions, then rank your choices. Unfortunately, you may arrive at the conference to discover that your top choices conflict. But if you have ranked them in advance, your decision will be easy even if it isn’t happy.

b.     If a conference offers pitch sessions with editors and agents, you should look at their websites and review the types of books they accept before deciding to pitch them. If an editor or agent specializes in adult science fiction and you write children’s picture books, you will be wasting your time and theirs. That said, there are a few conferences where editors and agents are there to mentor as well as to acquire. If they offer critiques, for example, you may benefit even when you talk to someone outside your genre. But if you have a choice, you still want to choose the person most familiar with the type of manuscripts you write. 

c.      Make sure you have plenty of business cards with contact information on them. If you are worried about giving out personal information, leave off your home address and just include an email address, your website if you have one, and preferably a telephone number. If you have a published book, you should also take promotional bookmarks or postcards.

2.     Know what you want to accomplish at the conference, but keep your expectations realistic and your goals flexible. You may go to learn about writing memoirs and come away with a great idea for a murder mystery. Or you may hope to sell a book but meet the perfect critique partner instead. Few writers sell their first book at a conference, but many develop relationships that eventually lead there.

3.     Take notes at the sessions you attend. The notes probably won’t be as extensive as the ones you took in your high school or college classes, but if somebody says something that gives you an “ah-hah” moment, write it down. Steel Pen will give you a notepad and a pen, but that may not be true at other conferences. If you don’t know, take your own. And even if note-taking materials are provided, you may prefer your favorite portfolio and lucky pen.

4.     While the rules about session attendance vary from conference to conference, if the conference allows movement between classes (and Steel Pen does), don’t feel bound to spend the entire breakout session in the same room. If your top choices conflict, maybe you’ll want to spend some time in each. Or if that session on flash fiction reiterates information you already know, it is not disrespectful to leave (quietly) and head down the hall to the session on poetry where you may learn something new.

5.     Whether or not the conference offers pitching sessions, it helps if you can describe what you are working on or trying to sell in one to three sentences. If someone asks you—and they will—about your current project, they are looking for a thumbnail sketch, not a dissertation. They can always ask for more details if they want them.

6.     Part of the value of conferences comes from what the business world calls “networking” but is more accurately described as developing relationships. Writers tend to be introverts, and conferences are a good time to meet new people—if you make the effort. Even if you don’t meet an agent or editor who is interested in your book, you may find a new critique partner or meet somebody who has experienced the good and bad of hiring book cover designers and is willing to pass on that knowledge. But don’t lead off an informal conversation by talking about yourself. Ask about their current project or expertise or what they expect to get from the conference. At some point they will ask you the same question, and then it’s your turn.

7.     If the conference offers pitching sessions with editors and agents, however, you will begin those sessions by talking about your book.  The special rules for pitching sessions deserve their own blog post. Since Steel Pen doesn’t offer them, this tip covers only the highlights.

a.      Don’t pitch a book that you haven’t already written and rewritten and polished. There are some exceptions for nonfiction and experienced writers but none for beginning novelists.

b.     As noted above, research the editors and agents in advance and don’t waste their time, and yours, by pitching somebody who doesn’t handle your genre.

c.      Unless asked, limit your pitching to the pitching sessions. At other times, wait until an editor or agent asks what you are working on or selling. And give editors and agents some room. Don’t corner them or follow them into the bathroom. They may remember you, all right, but only as someone to avoid.

8.     The last and most important tip is to relax and enjoy the conference. Writers’ conferences seldom make or break careers, but they can open doors.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Exploring New Worlds

Join us on October 27 for a panel titled “Journey into Strangeness: An Exploration of Science Fiction/Fantasy Literature – Past, Present, and New Frontiers.” The panel will be one of many highlights at the day-long 2018 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference, which will be held on October 27 at Fair Oaks Farms just north of Rensselaer, Indiana.

The panel is moderated by Janine Harrison and features Michael Poore, Marilyn Kosmatka, and Carla Lee Suson. These sci-fi/fantasy writers will discuss the ever-evolving relationship of sci-fi/fantasy and mainstream literature, world building, content trends, character diversity, genre bending, game-changing online publication and promotion, working with publishers, and more.

Here are some interesting facts about each of the panelists.

·       Michael Poore is the author of Up Jumps the Devil and Reincarnation Blues. While his two novels could be classified as humorous fantasy, he has also been published in The Year’s Best Science Fiction. Poore is the keynote speaker for this year’s conference.

·       Marilyn Kosmatka’s novel Time Spike was written in collaboration with Eric Flint. It is a time travel story that makes use of Kosmatka’s experience as a prison nurse.    

·       Carla Suson’s first book, Independence Day Plague, also makes use of a non-writing background, but hers is in cellular biology. These days she teaches English composition at a local university and sculpts tales of ghosts, murder, and mayhem.

·       Moderator Janine Harrison is a creative writing instructor and a poet. She is a past president of the Indiana Writers’ Consortium and established the first Steel Pen conference in 2015.

This is a panel you won’t want to miss. Go to to learn more and to register for the conference.

Registration closes on October 15, so don’t miss out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Place to Buy Books

Most writers think of conferences as places to learn and to network, but some are also great places to buy books. Consider the 2018 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference, which will be held on October 27 at Fair Oaks Farms just north of Rensselaer, Indiana. The conference bookstore has a large variety of books written by faculty and other attendees.

This year the bookstore will be highlighting Keynote Speaker Michael Poore’s two novels, and he will be signing them during the cocktail hour at the end of the conference. Told with his own brand of humor, Poore’s debut novel, Up Jumps the Devil, portrays Satan as a protagonist with very human emotions. His second, Reincarnation Blues, tells the story of a man who has been reincarnated 9,995 times and has just five more chances to earn a place in the cosmic soul or face oblivion. Both books are very funny reads.

So what other types of books will be for sale this year?

For younger readers (and the young at heart), the bookstore will carry everything from picture books through YA. For adults, the offerings include mysteries, science fiction/fantasy, memoir, poetry, and books for writers.

Conference registration allows you to take advantage of the conference bookstore as buyer, seller, or both. If you have not yet signed up for the conference, you can do so at And after you register, you can consign your books to the bookstore using the form found near the bottom of the same page. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, the website is also the place to find more information. But do it soon, because registration for both the conference and the bookstore closes on October 15.

Come to Steel Pen to improve your craft and for the networking, but take advantage of the bookstore as well.

We hope to see you on October 27.


The picture shows the bookstore tables from last year’s conference.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What Kind of a Deadliner Are You?

Yes, the picture of a dead-line is corny, but it got your attention. That’s what real deadlines are designed to do.

When it comes to meeting deadlines, there are three types of people. The first is the beaver, which starts preparing for winter early and is ready in plenty of time. This is the person who completes projects before they are due and can then relax, or the one who registers for a conference in time to receive the early registration discount. Even if the person decides not to register because of other obligations, that decision is made early and deliberately.

Then comes the squirrel. It runs around preparing for winter right up until there is no more food to gather. But when the time comes, it is prepared. This person may stress out by completing a project just before the deadline or may pay a penalty by registering at the last minute. Even so, the squirrel makes its deadline.

The third type is the rabbit. Some rabbits die in winter because they aren’t prepared for the harsh conditions. This is the person who waits until the last minute and loses track of time. When they finally remember to get it done, it is too late. The deadline for the project has passed and it cost the employee a raise or the writer another contract. Or conference registration has closed and the person discovers that there is no squish in the deadline. This person didn’t intend to “wait until next year” but has made that choice by his or her inaction.

Registration for the Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference closes on October 15, and there is no squish in it. The beavers registered during the early registration period, and the squirrels either took advantage of regular registration prices or will get it done before the deadline.

Then there are the rabbits . . . Don’t be one.

Go to to register for this year’s conference. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, that is also the place to go for more information. But don’t let inaction drive your choice.