Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Preserving Our First Amendment Rights

Kathryn Page Camp

What are our First Amendment rights in today’s political, religious, and racially charged atmosphere? And why is it so important to keep our discussions civil?
There are many myths about the First Amendment. As a lawyer who has written two books that cover First Amendment issues, I feel qualified to dispel them.
1.     Myth: Private entities and individuals are bound by the First Amendment. The First Amendment only applies to government action. If a public library bans your book because of the subject matter or the position it takes on an issue, you may have an argument under the First Amendment. If a private bookstore refuses to carry the book for the same reason, you don’t. But you may not be able to force the library to stock it, either. Although a public library is a governmental entity, it may have a perfectly valid reason to refuse to place the book on its shelves. That’s because—
2.     Myth: Freedom of Speech is an absolute right. Freedom of Speech rights are subject to limited qualifications. For example, the First Amendment does not give anyone the right to riot or destroy property or disrupt traffic or trespass on private property. It also limits the use of libelous and fighting words, obscenity, and speech advocating illegal conduct. And a library has only so much shelf room and money for books, so it cannot stock every one that comes its way. As long as it uses objective criteria that are viewpoint neutral, it can refuse to carry your book.
3.     Myth: If I’m on public property, I can say whatever I want, whenever I want. Governments can place reasonable restrictions on the where, when, and how of speech on public property if those restrictions do not discriminate based on religious, political, or other content. For example, a town may not prohibit people from handing out leaflets on public sideways but it may use anti-litter ordinances to fine them for leaving a stack of flyers unattended on the municipal building steps. And nobody has the right to disrupt public business by conducting a sit-in on the floor of the legislature or shouting at the participants while a trial is in progress.
Even with these limitations, the First Amendment gives us precious rights that don’t exist in many countries. As Americans, and especially as Americans who write, we should all have an interest in preserving them.
Yes, the First Amendment protects name-calling and swearing and knee-jerk opinions by prohibiting the government from banning and punishing them. But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. One way to preserve Freedom of Speech is to keep the discussion civil. It’s only when Americans pass these boundaries that people start losing their respect for the First Amendment.
Even when I disagree with someone, I agree with this quote often attributed to Voltaire:
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
The First Amendment gives us the freedom to say what we want even when others disagree, and that’s one reason I’m glad to be an American.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Save the Date for the 2017 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference

Mark your calendar for October 28, 2017 to attend the next Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference. We have a new venue this year, so join us at the conference center at Fair Oaks Farms just off I-65 near Rensselaer, Indiana.

Why the new venue? The Radisson Star Plaza in Merrillville, Indiana was perfect for the last two years, but it is being torn down. Unfortunately, by the time we found out that we needed a new venue and had a chance to look for a replacement, all the suitable venues in Lake and Porter Counties were already booked. While that is a disappointment, it is also an opportunity to attract participants from the Lafayette and Indianapolis areas.

The conference facilities at Fair Oaks Farms provide a comfortable setting for this year’s conference. They are in the same building as the public restaurant, which means that Steel Pen participants and IWC members who consign their books to the bookstore will have the benefit of a larger purchasing audience.

We are pleased to announce that Catherine Lanigan will present the keynote speech during lunch. She is the bestselling author of nearly forty published fiction and non-fiction titles, including the novelizations of Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile. She will also present a workshop and sign copies of her books.

The conference schedule will be similar to last year, with educational opportunities for creative writers at all stages in their careers. The Committee is also working on attracting editors and agents to participate in a panel and meet with participants one-on-one. The day will end with a cocktail hour for networking, after which participants can make their own dinner arrangements with friends and colleagues.

Potential presenters should be on the lookout for the request for proposals. If you don’t receive anything by the middle of February, you can contact us at Use the same e-mail address for any other questions about the conference.

Additional information will be posted at as it becomes available.

So don’t forget to mark your calendars for Saturday, October 28, 2017.

We hope to see you there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Using Social Media as Inspiration

Facebook and other social media can be big time wasters, and we need to make sure they don’t distract us from our writing. But they can also be inspiration. This works at least two ways.

First, that funny or tragic story that your college friend tells may give you an idea for a novel or an article. Even the seemingly dull postings can lead to something more interesting. What about a story of two friends who meet and marry because they like the look of the homemade meals the other photographs and shares on Facebook? Hopefully that would be humor, but it could be tragedy if one is a rabid vegan and discovers that the other was only pretending to be a vegan but is really a meat-eater.

But social media isn’t just a source of story ideas. It can also inspire and motivate you to write and to write well. For example, here are several of the recent quotes found on Facebook writing sites.

·       “Be sure not to discuss your hero’s state of mind. Make it clear from his actions.” Anton Chekhov (quoted on The Writer’s Circle page);

·       “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” George Orwell (quoted on the Grammarly page).

·        “Novels begin, not on the page, but in meditation and day-dreaming—in thinking, not writing.” Joyce Carol Oates (quoted on The Writer’s Circle page); and

·       “Want to Meet a Great Writer? Look in a mirror.” (From the Grammarly page.)

Both Grammarly and The Writer’s Circle also contain links to helpful articles. You can find both sites by searching for them on your favorite social media. One caution, however. These sites have multiple posts each day, so they can become distracting if you let them. But if you have the self-control to be selective, they can be quite helpful.

Social media can be a distraction from writing. Turn it into a help rather than a hinderance by using it to get inspiration.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Creativity, Your Chakras, and You

Dr. Anastasia Trekles

Like a lot of people today, I like yoga. I actually like it a lot, and have been practicing actively nearly every single day (and sometimes twice a day) for over ten years. It’s the best form of exercise I’ve been able to find, as it makes me stronger (much stronger than I was with traditional weightlifting and cardio) and helps me focus. When you’re going through a yoga class, it’s tough to think about anything else – otherwise you’ll fall down! Yoga is both exercise and a means to help you forget about your problems, even if it’s just for a little while.

So what does yoga have to do with writing? Obviously, we need to concentrate when we write, and sometimes that means overcoming things that get in our way. The dreaded writer’s block comes in many forms, but even if you don’t practice yoga, its teachings can give you tools to help overcome your obstacles.

Take, for instance, the chakra system, which yogis believe governs how our bodies and minds work together to eventually help us connect to the “divine,” or whatever spiritual force you might believe is out there (you definitely don’t have to be a Hindu to be into yoga or benefit from the principles behind it). Even if you aren’t sold on the idea that our bodies have anything but blood and lymph and such moving within us, the concept of the chakras can teach us a lot about ourselves, our habits of mind, and how our bodies can help us tap into thoughts and feelings. That is, if you keep an open mind!

The seven chakras, very simply summarized, are as follows:

1.     The root chakra (“Muladhara” in Sanskrit) governs your instincts and connection with the physical body and earth below, and is located at the base of your spine.
2.     The sacral chakra (“Svadhisthana”) governs passion, emotions, and creativity, and is in your pelvis and hip area.
3.     The core chakra (“Manipura”) governs personal power, identity, and ego, and is in your solar plexus.
4.     The heart chakra (“Anahata”) governs love and compassion, and is in the center of your chest.
5.     The throat chakra (“Visuddha”) governs authentic voice, truth, and originality, and is in the neck and shoulders.
6.     The third eye chakra (“Ajna”) is all about clear thought, vision, and moving beyond the physical into the spiritual realm. It’s located right between your eyebrows.
7.     The final chakra (“Sahasrara”) can be thought of like a crown on the top of your head – the “thousand-petaled lotus” as it is sometimes called. It is all about unity with that force beyond ourselves (the word “yoga” means union, after all), peace, and going beyond your own ego and limitations.

Put into practical terms, exercises that help you align these key points in your body can help you clear your mind, spark creativity, and put you in the mood to write. Don’t believe it? Before you start your next writing session, try sitting on the floor in a simple cross-legged position, and just move your torso around in a circle for a minute. Big circles or little ones make no difference – do whatever is comfortable and feels good for you (this movement should feel very liberating!). Make sure to go the other direction at some point, and breathe deeply as you move.

This will help you connect to your hips, pelvis, and stomach area, the second chakra and the home of creativity. It’ll literally “get your juices flowing,” and if that’s not enough for you, try some of the other poses noted by the Chopra Center to help you activate your creativity. You can also try some of the advice offered by Katrina Pfannkuch, who offers a lot of ideas about creativity and all of the chakras in her blog.

Once you’ve spent some time moving that second chakra around, your hips might feel a little looser, you might be able to breathe a little easier, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be encouraged to get past that hurdle that’s kept you from the next leg of your writing journey. For some of us, it might seem like a stretch, but your body and your mind are inherently connected, and what affects one, affects the other. Writing may be an exercise of the mind, but it needs your body to be on board in order for you to get the most out of it. So, give it a try! You might be amazed at what a few minutes shaking your hips might be able to do for your creativity. 


Dr. Anastasia Trekles is the new president of Indiana Writers' Consortium. She is also a clinical professor and the Director of Learning Technologies at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Indiana. Dr. Trekles has an extensive background with educational technology, including design and pedagogical strategies as well as the effective integration of various technologies into teaching. Her specialty area is instructional design for online learning and technology integration, and in addition to providing professional development and mentorship for other faculty, she has taught a wide array of undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in these areas, both in-classroom and via distance education. Additionally, Dr. Trekles holds a BA in English, and has taught undergraduate courses in writing for Web and electronic publications. 

Dr. Trekles is the author of the textbook, Putting People First: Human Issues in Instructional Technology, and has spent much of her career working toward understanding and teaching others how to employ universal and accessible design practices into online learning materials. In her spare time, she enjoys nature, photography, charity work with animals, and writing fiction.

She also recently published the first of a planned series of novels focusing on the mysterious and magical world of "M'Gistryn", entitled Core.This book is available at in both print and electronic formats. More information is available at