Monday, April 21, 2014

Get to First Base with Your Writing


Today's post is a Style Tip I wrote several years ago for the Heart of America Christian Writers Network newsletter.

Remember that old baseball comedy routine, “Who’s On First?” The confusion centered on a player named Who. 

“Who’s on first?” the comedian asks. “Who,” answers the second actor. From there the conversation circled endlessly.

Maybe you get the same feeling when you try to decide whether to use which or that.

According to The Chicago Manual of Style, this is the rule: use which to set off nonrestrictive clauses; use that to introduce restrictive clauses.

Oh yeah, now you get it – if only you knew what a nonrestrictive clause is.

Fortunately, the big orange book of style goes on to explain that a restrictive clause is one that is necessary to the sentence; therefore, a nonrestrictive clause would be . . . You get the idea.

Still puzzled? Here are some CMS examples to illustrate the point more succinctly:

Pizza that’s less than an inch deep just isn’t Chicago style.

Pizza, which is a favorite among Chicagoans, can be either bad for you or good, depending on how much of it you eat.

Note that if you remove “that’s less than an inch deep” from the first sentence, it becomes inaccurate; i.e., it’s not true that “pizza just isn’t Chicago style.” The clause, then, is restrictive (necessary) to the sentence; therefore “that” is correct.

If, however, you take out the clause “which is a favorite among Chicagoans” from the second sentence, it still makes sense: i.e., pizza can be either bad for you or good, and whether or not it is a favorite among Chicagoans does not “restrict” this meaning; therefore the clause is nonrestrictive and should be introduced by “which” and set off by commas.

Or to put it another way – that which does not kill you, makes you a better writer.

Source: The chicago manual of style  - 15th edition

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Take A Look


In the future, we may return to this topic but for now, here is the last tip about writing about difficult life experiences. This is a short one. 

Reflection. Write a sentence or paragraph about the event. Immediately, or later, read back over what you have written. Then write what I will call a "reflection." 

The reflection is just for you. It is not a part of your life story or memoir that will be published or shown to family. (Unless, of course, you decide to do so.)

Continue writing about the life event(s) and writing reflections until you feel comfortable and able to write daily. 

You might answer these questions:

How did the writing make you feel? 
What do you observe about the event?
What thread of continuity do you find between this event and previous events?
What did you learn from writing about the event?

This is a part of the therapeutic aspect of writing. Various studies have shown that writing is therapeutic, but some  found that the most benefit came from reflecting back on what had been written and writing about that, too. 

From time to time, review your reflective writing and see if it leads you to deeper writing or new insights.

If you do this, I think you will find yourself feeling stronger, braver, and more able to continue with the writing of your memoir or life.

If you have a desire to write about your life, it is too important to allow yourself to be distracted. 


Return to a piece of writing. Read it. Write a reflection, using the questions above as a guide.

Chocolate Inkwell

Thank you to Vickie for sending me this recipe. When I saw the name, Peanut Butter Cups, I thought it was for something like a copy of candy peanut butter cups. Wow! Was I wrong.

Part of the reason I like this recipe is that it gives you an excuse to use cute little ramekins, and if you don't have any, which I don't, it is an excuse to go out and buy some. (Hello Marshall's.)

The source for the recipe is/ It calls for specific brands, but, of course, I doubt they are necessary. Note, though, that the ingredient list does not include the ingredients on the cake mix -- which you will need.

Peanut Butter Cups

Peanut Butter Cups
Photo Courtesy of
  • 8 (4 ounce) ramekins
  • 1 (15.25 ounce) Betty Crocker Devil's Food cake mix (and ingredients called for on the package)
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray ramekins with cooking spray.
  2. Prepare cake mix batter according to package directions.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the peanut butter and powdered sugar with a hand mixer or by hand until completely combined. Form 8 golf ball sized balls and set aside.
  4. Scoop 3-4 tablespoons of cake batter into each ramekin. Place peanut butter ball in the center of the cake batter in each ramekin. Cover the peanut butter ball with 1-2 tablespoons of cake batter.
  5. Bake peanut butter cups for 16-19 minutes or until top is set and bounces back.
  6. Top each cake with 1 Tablespoon of chocolate chips and let melt. You can spread them once they melt or just leave them as is.

Check out for life story writing questions and answers. 
And, while you're there, if you like cute greeting cards, click on Buy Here.

Mirror photo by Carol Newman
All rights reserved 2014 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®

Monday, April 7, 2014

You Are Not a Whiner


Soon we will move on to other topics, but for now, the subject is still writing about painful or difficult life events. 

Maybe one of the things holding you back from writing is that you don't want to sound as if you are whining or complaining. Here is a simple way to avoid that: write about what sustained you during your time of trial.

(Were any of you actually on trial? Hey, we want to hear about that. Sorry. Just kidding.)

What helped get you through your difficult time?

Did you spend time in nature? Solitude?

 Did a friend help you? Family? What did the person do? What was your relationship? How did it help? Describe the person. How did you meet?

 Did you change your lifestyle? Begin a healthy diet? Shuck the coat, tie, and cube for more meaningful work?
 Did you garden? Did someone give you flowers?
 Was there a pet who helped you?
 Music is healing. Were you helped by playing or listening to music?

Include yourself in the stories, of course, but including other people and other things can make the writing bearable and honest and powerful. 


Have you written a sentence every day? Keep going. If you haven't, start today. For example: 

The first person to call me was Maria.

Or - Every morning Snowball tugged on my covers, eager to start the day. She needed me. I needed her.

Or - I quit shaving, changed my suit coat for a jean jacket, and started growing carrots.

You get the idea. 

Next post, a most important point, and then we will move on to another topic.

Chocolate Inkwell 

Looking online for a waffle cookie recipe I had heard about, I came across this one called Boot Tracks. How cute is that! Cocoa powder. And you are set. The recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour. I think I would just give plain old flour a try if that is all I had on hand -- and it is. Much as I love coffee, I would probably opt out of the espresso powder too. Straight chocolate. That's for me. I'll have my coffee on the side. 

boot tracks
Photo and Recipe Courtesy of

Boot Tracks Cookies


  • 1/2 cup(s) salted butter
  • 2/3 cup(s) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup(s) whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 6 tablespoon(s) cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoon(s) canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) espresso powder, (optional)
  • Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

  1. Preheat a nonstick (not Belgian) waffle iron.
  2. Cream butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, cocoa powder, oil and espresso powder (if using). Beat until thoroughly combined.
  3. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoonfuls about 1 inch apart onto the preheated ungreased waffle iron. (To avoid burnt fingers, use two spoons, one to scoop and one to scrape dough onto the waffle iron.) Close and cook until the cookies are puffed and cooked through, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Waffle irons vary, so watch closely and dont let the cookies get too dark. Transfer to a wire rack to cool until just warm. Dust the cookies with confectioners sugar while still slightly warm (see Variations). Variations: Instead of confectioners sugar, drizzle cooled cookies with melted bittersweet and/or white chocolate. Or make a peppermint drizzle: Mix 1 cup confectioners sugar, 4 teaspoons water and 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract; add natural green food coloring, if desired.

Thank you for your comments. I welcome questions or suggestions. 

You can Share this post on Facebook by scrolling to the bottom of the post and clicking on the little f  icon for Facebook. 

Or you can simply tell your writers group or forward the email notification I send you.

For more resources about memoir and life story writing , visit

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All photos are by Carol Newman unless otherwise noted. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Write Like a Reporter


Recently we have been exploring how to go about writing about painful, embarrassing, agonizing, reprehensible, devastating or slightly unpleasant life experiences. I suggested you start with just one sentence. 

Maybe you are wondering with what sentence to start. Here is how to do it. Write like a reporter. . 


Here are some examples:

Write one sentence about what happened. The doorbell rang at midnight.

Write one sentence about a person in your story. My mother-in-law's teeth were stained from drinking well water as a child.

Write one sentence about where you were. I awoke in my bed with a start to feel a hand gripping my throat.

Write one sentence about what you saw. Blood seeped through his fingers where he had his hand over his mouth. 

Write one sentence about something you smelled. Burning flesh has a smell you never forget. 

Write one sentence about how your body reacted. The urine trickled down my leg and puddled on Grandma's linoleum floor.

Well, hey, if you weren't feeling depressed before, surely you are now. These are extreme examples. Yet, they are all things that writers I know have written about. Not only did the writers survive, they say they felt better for having done the writing.

The fact is, we all suffer pain in our lives. I sincerely hope yours is not the depth of pain that these sentences would indicate. Whether your pain is extreme or mild, you can write about it. Write like a reporter. Write the facts of the situation. One sentence at a time.

For more supremely useful information about memoir or life story writing, visit There's An Angel In Your Inkwell.

See you there. Meanwhile, feel free to post your comments or "one sentences" in the Comments section.

Scroll to the bottom of this post and click on the f Facebook icon to Share the blog on Facebook.

Chocolate Inkwell 

After writing something emotionally difficult, I know I am ready for some lighthearted chocolate. This is an easy-no-bake recipe that children can help make. Nothing puts life into perspective like children and chocolate.

This recipe is from ThinkArete.

No Bake S’more Cake
Photo courtesy of ThinkArete

No Bake S’more Cake

prep time: 15 minutes
chill time: 2-3 hours before serving 
servings: 20 
  • 1 box graham crackers
  • 2 tubs of marshmallow creme 7 oz.  (Inexpensive generic brand is fine.)
  • 1 tub of cool whip (not frozen.. let sit out 15 minutes
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp. salt
Step 1
Mix your marshmallow creme with the cool whip until smooth and creamy, use a hand mixer or counter mixer to mix the marshmallow and cool whip once it’s smooth and creamy add your vanilla and mix again.
Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole baking dish with some graham crackers
 Spread one-third of the marshmallow whip evenly over the graham crackers
(repeat this step, cookies and marshmallow whip)
Step 3
Over medium low heat melt chips and cream until smooth, keep stirring and once the chocolate is completely melted and the 2 ingredients are well combined turn heat off. add salt and about every 5 minutes whisk the chocolate, for about 5-20 minutes
Step 4
Add it over the top and put uncovered in the freezer for about 30 minutes.
Removed from freezer covered and put in the fridge over night until ready to serve.

For more supremely useful information about memoir or life story writing, visit There's An Angel In Your Inkwell.

See you there. Meanwhile, feel free to post your comments or "one sentences" in the Comments section.

Scroll to the bottom of this post and click on the f Facebook icon to Share the blog on Facebook.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

What Comes After Rule One


In response to a recent email and a couple of phone calls and the conversation at a recent writers group meeting, I am writing about overcoming the fear of writing about painful life events.

After all, pain is pain. Who wants it? The first time was bad enough. Why relive it? But, still, somehow, you feel those painful parts must be included for your memoir or life story to be complete.

Last week, I wrote that Rule One is You Make the Rules.

What comes next?

That's it. That is the end of the rules.

But here is something you can try. Write like a morning glory.

Morning brings a full, vibrant bloom.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

A few hours pass and the flower begins to close.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
We still love the morning glory, don't we, even though it doesn't bloom all day?

Photo by Carol Newman
One bloom, another, another, and soon they make a beautiful display on a wall or fence.

You can do the same with your stories. Don't think about blooming all day. Don't think about writing the entire terrible event. Write a little today. Write a little tomorrow. It's okay to fade after writing a bit. Tomorrow you can write again.

Recently I suggested you start with just one sentence. Maybe you are still thinking that is too painful or wondering with what sentence to start. Next time I have a suggestion about that.


Meanwhile, See What Others Say about writing about painful events in their lives. Reading is often the best Launching Pad into your own writing. You may find their observations so inspiring you will be eager to start. 

Your comments and questions are welcome. Let us know how the writing goes.

I will see you back here in a few days. 

Chocolate Inkwell

You know my friend, Judy, who supplies many of the wonderful chocolate recipes here? Yes? Well, today's recipe is from Judy -- in an indirect way. And it is a recipe in an indirect way. 

Chocolate for your Brain is a humor column that focuses on parenting, the unique struggles of raising a large family in the modern age and other absurdities of modern life. 

It is written by Judy's college roommate's daughter. (I believe I have that connection correct.) 

We all need a "recipe" for the "absurdities of modern life." And, these recipes are waistline friendly. Enjoy. 

All rights reserved 2014 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®