Archive for February, 2011

Make Room for Laughter/ Take My Wife, Please . . .

February 22, 2011

When I opened Growing Up Laughing:  My Story and the Story of Funny by Marlo Thomas, I expected to read a celebrity memoir recommended by a friend of mine.  What I didn’t expect was to laugh all the way through the book with the jokes, the interviews with comedians, and the author’s own special brand of humor.

Thomas, whose father was the legendary comedian, Danny Thomas, writes of being a child hanging around her father and his famous funny friends.  He starred in the show “Make Room for Daddy” and later his daughter had her own television show in the 60s called “That Girl.”  

As a child, I grew up watching “That Girl”, and even wrote to Thomas requesting her autograph.  (Which I received on a mass-produced photo still in my childhood album.)  It was a break-through show, because Thomas did the first t.v. sitcom where a SINGLE WOMAN lived on her own without needing or wanting to be married.  BRAVO!  She had to fight the network male executives to do it, but she did.  And many of us young girls watching, appreciated and loved her for it.

But what I didn’t know then was that Marlo Thomas learned a heck of a lot of her comedy timing and techniques from  her famous father. 

“Dad adored making an audience laugh, but he also loved bringing them to a hush.  He used to tell me that a good storyteller knows how important the silences are, and is never afraid of them.  Dad controlled his audience like an orchestra conductor.  He was Mr. Cool.”

What does this have to do with writing your short story, poem, or personal narrative for our Young Writers Contest?  What does it have to do with writing your chapter book for children? 


Why?  Writing humor is the hardest thing in the world to write.  It’s all based on timing, and this timing is based on silences and pacing.   In fact, all writing is pacing.  So every time you sit down to write, make sure you read your work aloud when you are through.  Pretend YOU are a stand-up comic.  Even if you aren’t writing funny, pretend you are telling a story to a friend. 

Where should the pauses be?  Where should the excitement in your story “rev” up?  Where should it quiet down and relax?  Where should there be dialogue for character growth or tension? 

Many writers take acting classes.  To become actors?  No.  For the timing!  What was I in my other life?  I taught creative drama and improvisation.  I directed children’s plays.  It all ties together. 

So if teachers or editors comment on how you need better pacing, read your work aloud. Consider an improv or acting class.  Share your work with trusted writers to help you know when the pacing is right.  That’s what Marlo’s father did with his friends. 

Remember this about humor:

It’s based on the unexpected.   Misinterpretations of what someone says can be funny.  Humor is best when it’s based on character.  Humor is based on truth.  Exaggerate the everyday average to make it funny.  And finally, above all, have fun!

Amazing Light Show!

February 19, 2011

Writing Prompt:  Take your pen in hand and as you watch this amazing light show, describe what you see, using concrete nouns and as many active verbs as you can.    Enjoy!

Proofreader Needed for Newspapers too!

February 17, 2011

Real Newspaper Titles  (No Kidding!)

Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

Miners Refuse to Work After Death

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant

War Dims Hope for Peace

If Strike isn’t Settled Quickly, it May Last Awhile

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures

Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

Man Struck By Lightning; Faces Battery Charge

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Local High School Drop Outs Cut in Half

Hospitals are Sued by 7 foot Doctors

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery — Hundreds Dead

Writing Prompt: 

1. Take the article titles above and rewrite them so they are clear.  

2.  Create a funny story to go along with the funny headline!

3.  Check your own writing to make sure you don’t have any unclear meanings in your words.


February 16, 2011

A recent article by novelist and poet John L’Heurex in the Wall Street Journal recommends reading Hemingway’s stories, “Hills Like White Elephants” to learn great dialogue.  Why?  It’s almost completely told in dialogue!

As L’Heurex states:  ” . . . dialogue is not conversation . . . it is much more efficient and believable than real conversation.”

After you’ve written your story, go back through your dialogue and see that you’ve chosen the best to represent your characters.  If you’ve written their conversation that means nothing special to the story, cut it.  Make sure their words crackle with tension or show their character. 

As L’Heurex says:  “The tone of a comment or the choice of words or the hesitation with which something is said can indicate that beneath the spoken words there is a feeling very different from what the words seem to express.” 

And unless you’re channeling Hemingway, I wouldn’t recommend writing a story in complete dialogue.  Try a balance of narration, dialogue and action to show your character’s motivation, growth and desire. 

Writing Prompt:   1.  Write a scene where two characters talk about one thing while really discussing a deeper problem. This problem comes out at the end of the scene.

2.  In the book you are reading now, study the writer’s dialogue.  Which passages do you like best?  Why? 

3.  Go to a coffee shop, a school cafeteria, or sit in a restaurant and listen in on conversations.  Jot down lines of dialogue you like.  Later choose one or more lines to begin a story.

Calling Fifth Grade Students & Teachers in Contra Costa & Alameda Counties

February 13, 2011

The Berkeley Branch of California Writers Club’s fifth grade writing contest entries are due March 15, 2011.  For guidelines see:

Writing for Teens Website

February 9, 2011

If you are a teen and like to read and write, visit this site!

CALLING ALL TEACHERS – Writing Contest for K – 12 Students!

February 9, 2011

Who Can Participate:       Students in Kindergarten – Grade 12

Here’s How It Works:

Students write an essay, poem, or thank-you letter (500 words or less, in English on 8.5″ x 11″ white paper) sharing how a teacher has influenced their life and why they appreciate and admire them. Each entry should be submitted with the entry form and a parent or legal guardian must sign the entry form acknowledging that they have read the Official Contest Rules.

Participating schools will collect the essays and provide them to their local Barnes & Noble store representative. Deadline for entries is Friday, March 18, 2011. Winners are selected, and the local store and community celebrations begin! If your school is not participating in the contest and you would like your teacher to be considered for the local and regional award as well as the national Barnes & Noble Teacher of the Year Award, please submit your signed entry form in person or by mail to your local store. Forms must be postmarked by March 18, 2011 and can be sent to any Barnes & Noble store near you

 (a complete list of stores is available at

A store representative will ensure it is entered into the pool of entries for the awards.

What Students Get:   The students who write the winning essays or poems will receive a certificate of recognition and be honored at their local store during a ceremony for the winning teachers.

What Teachers Get:  The winning teacher will be recognized at an event at their local Barnes & Noble store where they will receive a special award acknowledging their achievement, a set of ten (10) Sterling Children’s Classics books for their library, and additional recognition and praise from their community.

The six regional winners will each receive a NOOK™ eBook Reader and a $500 Barnes & Noble Gift Card. The winner of the “Barnes & Noble Teacher of the Year” award will receive $5,000 and be recognized at a special event at a Barnes & Noble store. The winning teacher’s school will receive $5,000 as well, and an author visit by Laurie Halse Anderson, a New York Times bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. The winner will also receive five copies of the winning essay published in hardcover by, the site where students create and publish their own books, and a $250 Tikatok Gift Card that will allow the teacher to publish select stories written by students in their class.

Visit this site for more information:

Humor in my own mistakes

February 4, 2011

After I wrote my blog today, what did I do?  Forgot to proof-read it.  I ignored my own advice.  I pressed publish, without a thought to the typos. 

Slow down the moment, Liz.

Writing Advice for winning contests, getting published, and earning a million dollars. . .

February 4, 2011

I just read a lovely, fantastic, fabulous book called AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD by Barbara Brown Taylor.  It’s a book for adults who are looking to deepen their spirituality, but everything she says applies to writing. 

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished.  That will be the beginning.”  Louis L’Amour  

This quote from the western author headed one of  Taylor’s chapters.  It’s true of our soul work as well as our writing.  If you are entering our California Writers Club Young Writers Contest, or you’re writing a book for a publisher, or crafting a poem for your self, after you put down your pen or print out your copy and feel pleased with yourself for finishing your draft, put your creative work away for a while. 

What?  You mean you don’t mail it to the California Writers Club, or send it to your publisher, or frame it for your wall right away?

No.  Don’t.  Refrain yourself.  Please. 

Take your dog for a walk.   Read a book.    Watch a really good movie.  Eat ice cream. 

“But Mom, my writing teacher told me I’m supposed to eat ice cream!  Really!” 

(Yes, you can use me as an excuse.  Go ahead.  But then you’ll know I want you to use your senses to write about that experience.)

Why should you put it away and not send out your newly written work?  Because if you give yourself the gift of time, you will look at your work with fresh eyes another day.   No piece is done the first time one writes it.   You can always make it better.   If you think you are done you are teasing yourself. 

If you don’t know where to “slow-down-the-moment” give it to a good writing friend, read it at your writing group, show it to your teacher and ask for some comments on how you can make it more immediate. 

Is your short story seven pages instead of the required five?  Yes, it can be whittled down to five.  You may think it can’t be done but you can do it! 

Someone once said,  “I’ve written you a long letter.  It would be shorter but I didn’t have the time.”   I can’t recall who it was.  But  it takes time and a lot of thought to make every word count.  Does each word need to be there?  Can you use one good word instead of five less distinctive ones?

This is from Barbara Brown Taylor: 

“Reverence requires a certain pace.  It requires a willingness to take detours, even side trips, which are not part of the original plan.”

Paying attention takes time and effort.  

Taylor suggests taking twenty minutes for paying attention.  But if you can’t do that, try five. 

” . . . With any luck you will soon begin to see the souls in pebbles, ants, small mounds of moss, and the acorns on its way to becoming an oak tree.  You may feel some tenderness for the struggling mayfly the ants are carrying away.  If you can see the water, you may take time to wonder where it comes from and where it is going. You may even feel the beating of your own heart . . .”

Exercise for you:  Take five minutes of your day.  Pay attention to one thing.  It can be your pet.  It can be a tree outside.  Lie on your stomach.  What are your feelings from head to toe as you touch the tree or your pet?  What do you see?  Smell?  Hear? 

Next, take time to write all of your thoughts and emotions down.  Compare them to other things.  You may find similes and metaphors pouring out of you now where in a classroom or in your office in front of your computer they would be stifled. 

Enjoy your weekend by paying attention to the little details in your life. 

Waiting in line?  Think about the character standing next to you.  What is he/she wearing?   Perfume or after-shave?  What does this person do all day long?  Memorize the details and create a story in your head. 

You will never be bored.

California Writers Club Young Writers Contest Guidelines 2011

February 3, 2011

 California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch, Contra Costa County


Honoring a New Generation of California Writers

     See for contest information 




Home Address_________________________________________________

Number   &  Street                  City                                             Zip

Home Phone_____________________E-mail Address________________



First and Last Name of your English (Creative Writing)


Manuscript Title__________________________________

MANUSCRIPT CATEGORIES (please check one):

_____ Short Story (up to 5 pages typed, double-spaced)

_____ Poem (up to 30 lines, can be single or double-spaced)

_____ Personal Narrative/Essay (up to 3 pages, typed, double-spaced)

Mail submissions to:  Young Writers Contest, California Writers Club, PO Box 606, Alamo, CA  94507

DON’T MISS OUT:  Only entries that follow the guidelines EXACTLY will be considered!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ CONTEST GUIDELINES:

1. Contest open to 6th, 7th and 8th grade students who live in or attend school in Contra Costa County.

2. Submit 2 copies of your manuscript. Do not include artwork or a cover. Your manuscript must be typed or computer generated at 12 point, double-spaced. No staples. Paper clips only.

3. Put your name in the upper left-hand corner of each page. Number each page.  Put manuscript title on the first page.

4. Multiple entries are welcome.  Each entry must be accompanied by a separate application form (above) or 3×5 card noting: name; home address; home phone; school; grade; e-mail address; teacher; manuscript title; and category.

5. Deadline:  Manuscripts must be postmarked by April 1, 2011. Winners will be announced when judging is complete.


­_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

PRIZES: Winning short stories and poems from each grade level will receive $100 for first prize, $50 for second prize and $25 for third prize. The Betty Tenney Essay Award of $100 will be given to the best personal narrative/essay in each grade. Second and third place prizes may be awarded in this category at the judges’ discretion. Prizes will be presented to winners on May 21, 2011, at a lunch banquet. A published author will speak. Parents are welcome.

TEACHERS: We are striving to encourage individual creativity and expression. Do not send entire class assignments. Teachers of winning students will be invited to attend the May 21 banquet.