Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within

Paperback | October 15, 2004

byBarbara DeMarco-Barrett

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In her fifteen years of teaching, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett has found that the biggest stumbling block for aspiring writers (especially women) is not fear of the blank page but frustration with the lack of time. What woman doesn't have too much to do and too little time? Finding an hour free of work, children, or obligations can seem impossible.But anyone can find fifteen minutes, whether you're sitting in traffic, waiting at a child's soccer practice, or watching the coffee drip. DeMarco-Barrett has created a practical, inspirational guide for fitting serious writing into those stolen moments. She offers writing exercises and techniques for generating ideas, as well as pragmatic advice from the well-known authors who appear on her radio show. With fifteen minutes a day, she can help you to ignite your pen and become the writer youhave always wanted to be.

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From the Publisher

In her fifteen years of teaching, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett has found that the biggest stumbling block for aspiring writers (especially women) is not fear of the blank page but frustration with the lack of time. What woman doesn't have too much to do and too little time? Finding an hour free of work, children, or obligations can seem imp...

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett teaches creative writing at University of California-Irvine and hosts the weekly radio show, Writers on Writing," on NPR affiliate KUCI. She is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times , The Writer , and Poets & Writers , among other publications, and is editor of The ASJA Monthly , the official publicat...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 8 × 5.31 × 0.58 inPublished:October 15, 2004Publisher:Houghton Mifflin HarcourtLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0156029782

ISBN - 13:9780156029780

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Read from the Book

For me, writing something down was the only road out.-Anne Tyler, in Janet Sternburg, ed.,THE WRITER ON HER WORKWriting Like There's No TomorrowIt took a while for me to get going as a writer. It wasn't until the beginning of my junior year at a private Vermont college that I knew I wanted to write, that I was desperate, actually, to be a writer. Once that knowledge took hold, there was no reconsidering my choice. I blazed along the writing path, writing hard, reading hard, making up for lost time. My advisers encouraged me. It was all good, all promising-no matter that writing was the biggest intellectual challenge of my life. But when I graduated, the fact that I still had not transformed into Virginia Woolf or become a New Yorker writer sent me into a writer's block as big as Grand Central Station. It lasted a year. Finally the truth sank in: Not writing wasn't bringing me any closer to being like the writers I admired or to being published, and I so missed writing. I dove back in. There was no choice. I was a writer: I was miserable when I didn't write, and I wanted to write more than I wanted to do anything else. I had to write, come what may. The deep desire to write is all you need to begin. Its power over you is bigger than the fear of rejection. Once you accept that you are a writer, you can overcome fear. I had to. In every aspect of life, it's easy to let fear influence our decisions. We stick with jobs we hate for fear of ending up in ones that are worse. We stay in emotionally or physically abusive relationships because we are afraid to leave. And we put off writing because there's no time, we're sure we're no good, and who are we kidding, anyway? What makes me think I'll ever make it? This way, the dream of being a writer remains just that-a dream. Putting aside fears in love, in life, and in writing is the only way to have a shot at achieving any measure of success. When crime novelist Andrew Vachss came on my show, he talked about never giving up. "Spectators don't win fights, and the one fighting technique I have not seen fail yet is to just keep getting up. People shouldn't be discouraged, because they can go from everybody saying that they would never be published and all of a sudden, it's done. You never know. You're punching a wall, punching a wall, your hands are bloody and broken, and then all of a sudden the wall's down, not from any one punch but from the accumulated weight of all the punches. This is not a business for people who give up easily."Set Your TimerImagine a friend has come to you for help. She dreams of becoming a writer but is burdened by fears. She worries she has no talent and has nothing to say. Perhaps she worries she's taking precious time away from her family to pursue her selfish desire to write. For fifteen minutes, write to that friend and give her hope. Dispel each of her fears, one by one, so that when she is through talking with you and revealing her heart, she will be willing to try giving the writing life her best effort. Your words need to inspire her and help her through this difficult time.Now, can you comfort yourself this way? Imagine you are this person. Set the timer for fifteen minutes and, using your newfound outlook, write a letter to yourself about your plans and projects as a writer. Be as specific as possible. What sorts of projects are you interested in? What would you like to write today? What is your ultimate goal? What is your most extravagant dream? Let what you jot down run the gamut from the most realistic project to the most outrageous imaginings. It's okay to dream on paper. In fact, writing down your goals can be a vital step toward accomplishing them.Copyright © 2004 by Barbara DeMarco-BarrettAll rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Table of Contents


Before You Begin
Writing Like There's No Tomorrow
Late Bloomers
Hang a Partition

Getting Started
Stolen Moments
Freewriting Shall Set You Free
Load the Basket, Fill the Jug
Harvesting Words
First Lines
Create a Written Snapshot
Through a Child's Eyes and Ears
Making Lists
Start Small
Regarding Research

Tools & Rituals
Leave Your Shoes at the Door
Writers' Utensils
Where Writers Work
Walk! Refresh! Have Fun!
Motel Motivation
Napkins, Notebooks, and Journals
Teaching Your Pen to Listen
Writers Groups

Mining Your Life
Expose Yourself
Celebrate Your Otherness
Using the Ones You Love
Breaking the Chains
Words Can Be So Powerful
Life Imitating Art
Beads of Sweat . . . or Pleasure

Plot or Not
Creating Tension
Voice and Style
Play to Your Strength
Point of View
Titles: The Port of Entry
Character Building
Compassion 101
Say What? Writing Dialogue
Set the Stage
Poetry: The Beautiful Stepchild
Obsessed with Detail
You Are What You Read

Overcoming The Obstacles
That Black Hole: TV
Fickle Minds
Green with Envy
Trusting Fear
Keep Your Lips Sealed
Significant Others

Living The Life
Marketplace Madness
Literary Agents
Set Your Pen on Fire
Suggested Reading

Editorial Reviews

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR PEN ON FIREPen on Fire is a gym for writers with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, who teaches, coaxes, and cheers us on." -Diane Leslie, author of Fleur de Leigh's Life of Crime"A wonderful mix of the practical and the inspirational." -T. Jefferson Parker, author of Cold Pursuit "Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's wonderful, practical guide teaches us to value our craft and, thus, ourselves." "With an encouraging attitude and inspirational approachaǪeverything writer-wannabes want to know, from finding an agent to finding your voice." "Soars with inspiration and crackles with joy. It's a blessing for anyone going crazy trying to find time to write." "PEN ON FIRE is a fitness gym for writers with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, who teaches, coaxes, and cheers us on." "The simple tips and easy lessons herein will provide inspiration to beginning and seasoned writers alike. I recommend it highly." "PEN ON FIRE is a beginning writer's dream cocktail of fortitude: equal parts compassion, inspiration, and fabulous limbering exercises. " DeMarco-Barrett knows the writerly type. Her book perfectly combines inspiration and practical advice. "A creative dynamo, a true writer's writer." "What a little gem! Gulp down this cocktail of compassion, inspiration, and wizard limbering-up exercises." "PEN ON FIRE has got a wonderful mix of the practical and the inspirational." "