Blog, Writing Blog

How Country Music Inspired My Flash Fiction

From a poor girl living in a run-down, one room shack to a wealthy woman living in an elegant, New York townhouse flat, Reba McEntire tells the tale of a girl named Fancy, pushed out of poverty by her dying mother…and she tells the story in about six minutes.

Martina McBride tells the story of an abused woman who frees herself from her relationship by burning her house to the ground with and her abuser still inside…in about four minutes.

Garth Brooks tells us what can happen when the thunder rolls and a cheating husband comes to home to his fretting wife (it’s not good) and Reba tells what happens when the lights go out in Georgia and they hang an innocent man.

These sagas have all the elements of a good story; intriguing characters with backstories, sad beginnings, middles full of conflict, and dramatic endings…and they all wrap up in six minutes or less.

Like most writers, I’ve been asked some form of this question: “What inspired you to write? Where do you get your inspiration? What inspired you when you were younger?” I was never really sure of the best answer to this question. I’ve just always liked to write. And I’ve always liked to read. And of course, I was inspired by books like Matilda, Harriet The Spy, and, eventually, Harry Potter. But, if you look at my writing now, those didn’t exactly inspire my style. I ended up leaning more toward the style of the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine (which I also devoured) but, looking back, there was something else.

I figured it out when I discovered a Spotify playlist featuring nineties country. I started shuffling through that and, whoa, those songs took me back. I could see myself sitting on the floor with a new cassette (yea, I’m old) and reading along with the lyrics on the inside flap. I remember crying over Don’t Take the Girl by Tim McGraw, Faith Hill’s A Man’s Home is His Castle, and the previously mentioned Independence Day (I was a pretty emotional kid). I can see myself parked in front of the TV the day my dad died, tuning the world out, completely focused on a CMT music video marathon, soaking in story after story about the tragedies of others. And they were stories–elaborate, complete, deep stories.

The country music of my childhood could present a moving and emotional tale, beginning, middle and end, in just a few minutes. A few verses and a chorus were all you needed to get sucked into the life of a frustrated wife, a couple falling in love, or a woman finding her independence. At the time, I didn’t recognize why I liked them so much, I just knew I did. But now, looking back, I know that the writer in me recognized their ability to weave a complicated story in a short amount of time. Given how big of an impact these songs had on me, it’s no wonder I ended up attempting to mimic them.

In flash fiction, you have around 1,000 words to present a complete and engaging story. You have to do what a novel has about 75,000 words to do. Even though it’s short, it still needs to have compelling characters, include enough history to suck in the reader and wrap up neatly enough to keep them satisfied. It also needs to pack a punch. Like Garth’s twist when the wife in The Thunder Rolls goes back into the bedroom for her gun, many of my stories don’t end happily. But they are memorable (so I’ve been told). I thought about these songs long after the last notes died out, and I still do.

I want my readers to do the same when they put down my stories. It may not be normal for a writer to say they were inspired by country music, but now, when I get that perplexing question, I can safely say that I try to write stories that move others like I was moved by the stories of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and so many, many more.


See what kinds of stories country music inspired me to write in my book of flash fiction, “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction.”

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Blog, Writing Blog

When I Don’t Want to Write: My Internal Struggle

I want to talk about something not a lot of writers talk about. Let’s talk about what happens when you don’t feel like writing.

Not what you should do when you don’t feel like writing…which is write. Power through it. Suck it up. Writers write. You have to do your job even when you don’t feel like doing it, and the same is true for writing. If you ask any successful writer for their advice on what to do when you don’t feel like writing they’d say….write anyway.

But, I’m not here to give you advice.

I am here to talk about how it feels when a writer just doesn’t feel like writing. I want to talk about what happens to your brain, your ego, that delicate writer psyche that is barely holding on to sanity at any given moment. Because it happens. It happens to me. A lot. I am almost always thinking about writing. Even when it doesn’t seem like I’m thinking about writing, I probably am. I imagine the same is true for most writers. This is not the problem.

The problem is the gut-wrenching guilt that comes when you just don’t want to write. I want to talk about that. I am not going to give advice on how to get past it, because I have no idea. I am not soliciting advice because I know what you’ll say and I know you’re right. I just want to talk about how it feels…

So, here are a few things that happen inside my brain, my guts, and my writer psyche when I don’t want to write.

I question my existence

All I’ve ever wanted to do was write. When I was young, I did it all the time. During school, after school, in class, while eating, before sleeping, in the bath, with friends. I didn’t know a lot about what I wanted to do with my life (shit, I still don’t…) but I knew I wanted to write. My love of writing has always defined me as a person. So, what does it say about me if I don’t want to write? I don’t just sit on my bed and write anymore. I don’t sneak out a notebook and write lines between tasks (though, to be fair, I am writing this at work right now…shhh..). I still want to be a writer, but sometimes, I just don’t want to write. And when those two thoughts collide? My guts and my brain and my sensitive writers psyche all tighten into a ball and internally rock back and forth while I grimace and go about my day wondering who I am, what I’m doing with my life and if I’ll ever find a purpose.

I get SUPER jealous

Since social media is obviously the place you want to go when you’re feeling bad about yourself…I spend a lot of my time watching other writers post word counts and pictures of coffee shops and manuscripts and highlighted pages and stacks of paper and I hate them just a little (seriously, love you all!). I want what they have. I want to be doing what they’re doing…except I don’t. Trust me, I get the irony. I say I want to be writing as I blog about not wanting to write….as I write the blog…about…not…wanting to…write…it’s very confusing. And, often, too much for brain, heart, and psyche to handle and I am frozen in my tracks before I can even attempt to put pen to paper.

I feel like a failure

And so, before I even have anything to fail at, I feel like a failure. I didn’t write something that turned out terrible and was shunned by the masses as the worst piece of writing in history….I didn’t write anything at all. You know those “inspirational” memes…”You only fail if you stop trying.” Yea, that’s me. I’ve stopped trying. I’ve stalled. I’m stuck. And a lot of the time, I don’t want to get unstuck. I feel like a failure but I don’t want to take the steps I know I need to take to do the one thing that would make me less of one…try.

I think other writers are judging me

Side note: Writers are actually the most non-judgmental people you will ever meet.

They aren’t judging me, and I know this. They get what I am going through because they’ve been through it. The writers I follow on Twitter and know in real life are supportive and understanding and would never make other writers feel bad about themselves. That said, it doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t THINK they are judging me. My irrational writer’s psyche, the one that thinks I’m a failure, also thinks these writers who are writing are silently judging me for not writing. Even though they’re not. But it feels like they are.

So, there you have it. Not wanting to write sucks. And it makes you feel like a giant, judged, lackluster, no purpose in life failure. At least that’s how it makes me feel.

How do you feel today? Do you go through periods where you don’t want to write? How do you recover? Help! Share your thoughts.

Blog, Writing Blog

Permission to Write

“What gives one the right to write?”

“Well, is there something that will go unsaid if you don’t write?”

“Of course.”

“Well, then, you simply must write.”
You simply must write. Because something will go unsaid if you don’t. This is a mantra that I am going to start repeating to myself. For some reason, as writers, we don’t always believe that we should write. We don’t believe we have the right to write. We don’t think we have permission.

The above is a conversation Karen E. Peterson experienced (author of Write. `10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period.) in which she finally felt like she was given permission to write.

As writers, we want to write. But, we often pause at our computers or pads of paper, unsure of whether we SHOULD write. I basically feel like this, oh…all the time.

Does this sound familiar?

Start something.

Get passionate.

And then….screeching brakes.

My mind starts to wander, to ponder. To analyze. Why am I writing this? Certainly it’s been said. Someone else has probably already had this experience and put it to paper. So, what’s the point?


But, in what other profession do people look at what they are doing and say they can no longer proceed because it’s already been done? Doctors certainly don’t, and thank goodness for that. Because each doctor adds something to the profession that someone before them would not have been able to add.
The same is true with writing.
Yes, maybe someone like me had a similar experience, but, they aren’t me. And I experienced that moment differently than anyone before me. I thought different things, I had different fears, I approached it with different experiences behind me. Just as no two people ever read the same book the same way, no two people ever experience the same moment in the same way.
Writing fiction? Same thing. There may only be a handful of stories out there, but everyone tells them differently because everyone is different. This may seem like a simple concept, but writers have a hard time with it. And, if it’s not grasped, it can cripple.

It’s up to each writer to decide if they can push past self-doubt and fear in order to say the thing that might go unsaid. And, to decide if that thing is worth is saying. Spoiler: It is.
I confess, I am currently letting fear stop me. I’ve got a story inside me. One I’ve had inside of me my whole life, because it is my life. And that, the thought of putting my experiences out there for the world to see, that’s terrifying. But, if I don’t say it, who will? No one has had my experience. If I don’t say it, there are definitely things that will go unsaid. Even now, as I type this, there’s a little voice in the back of my head whispering evilly, “But is it really worth saying? Who cares if it doesn’t get said?”
And to that I reply, “I care, dammit. I care.”
And for now, that has to be enough. I am giving myself permission to write. To say what would otherwise go unsaid. And, I give you permission, if you still need it. Go forth, write words. Write YOUR words. Because if you don’t, no one else will.


Blog, Writing Blog

Storytelling in Web Writing (Why You Need It)

Think about the last thing you read that immediately pulled you in and made you want to know more.

Was it an opening line in a movie? (“In a galaxy far, far away…”)

Maybe it was a book. (“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”)

No matter what it was, it was probably compelling enough to snag your interest. And the rest of the story was probably compelling enough to keep your attention. Creative writers know how to tell a story. And if you’re writing for the web, you should too.

No matter what you are writing online (blogs, website copy, social media posts, etc.) you have the same job as those writing novels or stories: to pull in readers, keep them interested, and peak their curiosities. So, to achieve the same things a creative writer hopes to achieve, a web writer needs to utilize some of the same tools and techniques.


When you are writing for the web, you are trying to take readers through a very particular journey.

You are trying to gain their attention, turn them into interested readers or leads, make them customers, and then continue to educate and inform them so they will become ambassadors of your business. This process is very similar to the story arc of a novel or fiction piece.

A story arc has:

Exposition: The introduction of your characters, their background information, and why the reader should care about them.

Rising Action: The introduction of a conflict.

Climax: The conflict hits the most dramatic point.

Falling Action/Resolution: The characters find the solution to their problem and their stories are wrapped up.


Using compelling characters, you take your readers on this journey. While your web writing may not contain an orphaned boy who learns he is a wizard and has to repeatedly battle the most powerful evil wizard in the world, it should tell a story.

One of the best examples of great storytelling on a digital medium is Dove. Dove tells the story of real women who don’t look like supermodels. We’re drawn into their stories because they are real. They then branched out and told the story of a soldier who simply wants to see his new son. There are compelling characters, rising action as they tell his story, and a resolution as he gets to see his son for the first time. (We’re not crying, you’re crying!)

While this is a video, you can use these techniques when writing a blog, creating web copy, or building a social media campaign.  The point is, no matter what you are writing, you need to make sure to do a few things:

  • Capture attention
  • Make a human connection
  • Appeal to emotions
  • Stand out

You can do all of these things by simply telling a compelling story. Whether it’s two pages or two sentences, writing for the web doesn’t have to be boring. And, if it’s done right, it will tell a story that sticks with your audience.

This post was originally published, here.

Blog, Writing Blog

When Writing Is Like Breathing (But Not Like You Think)

Have you ever tried to concentrate on your breathing?

Like during a meditation or when the doctor tells you take a deep breath while he’s listening to your heart? Ever notice what happens? Suddenly, the simple act of breathing in becomes incredibly difficult. Your breathing in when he quickly tells you to breath out, but you’re not done breathing in and you don’t have enough air sucked to complete a full breath out and what does oxygen taste like again and why is your heart beating so hard and it’s a wonder you’re not passed out in a gutter somewhere if breathing is this damn difficult…

Or when you start paying particular attention to how you walk and suddenly notice that you are pigeon-toed and might not actually be able to walk in a straight line and then you’re tripping over what you can only assume was an invisible stick because if not it means you tripped over air…

Well, this tendency to find something much harder once we are actually paying attention to it is exactly why I am a Panster.

Ya follow?

No? Lemme ‘splain.

When I actually start to think about writing, like on the days where I have set aside time to do my own writing rather than work writing, suddenly, it’s as if I’ve never written a single word.

Nothing happens. Every single word is a struggle. What is words, I think as I peck at the keyboard like a 90-year-old faced with a computer for the first time. Confound this infernal machine!

But, in those moments when I have a spare second so I grab a notebook and or a computer just to jot down a few thoughts…miracles happen.

I can’t stop writing. I am pulled to the keyboard by one of those canes reserved for really bad vaudeville acts. The keyboard calls to me…TYPE! TYPE! (though, I have a feeling that if keyboards really talked they would be a little more eloquent) and my creative mind whirs to life. And I’m stuck writing some of my best stuff while a little voice inside me yells, No! This is wrong! You’re being irresponsible, you have other things you should be doing. And I respond, Screw you!

This may be a little dramatic, but you get the general idea.

When I think about writing I can no longer write.

Which explains why I am (usually) a Panster. If I try to plan an outline or map out scenes, I feel like I’m overthinking it. What would my character do after finding out she is responsible for the fate of the world? Crickets. C’mon, brain. You have to get this outline done so you know what you’re going to write next. More crickets. And not of the helpful Jiminy variety, either.

(Me, waiting for ideas while trying to outline)

The annoying kind that keep you up all night when you’re on a camping trip and sick to death of nature and all her noisy little creatures.

But, let me just start writing and I know what she’s going to do next and how she feels about it and how the other characters will react and how this will effect chapter 18 and how this moment is pivotal to the climax and how many grandchildren she will have once she’s saved the world and settled down with a nice fella.

This is also why I do my best work right up against a deadline. Because there’s no time to think. If I don’t write, I don’t get paid. Or, I don’t get to be part of the contest. Or I fail NanoWriMo. Or I don’t get to read at Fiction 440. I have to write and that’s all there is to it. So, I do.

I don’t know why my brain works like this, sometimes I wish it didn’t. But, now that I know it, I can work with it.

For instance, I have been outlining more but my outlines are very loosey-goosey (that’s a technical term, write it down). Sometimes I start writing when I’m outlining and I let myself. What started out as an outline turns into a few paragraphs I can actually use. Lovely. It’s almost more of a summary than an outline, very stream of consciousness. But, whatever it is, it works for me.

So, when I see some of you outliners out there struggling to finish your map, I wonder…are you overthinking it? What would happen if you just started writing? Live a little. Write one sentence. Write another. Pick a random part of your novel and just go. I know, it’s scary…but it’s also fun. Feel those tingles? Well, that’s because you’re sitting on your foot. First move, then write.

Write a paragraph that isn’t part of your outline and post it here. See what happens. If you don’t use it, you don’t use it.

C’mon…don’t be scared. Don’t think, just write.

Blog, Writing Blog

Don’t Forget To See-A Writer’s Contradiction

My Contradiction

As a writer, it’s my job to see the world in ways that others don’t. It’s my job to notice not only the way rain sounds, but the way it feels, smells, and tastes. How it refreshes yet annoys, how it steams the sidewalks on a hot day and falls like tiny pebbles on a frigid one. I’m the one that notices the man sitting, by himself, at the end of the bar when out with friends and wonders why he’s alone, forming a backstory in the recesses of my mind before I can stop myself. This means seeing the world through an unobstructed gaze. Without distractions. Without a lens. Naked and pure.

But, as a content associate in a very digital age, it’s also my job to watch the world through a screen. Given that one of my main responsibilities is to manage social media accounts for multiple clients, it’s my job to see the world in calculated ways. In ways that make it more appealing to certain audiences. It is not enough to simply observe and relish in all the unique and divine details of the human condition, I must be ready to capture those details, tweak them, present them, and analyze them.

This contradiction presented itself in a “get off my grass,” old man on the front porch, type of observation over the weekend.


While at a concert last week, on the floor of an almost sold out show, pushed to the back and struggling to see, I noticed that even though I had my phone put away, I was primarily watching the concert through screens. Other people’s screens. Above the heads of the sea of people in front of me, people I could barely see over anyway, hovered rows of artificially lit screens recording, snapping, flashing, typing, and transmitting.

I was not only struck by the fact that these people had no regard for the people behind them that couldn’t see the stage past their glowing blocks, but by the fact that they were there, in person, in spots they had paid for, experiencing this moment like they probably experienced most of their moments, through a screen. And, had I not been in the very back forced to observe the human condition through an unobstructed writer’s gaze, I might have been right there with them.

Can You Even See?

I am not simply complaining about “kids these days” or pining for a simpler time (though, come on, are you ever actually going to watch those videos again?), I’m making an observation about something I myself am guilty of. Not seeing. My job managing social media has flipped my digital switch to a permanent on position and I have to make an extreme effort to turn it off. I turned it off at the concert out of necessity–I wasn’t going to get any good pictures or videos from my vantage point–and it forced me to realize just how eager I am to capture moments rather than experience them.

This isn’t a new observation. It’s a well-known fact that in our world of screens and tweets and snaps and likes, we’re more likely to be on our devices than off them. It’s become a mark of pride to “unplug” or “take a Facebook break” and the moments of our lives are captured and displayed for others to see (or envy, possibly?). I’m not claiming I am the first to notice that we’re too wrapped up in our phones. But, this is the first time that I have noticed, or been acutely aware, of the contradicting characteristics of two parts of my life that present as the same job–writer.

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I am also aware that there are others out there like me–others that work in a world where it’s crucial to capture a quote on Twitter or to populate Instagram stories with funny and engaging moments from an event or just a typical day. And that’s fine. There’s a reason companies are on social media and spend valuable dollars creating videos and digital content. It’s necessary. It’s why I have a job that pays the bills and allows me to pursue other passions.

The point of this post is not to bitch about the people that impeded my view at the concert (I’ve done enough of that over the last few days). It’s to make a request of those that hold jobs similar to mine. Those that must present the world on a screen to help businesses meet goals, build brands and tell stories. My request of you, and of me, is–don’t forget to see. When possible, put the phone down. Don’t spend the seconds wondering what the perfect hashtag for this moment would be. Don’t listen to a speech simply to capture the next tweet-worthy quote.

Just listen.

Just watch.

Just observe.

Doing this helps me be a better writer but it also helps me be a better person. Or, at least, a person that observes and relishes in all the unique and divine details of the human condition.