The Three Magic Bullets for Success

burn bridges

I have the fun and the privilege of working with a great author who is writing a spine tingling true crime novel. If I secretly loved Silence of the Lambs and didn’t sleep without my door locked for ten years after watching it (with my coat over my head), well I now get to spend time as a writing coach on this project, getting inside the head of a real life Hannibal Lecter. What is a psychology degree good for if not to help write amazing psychopathological characters?

And today, as he and I discussed his writing, I realized that what we discussed were common and maybe even universal themes in writing which challenge newer writers. So, I thought to pass these three pillars of writing a page-turner on to you. I have included three links to short discussions by various writing voices out there, so have fun and then write, write and write some more. 

Common Challenges in Writing

Narrative vs. Show Don’t Tell

If you decide not to write a narrative book, where the narrator is like god and telling the reader everything that is happening, and instead you want to show don’t tell your scenes, here is a great little website that does a simple but good job of talking about what most writers struggle with. I know my learning curve was steep. But, as a screenwriter it was the gospel to write this way.

An example of telling is to write something like: “Glenda felt angry”. To show your reader that Glenda felt angry you might write: “Suddenly Glenda’s face turned a crimson flush, as she grabbed the dish on the table and hurled it into the wall, shattering her mother’s favorite bowl into sharp-edged fragments.” Which one keeps you more engaged, since that is the object of show don’t tell; keeping your reader engaged so they burn through your book and then rush to Amazon to see if there is a sequel?

I am a big believer in Show Don’t Tell as the single most important hook for a reader locking themselves in the bathroom with your book, not to be interrupted, while they hold a wet hanky in one hand and have bitten their nails down to nubs on the other.

So, I pass this article on to you.  I like the way David Wilson describes what you need to know and then from there if you CHOSE to follow this idea in your own writing, you just practice, practice, practice.  In my mind the best way to accomplish show don’t tell is to literally, like a method actor does, immerse your self in the scene as one of the characters. Then smell, taste, touch and feel what is happening in detail and write it.

Maintaining your dynamic Tension. In a great Blog called, Now Novel, the authors talk about how to create inner and outer tension. Most of us think about conflict as coming from outside of the self; a car wreck, an intruder, the IRS knocking on your door but in actuality I think inner tension is even more powerful.

“When writers think about building suspense, they often think about conflict from outside. However, tension is strongest when it arises both from forces outside of the character and those within. In some cases, the two types of tension may reflect one another; a character who struggles with insecurity, fear of flying or a terror of public speaking may face an external conflict that brings that internal tension to the fore.”

This link is a great short treatment on Tension.

writers mug

Creating voices in your characters that make them unique. Writing characters that, when speaking, sound different and unique from one another is a big challenge. In general, the real test is to ask your self whether you can have dialogue and the reader instantly know who is speaking without the name following the dialogue? Here is some info that is short and even though it is directed to screenwriters, it applies to all of us as writers.

Most people finish a first draft and find that they are weak in these areas and then on the second draft have to do major surgery to generate tension, to show don’t tell and to make the voices of their characters unique. That is very time-consuming, so the sooner, in your first draft, you can work toward these three magic bullets, the better.

flying pages






Essay Guidelines and Your Red Mittens

vision can change the world

I promised to post some guidelines for those who are writing an essay to win a contest, especially the Inn in Maine.  Although I will be personally working with ten people on this contest I have had so many inquiries that I thought to help the best I could by including on my blog some thoughts for writing a 200 word essay.  There is wisdom included in the guidelines below from writers other than myself who have learned a few things about writing a short essay of this kind.

Feel free to post questions and please feel free to send me a bit about your story to share with my readers.  We can all use inspiration.

Dreaming big is what we should all be doing and without restraint.  I hope this helps to dream even bigger.

Essay Writing Information From Maya Christobel

Here are some tips on approaching writing your essay. Over the years I have gathered lots of great advice and experience, which I will jot down for you to help you launch your essay.


  • Short is all that much harder than long, but don’t worry. Write as much as you want and then you will slash a burn what is not essential.
  • Do not hurry. Allow the muse to whisper in your ear. If you hurry your mid will be in the driver seat and that will not make for a great essay.
  • Pay attention to what you might be afraid to say, what you were dreaming the night before you work on your essay, pay attention to your intuition and instinct and particularly pay attention to the visual images you have in your mind.
  • This is not a test. Write instinctively first, not like an English major taking a test. Thinking you need to do it “right” will never help you “write”.


Tell a story about you and about your dream: Be specific: The more personal the better. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Find the unique points of your dream and focus on them. Instead of saying something about loving your parents and wanting to help them run a B+B, say more than that: Say why you love them, what makes them so special and the perfect people to realize their dream. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut wrenching—it can even be funny—but it has to be real.


Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. I recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak. In fact take your iPhone or a recorder and simply tell your story and then play it back many times. This will help you focus on what feels right, what stands out and what may not fit.  Tell your story first to a best friend and see what she or he is moved by.


Consult your Heart: When you are limited to 200 words, which is not quite one page you will be doing a lot of thinking about what you need or want to write. My advice is to please write from your heart first. Do not focus on grammar or spelling or word count. Make sure you are answering the following questions:


  • Why does owning this Inn inspire you?
  • How would it change your life AND others.
  • What particular experience do you have that helps you run an Inn.
  • Why are you the best candidate? What makes you Unique?


Then Lead Your Essay with a Good Hook, this is most important.

When it’s time to start writing your essay contest entry, remember that the first sentence is the most important of all. If you can start with a powerful, intriguing, moving, or hilarious first sentence, you’ll hook your readers’ interest and stick in their memory when it is time to pick winners. Remember you are competing against 7500 other dreamers so that first sentence needs to stand out.

Write Your First Draft Essay

Now is the time to get all of your thoughts down. At this stage, it’s not necessary for everything to be perfectly polished; you’re just setting down the bones of your final essay contest entry. Try to hit the points you most want to communicate. If your essay is running longer than the word count limit, don’t worry about it at this stage, I will help you trim the fat.

 red mittens

Keep an Eye Out for “Red Mittens”

This is something I learned along the way that has been indispensable. The “red mittens” idea has to do with making sure you have something so unique and visual in the essay that they will remember you out of the crowd. It is like planting an Easter egg in the bushes. Here is a great piece of information.

Excerpt from Sandra Grauschopf: Contests & Sweepstakes Expert

“In her fantastic book, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Terry Ryan talked about how her mother used “Red Mittens” to help her be even more successful with contest entries. To quote from the book:

“The purpose of the Red Mitten was almost self-explanatory — it made an entry stand out from the rest. In a basket of mittens, a red one will be noticed.”

Among the Red Mitten tricks that Evelyn Ryan used were rhyme, alliteration, inner rhyme, puns, and coined words.

While Evelyn Ryan mostly entered jingle and ad-type contests, the Red Mitten theory can be used to make any essay contest entry stand out. Your Red Mitten might be a clever play on words, a dash of humor, or a heart-tugging poignancy that sticks in the judges’ minds.”


Then Revise Your Essay for Flow 

Once you have written the first draft of your essay contest entry, look it over to ensure that it flows smoothly. I will be helping you all along the way to make sure that you say what you need in compelling ways and that it flows. Is your point well made and clear? Does the essay flow smoothly from one point to another? Do the transitions make sense? Does it sound good when you read it aloud? Remember this is a final piece of writing and at the beginning you just need to get all your feelings and thoughts on paper even if it is five pages.

At this point you and I will cut out extraneous words and make sure that you’ve come in under the word count limit.

In Stephen King’s book which I believe is one of the best out there, On Writing, he talks about a rejection notice he once received that read: “Formula for success: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.” In other words, the first draft can always use some trimming to make the best parts shine.


Now Put Your Writing Away

When you have a fairly polished first draft of your essay contest entry, put it aside and don’t look at it for a little while. If you have time before the contest ends, put your essay away for at least a week. Let your mind mull over the idea subconsciously for a little while and see what else bubbles up.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sent in an entry and then thought of something that I should have added to make it perfect. Letting your entry simmer in your mind and heart gives you the time to come up with these great ideas before it’s too late.


Finally, Revise Your Essay Again and Again

Now is the time to put the final polish on your essay contest entry. Have you said everything you wanted to say? Have you made your point? Does the essay still sound good when you read it aloud? Can you tighten up the prose by making any additional cuts in the word count? And let people you know read it. They will have great ideas. You don’t have to use them but you may want to.

If possible, this is a good time to enlist the help of friends or family members. Read your essay aloud to them and check their reactions. Did they smile in the right parts? Did it make sense to them?

And ask a friend to double-check your spelling and grammar. Even your computer’s spell check programs make mistakes sometimes, so it’s helpful to have another person read it over. I will do that with you but you will want to have another person in the wings that is great at this sort of thing.

The Magic Bullet: The Power of Your Intention

What I encourage you to do is to not focus on winning but focus on learning more about yourself, your dream, more about listening to your “deep voice” and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and honest. You can do that with a tiny story, with humor or with a quote.

And I encourage you to do the envisioning that will make your intention to win the Inn a reality. Cut out a photo of the Inn, paste it above where you write. Do a daily visualization of you owning the Inn, people coming, joy happening, you feeling successful and happy. This is your most powerful writing tool

Happy writing!

I have a dream

The Top Ten

compostite faces best

OMG, what a 24 hours I have had. There has been a flood of response to the post I put up yesterday for free writing coaching for ten people who want to win an Inn in Maine and live their dream.   After 33 emails I have the ten people I will work with before the May 7th deadline.

Thank you to everyone who has contacted me and I wish I could coach all 33 of you, but alas, there are not enough hours in the day. The stories of why people want to take this leap in their lives have been astonishing:  Young daughters wanting to make their mother’s dream come true, Chocolatiers, Restauranteurs, a French baker, a son who wants to give it to his parents who have always dreamed of a bed a breakfast, a daughter honoring her artist father, a couple from Hawaii who want a sustainable community for creatives, a woman’s group wanting a women’s collective and countless others.

Maine Inn1

So, this one tiny step I took in the wee hours of yesterday morning is now unfolding, as always, into an adventure and I am following the signs.  I am compiling the compelling stories of those who want to dream this opportunity into a reality and if you would like to send me a few paragraphs on why you would want to win this contest I will be reprinting them with your first name only on my websites and my blogs. Even if your are not one of the ten people I am working with I would love your stories and your permission to reprint as well as contact information.  Just the act of writing your dream in 200 words will put your intention firmly out into the Universe.   The inspiration you can share will inspire countless others. Please send them to

Then later this week I will post here on Mythotherapy  some writing guidelines for those of you who are taking the plunge to submit an essay to this contest.  It hopefully will help you write a better essay and I will also include some links to great ideas for writing a provocative essay. As for me, the primary ingredient is to write from your heart.

Looking forward to hearing from many more of you.

Maine Inn 2  best diverse people


Ten People to Receive Free Writing Coaching and… Win an Inn

house in maine

“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world.
Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

I have had a dream, as have many women I know. We have chatted long into the night about women living together, moving to the next stages of life together, creating, writing, cooking and becoming a force of nature together.

My dream has been to establish a writer’s community, a live-in creative and sustainable community to help shift the terrible model of living in isolation. Whether this is a destination place for people to work on projects for a winter or summer, whether a core of individuals commit to living together and creating a more sustainable and functional model for living, I have entered this contest below.

And, I am going to run a contest of my own up until May 1, 2015

The first 10 people who are inspired by the idea of living in Maine, of having a place to be to do creative work or are ready to pull up stakes and move , I am willing to help you write your essay of no more than 200 words, polish it and help you to send it in.  All you pay is the $125 entry fee.  I will donate my usual fee of $500 to help you do this.  Then we become a collective force of energy to call in the possible outcome and along the way a community of intention is woven together with strength and clarity.  And of course this is open to men and women alike.

Here is the information below and then right at the end I have included the link to the application.  Please contact me at with questions or to be one of the ten people and then send this along to pioneering friends and post it on Facebook. At the very least, we will build a community of connection and at the very most we will be creating something beautiful, together in a world that needs community.  But the bottom line is, we will have fun.

The power of community to create health is far greater than any physician, clinic or hospital.  Mark Hyman

Win an Inn ! Owner of historic Inn in Maine is holding essay contest and the winner gets the property

  • Janice Sage, current owner of the Center Lovell Inn, won the inn in a 1993 essay contest
  • After running the inn for 22 years, 68-year-old Sage is ready to retire
  • She expects to receive 7,500 applications by the May 7 deadline 

Now the 68-year-old innkeeper is ready to retire and plans to hand off the keys to the Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant to a new owner with a new contest.

Ms Sage announced the contest late last year, and expects to receive 7,500 entries from prospective new owners by the May 7 deadline.

On Monday, the Daily Mail Online spoke with Ms Sage about her decision to finally step away from the inn she’s toiled at and invested $500,000 into for renovations.

‘I’ve been in the business 38 years so it’s time to retire,’ Ms Sage said, adding that she’s looking forward to doing nothing in her retirement after years of 17-hour workdays.

Ms Sage says she can’t reveal the essay that won her the inn in 1993, but she believes her 16 years running a restaurant in Maryland helped.

‘One of the judges told me they chose me because they saw that I could carry on the inn and make it a viable business,’ Ms Sage said.

While Ms Sage has the right to sell the business, as the outright owner, she has decided to give it away with a new essay contest out of goodwill.

‘I just want to pass it on to somebody else who is looking for an inn, who possibly can’t own it on their own outright and I think this is a good way to pay it forward,’ she said.

Ms Sage hopes to read all of the applications by May 17, and says she’ll be impressed by grammatically correct entries that show a passion for work.

Deadline approaching: Prospective owners can apply to take over the inn by submitting a 200-word essay and $125 by the deadline of May 7Deadline approaching: Prospective owners can apply to take over the inn by submitting a 200-word essay and $125 by the deadline of May 7

The prompt for the essay is simple: ‘Why I would like to own and operate a country inn.’ Prospective new owners must answer the question in a pithy 200 words, and pay $125 to enter the contest.

Ms Sage will be keeping the money from the application, which could exceed the inn’s estimated value of $900,000.

Ms Sage won’t choose the winner, though. Instead, she’ll whittle down the list to the top 20 candidates and then let a two-person team who have no stake in the inn select the winner by May 21. The inn will then transfer to the new owner within 30 days, along with $20,000 to jumpstart the business.

However, the new owners must agree to keep the inn, which dates back to 1805, painted white with green or black trim. They must also run the property as an inn for at least one year after the handover.

Busy, busy: The inn, located three hours north of Boston, is open year round and its seven rooms are routinely booked up seven days a week in the high season
Busy, busy: The inn, located three hours north of Boston, is open year round and its seven rooms are routinely booked up seven days a week in the high season
Busy, busy: The inn, located three hours north of Boston, is open year round and its seven rooms are routinely booked up seven days a week in the high season


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Procrastination is the Name of the Game


“The thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing.” ― Alan Dean Foster

“Like most writers, I am an inveterate procrastinator. In the course of writing this one article, I have checked my e-mail approximately 3,000 times, made and discarded multiple grocery lists, conducted a lengthy Twitter battle over whether the gold standard is actually the worst economic policy ever proposed, written Facebook messages to schoolmates I haven’t seen in at least a decade, invented a delicious new recipe for chocolate berry protein smoothies, and Googled my own name several times to make sure that I have at least once written something that someone would actually want to read. Lots of people procrastinate, of course, but for writers it is a peculiarly common occupational hazard. One book editor I talked to fondly reminisced about the first book she was assigned to work on, back in the late 1990s. It had gone under contract in 1972.” Megan Mcardle

I teach writing workshops and classes and it is inevitable to hear a writer say, under their breath and hoping no one will hear, that they in fact battle a million and one distractions in order to sit down and become a productive writer. Then whether the battle is won or lost, what the end product generates is self doubt, and self criticism. Well let’s all just stop that. The common issues regarding procrastination for writers are captured by the quote above made by Megan Mcardle.

But, the problem of procrastination can be as simple as working from home and the phone ringing and jumping up to answer it, putting that load of laundry in, having to get up and walk the dog or the most common issue being the uncertainty about what you are writing and welcoming every single little tiny distraction that exists in order to avoid the fear, the lack of clarity or the horrible feeling of being stuck.

What we use to procrastinate must serve us in some important way. Procrastination is what is called an “avoidance technique” and it is your job as a writer to look it square in the eye and fess up to what you might be avoiding. In the end, procrastination is all about being uncertain about your self as a writer. Whether it is about inspiration, self concept, constantly comparing your writing to others or the loop that is going all the time in your head that says something like this: “what the hell are you thinking writing this book?” the ultimate outcome is a kind of stalling out and waiting for a magical elixir. But, procrastination comes in many shapes and sizes.

The French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette who wrote Gigi, used her French bulldog, Souci, to procrastinate writing. She would pluck fleas from Souci’s back and hunt for them in her fur until the grooming ritual prepared her to move on to other procrastination techniques like cuddling with Souci and swatting flies. Only then would Colette begin to work.

Graham Greene, who wrote The Quiet American, needed a sign from above to begin working on a piece. Obsessed with numbers, the English playwright and novelist needed to see a certain combination of numbers by accident in order to write a single word. He would spend long periods of time by the side of the road looking at license plates and waiting for the hallowed number to appear.  Now that is navigating by the sigs and by coincidence.

Wherever he traveled, Charles Dickens decorated his desk with nine objects. The bronze toads, green vase, and the statuette of an eccentric dog salesman surrounded by his pups comforted Dickens when he hit a mental block, and helped him feel comfortable enough to work anywhere.  Now this is bordering on being Obsessive Compulsive but OCD has its place in history with a slew of famous writers.

Victor Hugo, who wrote novels like Les Miserables, did more than buy a new bottle of ink in preparation to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame. With a deadline looming, Hugo locked himself inside his house with nothing on but a knitted gray shawl that reached down to his toes. The uniform suited his productivity, and he completed the novel weeks ahead of the deadline.

Some people dream of lounging all day, but Truman Capote really did. His workday began in bed or on a couch where he would write on a notebook rested against his knees. He always kept cigarettes and whichever drink was appropriate for the time of day—coffee, tea, or sherry. Boy do I relate to this. Not the cigarettes and Martinis at the crack of dawn, but I get out of bed and put on my favorite tea at 6:30 am and then crawl back in bed with my laptop on my knees and write until 10am every morning. If I do not do this I am a basket case and cannot get my barring’s for the whole day. I put music on every time and listen to soundtracks of my favorite movies while I write. The theme from Bourne Legacy gets me every time.

So you are in good company. You are not odd or unusual in your procrastination. And in the end you need to make friends with a pattern that is one of the most frequent issues for a writer. Know that procrastination is just part of the job. Get over it when you can and then laugh at yourself the rest of the time. You will get to writing, you will finish and you will be done in your own good time.

“We are so scared of being judged that we look for every excuse to procrastinate.” ― Erica JongSeducing the Demon: Writing for My Life