Nancy Hatch Woodward

Nancy Hatch Woodward has been a freelance writer for over 15 years and has published over 650 articles (the vast majority in national publications).  She is the co-author of Eldercare: Caring for Your Aging Parents (National Institute of Business Management 2002).  In addition, she has published short stories, poetry, and essays in a number of publications.  Nancy has taught creative writing through Chattanooga State Community college, college writing at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, and business writing for corporations such as BlueCrossBlueShield of Tennessee. Nancy is also the founder of ChattaRosa, a writing and critiquing group for women.

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New Year’s will be here before you know it. Find a way to commit to your progress as a writer. Make it personal, but make it meaningful as well.

Are you a victim? Do you feel as though life has been unfair to you and if you could only write about, let the world know how tough things have been for you, the story would be a best seller? Some writers look at memoir this way – a chance to tell all about the abuse they have suffered. All you have to do is look at the shelves of memoirs at your local bookstore to see they are chock full of terrible stories – abusive childhoods; terrible marriages and/or divorces; sex, drugs, and rock and roll experiences that didn’t turn out well; catastrophic health nightmares, to name a few. It’s time someone tell the truth about that scumbag spouse, those uncaring doctors, that vicious teacher from 8th grade.

Starting a critiquing group? New to critiquing? When people are just learning how to critique, I don’t throw a long list of items for them to consider. I start them off gently, a little at a time. We begin with listening to the author read his or her poem, story, etc. While they listen, they take pen to paper and note what they liked about the following items – by jotting down a word or two about each

We face a clean sheet of paper (or computer screen) and begin our stories and poems – starting tabula rasa. But are we really? Is it a clean slate in front of us? Are our characters pure before we bring them into being? And what about the plot of our stories or point of our poems? Do they just pop out of the ethereal ether? What is the role of the muse if not to bestow upon us eureka experiences to write about?


Lilly Ledbetter’s Memoir and Everyday Language


You think it’s tough to find time to write? You haven’t met Melissa Fay Greene, author of numerous books: Praying for Sheetrock, Finalist for the 1991 National Book Award and a New York Times Notable book; The Temple Bombing; There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Her Country's Children and her latest, No Biking in the House Without a Helmet.


A good title not only draws readers in, but it can also be the actual start of the piece you are writing or can allude to some crucial meaning hidden in the writing. A good title is as important as your opening line, paragraph, or page – it should catch the attention of the reader as well as providing some insight as to what is coming.



In a rut with your writing? Bored with your sentences, your descriptions, your characters? Is your writing starting to feel contrived? It may be times to shake things up.


Being a writer means you are insecure – it goes with the territory.  Yet, that’s not the full story.  As writers, we also have enough ego to think we can write something others will not only read, but also often pay to read.  That’s chutzpa.


We worry that, if we follow our own path, our work will never be published. But authentic voices and writing always get noticed. It helps our work distinguish itself from the rest of the slush pile that fills editors’ desks. Give them something different, something alive that comes from deep inside you. Do it well and you will certainly get noticed.

We often shy away from our dark side, scared that if we create characters who are unseemly, cruel, and vicious, we may be giving something of ourselves away. Acknowledging through our characters our own shadowy fantasies leave us feeling naked on the page – even if what we write is beyond our own believes or desires. But it is by acknowledging both sides of our personalities – our friendly natured, kind side and our deeper, brooding, harsh side – that help us develop not just multi-dimensional and believable characters, but also more intriguing stories

As a reader, I often enjoy when an author has provide the details I need to make a leap into the unknown, a leap that takes me into another realm. This leap often comes at the end of a story, where the character is brought to the point of more than one possibility, but the reader is left not knowing what, if any, choice or action was made.


Don’t take anything personally. Nothings others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” - Don Miguel Ruiz


Critiquing is part of the process that makes us better writers. It’s a great way to learn where you have lost your readers or bored them, where you have problems with how time works in your story, or what doesn’t ring true with your characters.


Author: Janie Dempsey Watts

Publisher: Little Creek Books

ISBN: 978-0984805082



How well do you capture specific folks in your characters? It’s easy to fall into stereotypes – the country woman, the Bible-thumping preacher, the heart-of-gold hooker, the self-absorbed businessman. But our characters are not stereotypes – they need to be living, breathing individuals. To do that, you need to capture the specifics that transcend stereotypes.


I was listening to an interview with Nancy Packer, author and former director of Stanford University’s creative writing program. (For those of you with access to iTunes, you can find the interview under the podcast How I Write – Feb. 4, 2011.) She talked about how often writers come up with a great idea to write about, but when they look more closely, all they really have is an anecdote. It’s not really a story.

So what is the difference?


How many times have your read a story or book and you just don’t get or don’t care for the character.  It doesn’t feel good when the protagonist is triumphant in the end or the bad guy has to pay for his sins.  That’s because the character isn’t well drawn, isn’t multi-dimensional – and he/she is like that because the writer never goes deep into the nitty gritty of who this person is.


Is your story predictable?   Are you characters molded too tightly?  Is the ending expected? Is the conflict easily solved?  Is your language everyday verbiage?  Shake it up.

Leonardo Di Vinci’s search for beauty led him to explore ugliness in many forms.
His sketches of battles, grotesques, and deluges often appear next to
sublime evocations of flowers and beautiful youths.”
– How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci


Does the fear of perfection keep you from writing? I mean, why even try if you can’t be the next William Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, or Isabelle Allende? Why should you even think you have a story to tell in comparison to their stories, and really, what is your little talent compared to theirs?


The more you know, the easier the writing will be and the more your writing will come alive.


There’s no clear boundary between experience and imagination. Who knows what glimpses of reality we pick up unconsciously, telepathically.” -- Normal Mailer


Reading exposes us to all types of characters and ideas we might never encounter in real life.

The first part of this article defined pace and gave some tips on how to speed up or slow down the pace of your story. Here are some more tips.

Time, in fiction, is anything but a mirror of reality. Think about it. You can have a short story where time is moving from tonight to tomorrow morning or, more dramatically, from the present back several years to the past or forward to the present. Yet, if the story is written well, the reader easily buys into time and its passage.


The more adept you become critiquing other people’s writing, the more adept you become at critiquing your own – your skills will grow over time.

Everyone touts critiquing groups as a great way to get feedback for your writing. That’s debatable and depends on the dynamics of the group. On the other hand, what is perhaps the most advantageous reason for participating in critiquing groups is that they allow serious writers an excellent way to strengthen their skills even more by giving feedback, rather than getting it.


Whatever your character is doing or wherever he is going, you need to be able to supply the details of the chore or place.

A lot of new writers believe that as long as they are writing fiction, they really don’t need to do any research. And while, on first blush, that may seem to be the case, experienced writers know that almost any story they write will require research. The main reason? To make their writing resonate with readers by being authentic.

Incorporate your life with your writing, and not to put “writer” over in a column separate from all the other parts of you

Your job is to frequently surprise you readers with the words you use and their juxtaposition.

I think poetry may be our best ally for connecting with the earth, with our roots, with our spiritual nature. Mystics for generations have used poetry as a way to convey their oneness with everything – a state of being that all say is so very hard to describe. We don’t have to have undergone an enlightenment experience, however, to struggle with how to put into words the wonderment, the awe, we feel about our lives and this world.


It’s still poetry month, which got me thinking about how most of us were first introduced to poetry – it could have been Mother Goose rhymes or Dr. Suess. But perhaps the real rite of passage into poetry came when we were in grammar school and had to memorize a poem. It’s still a wonderful idea even as we get older


We talk a lot about narrators in our prose, but did you know your poem has a narrator as well? While perhaps hidden, someone is the speaker behind the poem. Who is it? What is her/his mood? How does he/she speak?


Metrophobia is the fear of poetry. Many people believe poetry is only for extraordinarily gifted writers, for special occasions, for the intellectuals. But poetry is about life, about our daily existence – how we love, die, grieve, celebrate, and find meaning.


Probably one of the biggest mistakes writers make is not going deep enough. They just skim through the scene, the emotion, the scenery, the problem, or the resolution.



Nancy Hatch Woodward Discusses What Is Freedom In Our Writing?

There is a notion in Buddhism that the more restrictions a person has in her life, the more freedom she is able to enjoy. The idea behind it is that if you know and accept what must be done, you don’t have to spend time considering options.


Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules,making mistakes, and having fun.” -- Mary Lou Cook





Nancy Harch Woodward tells her classes they can find sources for their stories in their own lives and in the lives of others. But that will only take them so far. As John Irving says, “A writer uses what experience he or she has. It’s the translating, though, that makes the difference.”

Last night, in my “Creative Writing for Absolute Beginners” class, a participant asked about the art and craft of writing. He wasn’t certain whether he had the talent (art) to be a good writer, but he was in the class to learn the how-tos (craft) of writing. I’m glad he asked that question, because I hear this debate a lot when it comes to creative writing – that the really good writers have a special talent most of us are not born with.



Anyone who believes you can't change history
has never tried to write his memoirs.
---David Ben-Gurion.


Nancy Hatch Woodward Contributes Her Thoughts On Poetry

Nancy Hatch Woodward Contributes Her Thoughts On Being A Writer

Additional ways to strengthen you dialogue


Oh, Yeah, Well”

Tips on Dialogue

You can’t blame yourself for what the characters say.”

-- Truman Capote


Words are the tools of our trade. Just like a carpenter, we need to make certain our tools are in good working order, which means they need to be sharply honed, well-oiled, and solid. It’s so easy to get lazy with the words we use – using hackneyed expressions, clichés, or boring, ordinary words.



Nancy Hatch Woodward Shares His New Year's Resolutions

Do what you feel in your heart to be right –
for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned
if you do, and damned if you don’t.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.



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