Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What keeps you from getting stale? (08/15/11)

Featured writer: Don Edgers

Contributors this month:
Becky Povich
Catherine Crawford
Don Edgers
Elaine Webster
Judythe Guarnera
Marilyn Petty
Susan Bono

Stuck in a Groove?

by Don Edgers

I realize some readers may not understand the title of this essay; however, we record players of the past know the annoyance of having a part of a song repeated ad infinitum when the record player's needle got stuck in one of the grooves on the record.

As writers we can avoid getting stale by using a variety of "The 38 Basic Plots," vary our settings, characters, meter or even genres.

The possibilities for getting out of the groove, which can ofttimes become ruts, are countless.

Don gets out of Port Orchard, WA to vary the scenery by taking ocean cruises - then writes about them.

His website:

Some Days are Diamonds. Some Days are Stale.

  by Becky Povich

My writing habits are not structured and I don't follow any rules. In fact, I get a bit of a complex every time I read an article stating, "You must write every day." I've learned to skim over or entirely skip those pieces of inspiration. Growing up Catholic, I've had my fair share of self-instilled guilt and I certainly don't want any more, especially concerning my writing.

So, what keeps me from getting stale? I haven't discovered the key yet, because I do get stale. Something tells me a great number of writers experience that dreadful affliction from time to time. At least it would make me feel a lot better if they did. Come on, novelists, playwrights, poets and essayists. Let's stand and unite. Stale Happens.

If Becky gets any staler than she already is during these dog days of summer, she’ll turn into a dried out, uninspired hunk of cinnamon toast. If you can help her, please email:

Of Crusts and Kegs

  by Catherine Crawford

Once while I was working the morning shift in a homeless shelter, I stacked bagels on a cart to wheel to the dining room. I grabbed a sack, but something blue/black gleamed through the cellophane. Yep, it was mold—the kind that creeps over neglected bread like a dense forest. Webster says the word "stale" comes from "stel," Middle Dutch for old, usually meaning old beer. I was not serving beer to the homeless that morning, but those bagels sure qualified as stale.

Writing isn't beer or bagels, but when I start penning stale sentences, it can mean I should set writing aside for a while and maybe even spend more time helping the homeless. I might be beating a topic to death or grinding on one I know too well. I've also caught myself writing about what I think I should feel rather than what I do. I suspect readers pick up on this fast and that it leaves as bad a taste in their mouths as it does in mine.

One hard lesson I've learned from writing is that not everything I love to read is something I'm meant to write. Oh, how ambition hates to admit that! But sometimes I just have to let a project go, especially if it's moldering in the hot house of my emotions. Becoming flat as old beer is not an option.

Catherine keeps her viewpoint fresh and her writing crisp by getting outside everyday in beautiful Washington State. Email her at:

Stuck in a Groove?

  by Don Edgers

I realize some readers may not understand the title of this essay; however, we record players of the past know the annoyance of having a part of a song repeated ad infinitum when the record player's needle got stuck in one of the grooves on the record.

As writers we can avoid getting stale by using a variety of "The 38 Basic Plots," vary our settings, characters, meter or even genres.

The possibilities for getting out of the groove, which can ofttimes become ruts, are countless.

Don gets out of Port Orchard, WA to vary the scenery by taking ocean cruises – then writes about them.

His website:


  by Elaine Webster

Warm yeasty thoughts bubble to the surface. I find the other ingredients: flour, oil, eggs, milk and honey. I'm not much for exact measurements, but I do like tried and true recipes. I want things to work; to come out right.

I know when I've kneaded the mixture to the right consistency. The sticky mess comes together, takes on life. The blob springs back when punched down.

I experimented with the ingredients of my last loaf. The abstract shape had edges--the flavor required a sophisticated palate. I took my latest effort for testing. Filled with hopeful excitement I offered slices of insight as appetizers. I built sandwiches of courage. I dipped the crusts in spicy mustard and spread sweet jam over toast. I offered it all up on a silver platter.

I didn't mind that the meal didn't fit expectations or tasted exotic to some, bland to others. What mattered was the presentation--a fresh approach. My creative effort met harsh resistance. Surely, they could find some redeeming value--take the time to understand? I grabbed my meal to go.

Safe in my kitchen, I nibbled a slice of my creation. This is not bad. I need another set of taste buds. I called up a few new acquaintances I met along the writing path--adventurous souls like myself. They agreed to a sampler pack. As I awaited their reply, I reflected on the differences between critique groups. My first group no longer fit with my vision, although they continue on smoothly without me. These new folks, though, they challenge me. I can take chances. I can make bread.

The next day, e-mails filled my box. I felt like a playwright, holding her breath, watching for the audience's reaction. Glowing reviews came through cyberspace; I can do this, I can write and I can do it differently.

Back in my kitchen, the original loaf, now stale, was ready to toss out. I remembered the zucchini and mushrooms I had bought that morning.

Breadcrumbs! I'll use them as coating for something fresh.

Elaine Webster is a staff writer for the Ezine,
Greener Living Today. She recently published Jesse’s Tale, a memoir about life with an adopted greyhound. Her newest release, Heartfelt: Caregiver’s Guide to Cardiomyopathy and Mitral Valve Surgery, was published this summer. She lives in Windsor, California.

Connection: The Writer's Missing Link

  by Judythe Guarnera

Writers are often identified as loners, hunched over their keyboards, dedicated to their craft. Something might be missing with that picture: food for the soul to spark the juices of creativity.

I began writing seriously when I retired. My career had required a lot of writing: reports, grants, newsletters and articles. I wrote and re-wrote to ensure that the content was clear and accurate. Angling for a grant or trying to convince the public to invest in my program, I wrote with passion; I took my job seriously.

Once I retired, I had time to write for fun. So what makes that serious? Believe me, I am seriously having fun writing and the element of fun has freed up my creativity.

Although retired, I am heavily into volunteering. A friend, responding to my complaint that I didn't have enough time to write or to research publication possibilities, asked why I didn't give up my volunteer activities. I know that if I don't spend time with people, volunteering and/or learning new skills, the inkwell would dry up and there would be nothing to write about.

Before I headed into the abyss of divorce, I realized that the aridness of my marriage was destroying me. I felt as though I would shatter and disappear. That realization has served as my weather vane. I know that to communicate through my writing, I have to prime my pump through connection.

My need to communicate and connect does interfere with my writing. There's always one more e-mail to respond to, a call to make, a meeting to attend, another volunteer opportunity. There are days when I do not put pen to paper. Fortunately, I don't need a steady income.

Judy, the volunteer, the writer, the wife, the mother, the friend, the neighbor, the communicator are all critical pieces of me that have to be activated to feed my soul and keep the creative juices flowing.

When I volunteer as a mediator, I help people to communicate to reach agreement. When I attend a writing group, I feel my heart and soul opening up. Today we did writing exercises, celebrated with a birthday pie, and talked shop and nonsense. At our group's board meeting we shared food, while we planned and plotted to make our organization better. At our next general meeting I will connect with members who are amazing writers.

These connections add to the substance that is me and it's from there that I write. Without the connections I would be an empty shell that would disappear in a puff of wind before I ever fired up my keyboard.

There have always been brilliant writers who write from a place of solitude. But, if you have tried the reclusive, bent-over-the-keyboard approach and find your writing uninspired and unpublished, you might consider a change. Get involved, get connected, volunteer, join a critique group, plan coffee or lunch and see if communicating with others might open the floodgates of inspired writing.

Judythe Guarnera volunteers and writes in Grover Beach on the Central Coast of California. Stale and boring are not in her vocabulary. You can contact her at:

By Any Other Name

  by Marilyn Petty

One of my poet friends occasionally writes under the pseudonym, Sydney Kent. The poems are hardly recognizable from her customary lyric poetry. Sydney's style is sensual, earthy and voluptuous with a sly wit. A regular bon vivant is Sydney.

What a splendid idea for beating the stales. Create a new personality, write under an assumed name like "Sydney," an author of unspecified gender — Leslie or Tracy or Marty; Terry, Carol or Sam. Sam is what my father called me for some inexplicable reason. "...Hurry up, Sam," he would write to me 2000 miles from home at college, "—take care — write and get a 100.... Love Dad". I liked it.

Sam is a good solid name, without frills and with a surname of two syllables - Campbell or Wiley — I'm on my way to new heights of unstaleness. Sam Campbell. Just wait until the reviews come out. Sam will be a sensation.

Marilyn Petty’s nom de plume is not yet to be revealed. She is working on it in Santa Rosa, California.

Off the Hook

  by Susan Bono

My hula hoop hangs from a hook in my office these days. It's my latest attempt to stop taking myself too seriously and stave off the creeping sludge of middle age. Every Sunday some dear friends and I meet with our teacher, Josephine, a tattooed, dreadlocked beauty who hoops with alacrity, sinuous as the snakes she loves, and brave, too. As part of the Dreamtime Circus, she hooped with fire at this year's pre-burn extravaganza for Burning Man.

Lest you think I am developing any impressive hooping skills, let me be firm in my insistence that this is not the case. I can get the thing going around my waist and complete some of the simplest moves, but Burning Man will not be interested in my talents for a long time. My biggest problem, after early stage arthritis in shoulders and knees, is the fact that my hoop spends way too much time hanging on its hook in my office.

Thinking about hooping, even writing about it, won't get me anywhere. Joining Josephine on Sundays is one way to keep from getting stale, but the real trick for staying fresh is practice, practice, practice.

Susan Bono is trying to practice more in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono


C. Larson, B. Povich, M. Petty, C. Crawford, T. Sanders

Columnists Emeriti: Christine Falcone, David S. Johnson, Betty Rodgers, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Betty Winslow

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer living in Petaluma, CA. She has published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at She conducts creative writing classes in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and co-hosts the quarterly Speakeasy Literary Saloon at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. She's on the boards of Petaluma Readers Theatre and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She is still writing a postcard a day. Her most recent publishing credits include Petaluma Readers Theatre, KRCB’s Mouthful, Milk and Ink, and Passager Magazine.

Marilyn Petty is a dyed-in-the wool Midwesterner, a long-ago émigré to California and a fortunate resident of Sonoma County, CA. She taught weaving through the SRJC for 8 years and was the reporter, essayist, editor and publisher of the Redwood Empire Handweavers and Spinners Guild for 10 years. When not tangling with yarns, she is unknotting words, writing poetry and personal essays. She putters in the garden when words fail her.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email:

Claudia Larson, in her childhood, wrote long letters to her best-friend cousin and enthralled herself by writing a heart-rending story of two orphans. She writes fewer letters nowadays and prefers writing poetry and memoirs of her North Dakotan farm girl days. She is not yet an orphan, has six siblings and lives in Sebastopol, CA.

Becky Povich lives near St. Louis, Missouri. Although not young in "people years," she's only been writing for ten of those. Getting her first book completed, a memoir, is her current short-term goal. She can be reached at, or visit her blog at

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is completing a novel. A former award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Theresa welcomes email and would love to hear from you. Contact her at:

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