Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Give six words of advice to a new writer. (07/15/09)

Featured writer: David S. Johnson

Contributors this month:
Betty Rodgers
Bree LeMaire
Charlene Bunas
Christine Falcone
David S. Johnson
Elaine Webster
G. M. Monks
Lenore Hirsch
Maggie Manning
Ronda Armstrong
Susan Bono

Word Cattle

by David S. Johnson

Big words often self-aggrandize small ideas.

Or if you prefer:

Stupendously selected serendipity inspires impromptu premeditation.

Words are cattle to be heard.

David Johnson is being cryptic this month in Woods Hole, MA.


  by Betty Rodgers

Only you can write like you.

Betty Rodgers tells it true in Boise, ID.

Simple, But Not Easy

  by Bree LeMaire

Never mind the critics, write on.

Bree LeMaire continues with her medical mystery book. The murderer is finally on the scene with one of the murder weapons, Dorlands Medical Dictionary.

Practice Makes

  by Charlene Bunas

You become what you regularly practice.

Charlene Bunas writes: “I’m aspiring to practice my advice.”

Short List

  by Christine Falcone

If I had six words of advice to offer a new writer, they'd probably come in the form of a list. In no particular order, that list would

1. read
2. walk
3. sit
4. write
5. revise
6. repeat

All of these things have informed my writing in some way.

Reading, well, that's obvious. My grandfather always told me to read everything. The backs of cereal boxes, old newspapers, everything.

Walking is something that I have found loosens the cogs. If you can do it in the woods, even better.

Sitting still - as in meditating - is a valuable tool as well. It clears space. And that doesn't mean sitting for hours alone on the top of a mountain. It can mean sitting quietly on the beach with a friend, watching the waves roll in for an afternoon.

Writing is the daily discipline that must be done. Pen to paper. Fingertips to keypads. However one does it, it must be done - a few minutes, or a couple of hours - every day.

Revision is a longer process. It's the bulk, the meat of the thing.

Added up and done repetitively, I do believe these six things will get you well on your way.

Christine Falcone is trying to put all six of these things into practice on a daily basis.

Word Cattle

  by David S. Johnson

Big words often self-aggrandize small ideas.

Or if you prefer:

Stupendously selected serendipity inspires impromptu premeditation.

Words are cattle to be heard.

David Johnson is being cryptic this month in Woods Hole, MA.

Read What You Write To Writers

  by Elaine Webster

On any given Friday afternoon at the Community Church in Sebastopol, a group of writers gatherS to share stories. The stories begin outside in the courtyard as the class arrives. Jeremy is usually the first I see, the sun beaming down on the pages of his book as he sits on the edge of the flowerbed surrounded by color and fragrance. The others arrive soon afterwards.

Those with children tell of their offsprings' current crisis or adventure. Recent trips, pets, art, music, theatre, sickness, health, all the things of life find their conversational rhythm. As the banter picks up, Steve, our leader, turns the subject towards books and authors. I like to listen, moving toward the words that pull at me. I'm new and feeling my way, not sure, how I fit. I'm simultaneously uncomfortable and inspired.

As the door is unlocked, we retreat to the Fireside Room, a living room in more ways than one. We sit in a circle and more arrive. I'm glad to see Rosemary, Jamie and Hazel have come. We joke that Hazel writes while she's waiting for traffic lights to change and her words are like candy, sweet and delicious. Jamie paints pictures with her words and Rosemary; well she's just so literary. Gay writes about wild life zoos and the people in them. Chuck writes about his childhood. Sylvia has this great sense of humor; Mel is the historian and Bob writes in long hand. Then there's Harley, who writes about things not usually heard in church. Some come to listen, like Ann and Jean. Ed inspires us with his piece about Nepal and celebrates its publication with cookies that we munch as he reads. Ruth hobbles in with her broken foot and wows us with the memory of her father. Ram has death-defying mountain climbing adventures. Cameo writes for and about her family. Jeremy touches our souls with feelings. George writes in lists that somehow comically mesh and each week he unveils more of his light side. Yvonne brings Sebastopol stories.

Through all of these readings of writings, I wonder what I bring. When I get my chance to read, always nervously, I'm afraid my writing doesn't hold up. I haven't a clue as to what I'm doing, but I do it anyway. As I finish reading, the critiques are honest and kind. I gather feedback as if it was gold. I may not always agree, but the reactions are invaluable. I watch the body language of the group, the frowns and the smiles. It's live theatre and I feel what is working and what isn't. Where else can you get all of this for free? Steve even fixes my grammar and spelling, invaluable! So, my advice is, "Read what you write to writers," and tap into the mother lode.

Elaine Webster, is a staff writer for the on-line publication, Greener Living Today
. She’s part of the Memoir Writing group in Sebastopol sponsored by SRJC and Steve Boga is the instructor. She lives in Windsor, CA and her e-mail address is

Six Words of Advice

  by G. M. Monks

With so little published, I must be a new writer even though I've been writing for 20 years. So what advice to myself will inspire me to keep going? Forget the pile of rejection letters from Australia to Ireland. Remember some were so nice - asking me to send more of my work. One said they would have published my story if they hadn't gone belly up two weeks earlier.

Now I have already written far more than six words. So does that mean I've cheated? Can I cheat more and write more helpful words? This isn't the first time I've cheated. I could write about that and expand it into a short story. My point is - write about your experiences and let your thoughts loose. Learn the craft. Love the craft. Read the best writers. Put a notebook by your bed, in your pocket to record those bits of creativity that can come at anytime and are so easily forgotten.

Get writer friends. Read your stuff out loud. Revise, revise, revise. Be persistent. Repeat the last two words until it's in your blood. My blood type is now Writer A RH negative.

G.M. Monks lives in a hard-core California suburb and works in a hard-core bureaucracy. No wonder she loves to escape into writing. She has been published in Tiny Lights, Bathtub Gin and Todd Point Review. She won the poetry prize at the 2008 Mendocino Coast Writer’s Conference.

6 X 5

  by Lenore Hirsch

Labor alone.
Share cautiously.
Celebrate connection.

Read aloud,
Listen, revise, repeat.

Tell your truth
Until "The end".

Truth tells itself.
Happy ending unnecessary.

Kill your babies.
New sprouts appear.

Lenore Hirsch is a retired elementary school principal enjoying the creative life in Napa, CA.

Repeated Advice

  by Maggie Manning

Write, revise, submit. Do it again.

Maggie Manning of Geneseo, NY wishes her writing was always as brief as her entry, but, alas, she often goes on longer than absolutely necessary...


  by Ronda Armstrong

Be present. Be persistent. Be patient.

A former school social worker, Ronda Armstrong writes from Iowa where she lives with her husband and two cats. Her story, "Laughs, Prayers, and Every Bloomin' Thing," appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul's new release - TOUGH TIMES, TOUGH PEOPLE. Her op-ed essays have appeared in THE DES MOINES REGISTER.

Don't Think Too Hard. Just Write.

  by Susan Bono

Any writing is better than nothing.

Susan Bono is no longer searching for just the right words in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono


Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

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