Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What is a writer's Golden Rule? (01/15/10)

Featured writer: Maggie Manning

Contributors this month:
Arlene Mandell
Becky Povich
Christine Falcone
david samuel johnson
Don Edgers
Elaine Webster
Maggie Manning
Susan Bono
T’Mara Goodsell

A writer’s Golden Rule

by Maggie Manning

Write for others as you would have them write for you: Tell the truth as you know it; make the read worth their while; and don't insult their intelligence.

Maggie Manning of Geneseo, NY tries hard to follow this rule, but, alas, is only human.

Brilliant Last Lines

  by Arlene Mandell

Ending each piece with an image is an 18-karat-gold way of becoming a memorable writer:

"It was is if life were just beginning-tender, spectacular, all-embracing life--and she, like everyone, was jumping up to catch it. Catch it." Edna O'Brien, Lantern Slides.

"In appreciation, he attempted his best Jack Nicholson smile." Ann Beattie, That Last Odd Day in L.A.

"We strolled down Hemlock Street, licking our ice cream cones, until we reached the end of the block where all the neighbors acted like they didn't notice we were together." Arlene Mandell, Scenes from My Life on Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir.

Arlene Mandell tries to practice what she preaches in Santa Rosa, CA.

What is a writer’s Golden Rule?

  by Becky Povich

I don't know about other writers, but after much consideration, I've decided that my Golden Rule is "Set My Dreams in Motion," aka "Get My Butt in Gear."

Over the past few years, I've wasted so many days, weeks, and months sabotaging myself. I've kept myself from writing by coming up with all those stupid excuses, all those unimportant tasks that need to be done while at the same time, telling myself I need to write.

What a vicious circle I created for myself. No wonder I've been lost most of the time wandering in my own writer's wasteland. No wonder I've tossed and turned in bed at night, dreaming of strange people and events, yet all curiously similar to people and places I know. My mind has been trying to tell me something. I need to write. I need to accomplish my writing goals. I need to take action and follow those inspirational quotes I love to search for, read, and post on my blog. I need to write.

I'm pleased to announce that I have, in all honesty, actually begun to live my Golden Rule. The past couple of days have been so different. I feel confident. I know I have talent. I'm not afraid to write. My dreams are in motion. My butt is in gear. The gas pedal's on the floor!

Becky Povich wakes up every morning (thank goodness), enthusiastic about the day ahead. Before she falls asleep at night, she’s already thought about and jotted down words, sentences, paragraphs, & scribbles that sometimes make no sense. She can hardly get the coffee made fast enough, her laptop turned on quickly enough, and let the dog out and in before the words begin to flow. You can read Becky’s blog at: or email:

What is a writer’s Golden Rule?

  by Christine Falcone

If there was a Golden Rule for writers it would be simply this: Tell the truth. All of it. And let the pieces fall where they may. That doesn't necessarily mean a writer always has to understand what it is she's writing about. Sometimes it's the grappling with, the writing at the edge of what is unknown that's the most interesting, or the most important thing. But there has to be a willingness to explore the place - to go deep, as a writer friend of mine is fond of saying - because without the willingness to descend, like a spelunker of the soul, we're merely skimming the surface.

In order to tell the truth, no cave can be left unexplored. To tell the truth, the bright light of our pens must shine in even the darkest corners, illuminate the most remote locations. Sometimes, when I'm writing, I find myself getting too close to a thing and I back off, put the car in reverse or maybe neutral and just coast. But the trick is to keep going, full speed ahead and plow into it.

Confront that which is scary or taboo. Our job as writers is not to tell nice, safe stories but to show the underbelly of life, that which is often felt but more often left unexpressed. We must articulate that which seldom gets said. So tell the truth. All of it. And let that be the Golden Rule of writing.

Christine Falcone is trying to abide by this writer's Golden Rule in Novato, California.

writing without periods

  by david samuel johnson

I found an essay that i didnt know didnt have any periods until the third reading how does a sentence end without periods there were semicolons that were odd like yield signs in a desert but no periods i discovered other essays and stories without periods i thought it must be some trend new trend so i googled the phrase writing without periods what i found was many sites extolling the life of being a woman and a writer and over 40 words and phrases are versatile and flexible so why not punctuation

this makes me wonder more about the rules of the road for a writers journey for instance why is the first letter of the first word in a sentence always capitalized to indicate that a new sentence began didnt the period at the end of the previous sentence and do just that why the redundancy i admit that when i edit a great percentage of my editing centers on the rules of parts of speech punctuation and verb noun agreement this isnt real writing nor is it real editing its just making sure that ive literally got my i dotted and my t crossed why should writing be so constrained shouldnt writing pour onto a page with impunity like sunlight through an open window

cormac mccarthy writes dialogue without quotation marks and he has a pulitzer once you realize his rules his scheme of writing your reading style easily adapts each author worth their salt has violated their pronoun antecedent agreement to smooth the flow of communication because using his or hers or he or she or him or her can be cumbersome writing should be more about communication not correctness

i blame my seventh grade english teacher for this indoctrination i learned the eight parts of speech how to diagram a sentence and what a conjugation was i learned the rules of writing but none of them are golden because i didnt need these rules to know how to communicate to my folks that i wanted a spectacular new toy but i learned the rules like everyone else and try to abide by them even now my fingers dance so well to the period that ive had to tape my right hand ring finger to the middle finger who is now upset because it has the load of both the k and the l

a writer is delivering the sweetness of the fruit or the tremor of the breath before a kiss or the cackle of the laughter conforming to standard definitions grammatical correctness and sentence structure shouldnt stop a kiss or a laugh or a taste i understand these rules are the conventions needed to translate life onto paper but a writer should follow his or her - no, no - THEIR instincts and decide which rules help them and adapt the rules and the language to their own cause and they'll be golden. period.

david samuel johnson writes without periods in woods hole ma

Golden Rule(s) for a Writer

  by Don Edgers

Caveat: A universal rule for an artistic endeavor begs for the rule to be broken/ignored/ tweaked.

Use a spell checker. Follow the rules of grammar.

Attract & hold the reader.

Write for others as you would have others write for you.

Don't do it for the money, but if you do (Attention, Stephen King:

Be responsible to the craft.

Don't frustrate readers.

Avoid gratuitous foul language.

Be interesting.

Show, don't tell.

Don writes in Port Orchard, WA where he follows (most of) his “rules.”

What is a Writer’s Golden Rule?

  by Elaine Webster

I'm an early riser. This morning, January fourth, the sunrise glowed with brilliant oranges, golds and reds. A sky requiring reflection—-a pause in the day, in life. I take a few minutes to fill my eyes before sitting to meditate.

Thoughts about the beginning of last year interrupt the peace—-six months of self-imposed solitary confinement. I went out in the world everyday—-went through the motions of life behind an impenetrable protective wall. I kept everyone out.

I had fought myself for the last time—-tried to be something I'm not—-cold and tough. The workplace conflict, difficult, but the lesson I learned was personal. I retreated—-took time to be alone. I promised to stay true to my nature ever since. I would succeed as myself.

By summer I was ready to reenter the world. I began to write. Some writers sequester themselves in pursuit of their craft. I did the opposite, venturing outside myself to look for stories. Solitude had to go; it was time to mingle. My goal: to write from a point of human contact and have as many people read me as possible.

More and more we communicate through electronic devices—-avoiding human contact at all cost. We seek security, but don't find it. Beware of hackers and ID theft, we're told; be afraid. Tweet in short spurts; text message in abbreviations. Talk long distance on cell phones that fade in and out.

As I reflected on the glamorous sky, I made a New Year resolution: to touch, speak with, write to (in full sentences), shake hands with, hug and care for as many people as I can. I want to hear about their lives, to share their struggles, to exalt in their achievements. I want to understand. The golden rule—-listen, then write it down.

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.E-Mail Elaine Webstre

A writer’s Golden Rule

  by Maggie Manning

Write for others as you would have them write for you: Tell the truth as you know it; make the read worth their while; and don't insult their intelligence.

Maggie Manning of Geneseo, NY tries hard to follow this rule, but, alas, is only human.

The Golden Word

  by Susan Bono

Picture one word in solid gold letters the size of the Hollywood hillside sign: WRITE.

That is the only rule a writer needs to follow.

Write. Write. Write.

Place word after word down the face of page after page. Don't let the fear of saying it wrong stop you.

If you are determined to write, you will get it right. Eventually. It may take 10 words or 10,000 words to say what you need to say. But they must be your words written by you. So write.

Even if you never get close to writing what you hoped to express, you will, at the very least, surprise yourself. And you can, without hesitation, call yourself a writer. Because writing is what you do.

Susan Bono has quite a few words to go in Petaluma, CA.

What is a Writer's Golden Rule?

  by T’Mara Goodsell

The famous writer's rule may be "write what you know, but I think that's only part of it. "Write what you feel" has been more helpful to me. Better yet, passion is the key. Write what you feel so deeply and so passionately, if even just at that moment, that you achieve what I think of as (forgive me)—-theArtgasm. TheArtgasm is reached when you're so carried away by an artistic endeavor like writing that you are completely absorbed by your subject, there is nothing else in the world you would rather be doing at that moment, and you must create until you feel as if that aching, desperate need has been met.

Then go smoke a cigarette.

T’Mara Goodsell is a freelance writer who loves words (okay, maybe this analogy implies she loves them just a little too much, but really, they’re mostly just good friends) in Saint Charles, Missouri. E-Mail T'Mara

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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