Guilty Pleasures

Guilty pleasures are a fact of life. Sometimes we need to unwind in ways that don’t necessarily seem as sophisticated or intellectual as we hope the world sees us. My guilty pleasures are:

  • Beach-read books
  • Lots of television
  • Social media
  • Falling asleep on the couch

Last night, my husband and I watched the movie Deadpool for probably the 20th time. Not joking. There’s a very good reason I like this movie, though—the writing is spot on. I enjoy this movie because it is clever—from the structure to the character introduction to the musical themes. And as I watch it, I am completely engrossed in the story and the jokes. It is a welcome break from life’s daily stressors.

Don’t feel guilty about your guilty pleasures. Watch that sitcom or read that web comic. Guilty pleasures of art and stories (or, as in the case of my couch sleeping, rest) are important to lending balance to your sophisticated, intellectual side. Let your mind soak up that joy without trying to analyze it. Sometimes that’s when the magic happens and you come up with your next amazing story; sometimes nothing happens but relaxation. And that’s OK too.

Happy Birthday, Lesley!

We are a family here at Inkblot, and when someone has a birthday, we celebrate! To publishing folk (at least our kind of publishing folk), celebrating means writing bad poetry, so here you go, Lesley! Happy Birthday!


Young Lesley was an eager lass;

She read and wrote and played.

She must have been top of her class

While all best plans she laid.


We’ll never know what happened next;

The silence there is thick.

Perhaps at life she was perplexed,

And thus she played a trick?


For some odd reason she chose to work

With Rachel (Weird, I know!).

But we’ll forgive our lass her quirk

‘Cause when editing, she glows.



Starting an Essay

Sorry for the radio silence, friends! I just got back from my big Patagonian adventure.

Los Torres in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, by Rachel Rosolina

It was more incredible than I could have dreamed.

One goal of this trip was to write about it once I got home. Here’s a rough look at my process. A lot of it happens simultaneously or gets cycled back to.

Make Connections

Because I’m antsy, I even started a Google Doc of ideas before leaving. It is a holding place for various ideas that have connected with this trip in my head. On the list of topics:

  • Forest bathing (walking through the woods to relieve anxiety)
  • Travel anxiety
  • Connections with nature
  • Snippets from the trip (using my journal as a huge reference point)


Once I have a rough set of connections, I write about each of them and see where they lead me. I write a lot and delete a lot. Kill your darlings, as they say. At this stage, I can generally start to see what the main point of the essay is—and, honestly, it’s not always what I thought it would be. Finding that core helps everything else fall into place.

Pick a Structure

Sometimes the structure is obvious for a piece. Most of the time it’s not. I often begin with my standard structure of a braided narrative using various strands from my connections list. It usually works best when scholarly or scientific knowledge is set next to more narrative text.

Another structure I’m considering is that of Bruce Chatwin’s book In Patagonia. He has short bursts of narrative that seem completely separate from one another. These paragraphs reflect the sparseness of the scrub brush land, but still give you a wider picture of the region and the author.

Play with Sections

Using my sections, I arrange and rearrange within my structure (or choose a different structure altogether). Seeing how sections interact with one another is one of the magical parts of essay writing. Sometimes the space between two sections says exactly what you intended but couldn’t put into words.

EcoCamp with Nieto in the background by Rachel Rosolina

I hope this overview helps you as you play with narrative in essay form!


And Then the Murders Began

Yesterday, on Facebook, we posted a link to an article from the Hook about replacing the second sentence of any piece of writing with “And then the murders began.” It’s genius and works with nearly everything. It’s our new favorite game.

Still life with a skull and medical book. Oil painting by an Italian painter, 1766. Iconographic Collections via


A Wrinkle In Time: “It was a dark and stormy night. And then the murders began.”

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. And then the murders began.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the riverbank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book’, thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’ And then the murders began.”

Go Tell It on the Mountain: “Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. And then the murders began.”

Madeline: “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. And then the murders began.”

It even works with nonfiction:

The Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. And then the murders began.”

“Trump Tells G.O.P. It’s Now or Never, Demanding House Vote on Health Bill” (New York Times): “President Trump issued an ultimatum on Thursday to recalcitrant Republicans to fall in line behind a broad health insurance overhaul or see their opportunity to repeal the Affordable Care Act vanish, demanding a Friday vote on a bill that appeared to lack a majority to pass. And then the murders began.”

The Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And then the murders began.”

How does this game work with your favorite books? Share them with us!

Word Showdown: Comprise vs. Compose

On this episode of Word Showdown, we look at two words often used interchangeably: comprise and compose. While they sound similar, they actually have different (but related) meanings.

To understand the differences and the similarities, let’s take a closer look at their definitions:

Comprise: to contain or include

Compose: to make up

We essentially need to look at the whole versus the parts.

While the fruit salad comprises berries, berries compose the fruit salad.

To help, try replacing comprise with include. Listen to this difference: “fruit salad includes berries” as compared to “the berries include the fruit salad.” The first makes way more sense. The whole can include the parts, but the parts can’t include the whole.

Similarly, you can replace compose with make up. Let’s use the same example: “fruit salad makes up berries” as compared to “the berries make up the fruit salad.” Now the second makes way more sense.

There’s one more thing you should watch for with this pair. While “composed of” makes sense, “comprised of” does not. “Comprised of” is incorrect usage. Again, let’s use include and make up as stand-ins to explore why this is. The phrase “includes of” sounds wrong, doesn’t it? However, “made up of” sounds perfectly fine.

Let’s test this newfound knowledge!

A. The United States comprises/composes fifty states.

B. Fifty states comprise/compose the United States.

C. Twelve rooms comprise/compose the house.

D. The house comprises/is composed of twelve rooms.





A. comprises (“The United States includes fifty states” sounds correct here, while “The United States makes up fifty states” does not.)

B. compose (“Fifty states make up the United States” sounds correct here, while “Fifty states include the United States” does not.)

C. compose (“Twelve rooms make up the house” sounds correct here, while “Twelve rooms include the house” does not.)

D. both! (“The house includes twelve rooms” and “The house is made up of twelve rooms” are both correct.)

How’d you do? This one is tricky. I often have to look it up every time I encounter it to jog my memory. What words do you constantly have to look up? Let us know, and we’ll do a Word Showdown on them.

Prompts from the Interwebs

The hardest part of writing is knowing where to start. Here are some ideas, fresh from the Internet, to keep you going!

How To Be Confident from Lazy Chief on Vimeo.

Let us know what this inspires for you by using #inkblotprompt!

Happy Friday, friends! Have an amazing weekend.

Writing a Screenplay: Tips and Tricks

You might think that writing a screenplay is easier than writing straight-up fiction or nonfiction. After all, you only have to worry about the dialogue, right?


Writing a screenplay has its own set of challenges: pacing, length constraints, using dialogue and silence to bring a character to life, thinking extremely visually, and so on. Here are a few tips for screenplay writing:

  • Each page equals roughly one minute of screen time.
  • A feature-length movie should have three acts: roughly 20 minutes, 60 minutes, 20 minutes. (There is debate as to whether this structure should always be applied, but if you are new at screenplays, definitely go this route.)
  • Important plot points should happen at the end of the first and second acts.
  • Formatting is critical, from font to margins to indents. Each formatting decision affects how the script is read and how long each page takes on screen, which is why there is a standard. Read books on formatting, and use screenplay software or styles in Word to keep it consistent. For instance, most people assume all character names are centered. Not so! They should be indented 2 inches with 1.5 inch margins.
  • Rather than relying solely on dialogue, also include gestures, facial expressions, and silence. Pay attention to the conversations of strangers when you’re out having coffee so that you can use the mannerisms.
  • Be sure to describe each character and each setting. Details like this are what bring the world you’re creating to life.

Writing screenplays is tough but fun. Give it a try, and tell us how it goes!

Reading Your Work Aloud

One opportunity that my master of fine arts in creative nonfiction offered that the lone writer may miss is the chance to read your work aloud before an audience. While at West Virginia University, I was on the grad student Council of Writers. Quarterly, we held readings featuring grad students and professors from poetry, fiction, and nonfiction at local venues such as coffee shops. We made an evening of it—everyone got their muffins and lattes and sat down to watch each other perform our latest pieces. As an introvert, it was both terrifying and exhilarating. Unless you read before an audience, you’ll never know whether that heart-wrenching passage is actually emotional to anyone but you.

Reading your work aloud also helps you better hear the cadence and rhythm of the piece. In fact, when preparing to read in front of an audience, I often mark up my page like I would sheet music, noting where to pause, where to emphasize.

If you’d like to participate in such a reading, or even just listen to the work of others, check out the Poets & Writers map of reading venues. If nothing shows up near you, start your own! Talk to your local coffee shop or library about putting together a small event. It’s a great way to improve your own work and build your writing community.

Happy reading!

Women of Words

As a women-owned small business, we at Inkblot consider International Women’s Day important. Yesterday, on Facebook, we posted a link about an Ohio bookstore that turned around all fiction written by males. The visual was stunning. The bookstore’s owner, Harriett Logan, told Heat Street that the display was “a metaphor of silencing the male voice—at least for this month.”

Women writers have shaped both of us here at Inkblot. One of my first posts on this blog was about Madeleine L’Engle. She changed how I approached both fiction and nonfiction, voice, structure—everything about writing. For Lesley, it is Harriette Arnow, the author of The Dollmaker. She was the first writer to show Lesley that you can transport your reader into a world completely foreign to her and capture her heart, soul, and mind.

Today, we metaphorically join the Ohio bookstore in highlighting ten of our favorite women writers. How many authors from this far-from-complete list have you checked out?

To all you women writers out there who have been silenced in one way or another: Keep writing, keep speaking, keep making a difference. We believe in you.

Here are some resources specifically for women writers:

Literary grants for women from Women Arts

Summer resources for women writers from Writing Women’s Lives Academy

Publishing opportunities for women from VIDA, Women in Literary Arts

Happy International Women’s Day!

The Publishing Process

So how are books made?

Well, when a girl book and a boy book . . . No, wait. That’s not how it goes.

Anyone unfamiliar with the inner workings of the publishing industry might be confused about how a raw manuscript gets put in one end of the machine and a fancy book (often in hardback, paperback, and ebook formats) comes out the other end. Honestly, sometimes it’s confusing even if you do know the inner workings of the industry.

Today, we’ll try to clarify that process a bit, with the caveat that each publisher approaches bookmaking in a slightly different way.



The acquisitions team both fields unsolicited submissions and requests submissions from chosen writers. As we’ve mentioned before, each publisher has specialty areas within which they publish. If a publisher has a strong paleontology list, an acquisitions editor at that firm would be contacting lead paleontologists for book ideas.

This team takes the raw manuscript and works with the author to lay the foundation. They make sure the book is ready for copyediting (which means any developmental editing is taken care of), all art is in house and of good quality, and all permissions are secured. At major publishers, the cover is often completed during this stage as well, so that marketing can get a head start on selling the forthcoming book. Continue reading “The Publishing Process”