Word gatherer. Story Fixer. Teacher & Mentor. Complicated Woman.

Writing requires emotional risk

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 23•16

Walter WhiteBitter truth: Writing requires emotional risk. After the brilliant actor Bryan Cranston played the dark, devious and sometimes evil Walter White in the Breaking Bad series, he played Lyndon Johnson on Broadway in All the Way. His Walter White character arc was one of the most remarkable in our times. White, a high school chemistry teacher, is handed a terminal cancer diagnosis and is desperate to provide for his family.  His solution: to brew potent meth amphetamines and become a drug lord. And to enlist one of his druggie former students to help. Of course this took many steps, but the transformation from the guy next door to a murderous thug was convincing. Or as the show’s creator Vince Gilligan said, “Mr. Chips to Scarface.” And the show lasted for six seasons as the body count grew.

When the series ended Cranston needed distance from his meth-brewing character and he needed to wipe eradicate Walter White from his persona. LBJ was a perfect foil, brilliant, devious, but concerned about the good of the country. The play’s run was successful, Cranston’s portrayal uncanny and HBO adapted it into a film.

In an interview Cranston revealed that he used his father who abandoned him in childhood as inspiration for White’s character. He turned his pain into someone devious and pathetic and desperate. He even adapted how his father carried his body, rounded his shoulders.

Just as in acting, our best writing will require revealing something about ourselves that might be stored in a rarely-opened closet. Because the best writing reveals an emotional truth only the writer knows. Perhaps it’s that aching loneliness that has never dissipated since your divorce or your mother’s death. Perhaps it’s rage at a childhood scarred with abuse. Or desires that never came true.

Trust in the honesty of your body. Feel yourself deeply, down to your core when you write. Go where the pain is. Your words that are most alive, most vivid will emerge. And you’ve earned that dark forest of memories.

 Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart



Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 14•16

Sherlock HolmesYour protagonist must be worthy of the challenges in the story. Because when things go wrong— which is what fiction is all about– the protagonist will somehow set them right. He or she acts and reacts, solves problems to bring balance back to the world that became unbalanced in the first story events. Your protagonist must bring it.

His/her capacity for solving the story problem will come from his/her primary personality traits. Master detective Sherlock Holmes is observant, smart, analytical, and fearless. He’s the perfect man for the job. To defeat Moriarty, to venture into the moors to uncover the truth of mysterious happenings, to help the King of Bohemia recover incriminating photographs.

Your protagonist’s main personality traits are always showcased when he or she is at work on the story problem. This is a really simple method for creating and thinking about your main character.

What poetry reveals….

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 28•16

world map antique 3“It’s not that poetry reveals more about the world, it doesn’t, but it reveals more about our interactions with the world than our other modes of expression. And it doesn’t reveal more about ourselves alone in isolation, but rather it reveals that mix of self and other, self and surrounding, where the world ends and we begin, where we end and the world begins.”
– Mark Strand


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 22•16

Saturn 1“Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means? Some hunger for more is in us – more range, more depth, more feeling; more associative freedom, more beauty. More perplexity and more friction of interest. More prismatic grief and unstunted delight, more longing, more darkness. More saturation and permeability in knowing our own existence as also the existence of others. More capacity to be astonished. Art adds to the sum of the lives we would have, were it possible to live without it. And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share.”
– Jane Hirshfield Ten Windows


Bitter Truth: Writing cannot save you from yourself.

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 21•16

Bitter BrewSure it can heal some old wounds and that vast emptiness inside you that was once your marriage or your best friend who dumped you for no good reason. It can make you proud and even make your never-lavish-with-praise mother proud. It can fill you with joy and feel like the best kind of fever and the sweetest dream within dreams.

But if you’re a depressed recluse who cannot bear to throw out Pepsi bottles or newspapers, if you’re failing all your freshman year classes, or you’re so obsessed with our vapid pop culture or you’re hooked on computer games so that you scarcely have time to make a living, or you need to lose 200 pounds, well, writing cannot help all that. If you’re depressed you need help. Right now. If you’re failing you need to go to class and hand in your assignments. And consider more sleep and caffeine and less pot and beer. If you’re obsessed with all the versions of Desperate Housewives, with online gossip sites, and the Kardashians you probably don’t have much to say. You’re probably mostly paying attention to other lives, not your own. Not to mention this glorious and ailing planet. Computer games should be a hobby, not a way of life unless you’re a game designer, and then storytelling is a great asset. If you’re obese you need help because life is better when you’re healthy and not addicted to some form of soothing. Besides, obesity is a slide toward early death. I’ve known too many people who died before they wanted to and strongly suggest you take care of yourself more.

            Writing is balm, writing is joy, and writing is almost holy on a good day. But on those bad days when you feel washed up or pissed off or just disenchanted it helps to not depend on writing to make it all better. You need to make it better.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 21•16

There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”
 – Margaret Atwood

Reality Check

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 10•16

canyonThere will always be a gap between your ideal self and your real self. There will always be a gap between your ideal writing and the writing you can actually accomplish. Write anyway. Your aim is to decrease the distance between these gaps. 

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Character arc

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 07•16

Character arc quote

Rita Mae Reese on non-writing

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 05•16

The one thing I’ve discovered about writing over the years is that not-writing is like a virus—it’s always mutating, always trying to overcome your defenses. Sometimes it will succeed. There’s no single answer that will work the rest of your writing life. You’ll think you’re a disciplined writer and then you’ll have kids; your first book will come out and all of those ideas waiting in your notebook just wither up; you’ll find a great community of writers and find that you spend more time talking about writing than actually writing. I have, however, found a few defenses that have been essential against not-writing. The first is the vitamin B6; it helps you deal with stress and it makes your dreams more vivid. I don’t like taking pills, even a vitamin, so I’ve stopped taking it dozens of times, and always I notice that the impulse for writing wanes without it. The second thing is reminding myself: You don’t have to write anything that you’re not deeply interested in. Every time I remember this, it’s a relief and a surprise. Walking, meditating, writing by hand, and keeping a notebook have also been useful, particularly in conjunction with the first two defenses. I realize that it all comes down to maintaining and refreshing a sense of play. As Martin Buber once wrote, ‘Play is the exultation of the possible,’ and exploring the possible is what writing is all about for me.”
—Rita Mae Reese, author of The Book of Hulga (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016

Bitter Truth: Time is a tyrant

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Mar• 25•16

Bitter FaceWriting and finishing your short story/novel/memoir will likely take longer than you planned. Anyone who has every hired a contractor to remodel their kitchen or bathroom knows this. Things just can and do go wrong. The factory doesn’t have the right tile in stock. The electrician never shows up. Meanwhile, you’re cooking on your camping stove on the patio and winter is coming….

Most people underestimate how long tasks and projects take to complete. This phenomenon even has a name: planning fallacy.  And you know what’s weird, we keep making this mistake over and over because it’s simply difficult to predict all the problems that might occur.

Back to writing. Raise your hand it if this happens to you: You’re bitter face 2trying to tell a story that’s above your skill set.

You were way too optimistic when you started out, before you ran into snags and potholes. I mean plotholes.

You procrastinate.

You spent too much time researching.

While fixing your second draft you realize you’ve drifted too far from your theme or the whole shebang needs a major rewrite.

Your beta readers are asking you some hard-to-answer questions about your ending.

Your characters have proven to have a mind of their own.

Real-life events, health problems, and tragedies intervene.

You’re a perfectionist. So is your editor.

Once you’ve gotten a few completed books under your belt it’s easier to predict the amount of time required to reach The End. Meanwhile, carve out time, fix what can be fixed, and no, it cannot all be fixed.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart