Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

A warning & some cheer from Lang Leav

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 20•21

There is one thing you should know about writing. It will inevitably lead you to terrible places, as you cannot write about something if you have not lived it. Though the most important thing to bear in mind is this: you are there as a tourist and must always remain one. There was a very specific reason why you were blessed with ability to translate your sentiments into words –it is to bring  a voice to suffering and torment. But do not be too indulgent with your experience of these things –despite how addictive suffering can be–how easy it is to get lost down the twisted path of self-destruction. You must emerge from adversity, scathed but victorious–to tell  your story and in turn, light the way for others. ~ Lang Leav

Words are Powerful

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 11•21

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling, like dew, upon a thought produces that which thousands, perhaps millions think”~ Lord Bryron

Give Sorrow Words II

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 10•21

The fog has lifted and a pale sky revealed, the tall firs that ring the neighborhood still. Looking out it seems as if the world is holding its breath.

I’ve written here before about following Shakespeare’s  advice in Macbeth to, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.” If ever there was a week to break our hearts we’ve just trudged through it.

Eyes glued to images of mayhem, violence, insurrection, lunacy. We’ve heard the lies, the gaslighting, the excuses, the demands. We saw the noose.  The marauding members of our military. Elected officials joining the throng. The Nazi symbols. The Confederate flag marched down the corridors of OUR Capital.

We’ve watched and heard with dread the shrill, unleashed madness in radicalized, far-right followers.

All seemed so inevitable, didn’t it? As if we’ve been long expecting this. As if we’ve been holding our collective breaths.

But when the TV is off, your head on your pillow, or you’re out walking your dog, what is your body whispering? Can you put words to that clenched knot in your gut?  Where does choking rage lodge in your body? Where is your sorrow housed or has it overtaken you at times?  How does your throat feel?

Write from your body.

Are you feeling strung out? Blurry? Limbs weighted down? Stirred up beyond reason?

Write from your body.

Which particular images and sounds most set your heart stampeding in your chest?

Write from your heart.

Because writers need to use all parts of life to tell their stories. Use the painful rawness of your emotions, the map of your body. Give sorrow words. Write them down. Day after harrowing or difficult day.  Loan them to your fictional characters. Track them for a memoir or essay. Store them in a place you can find them again. Because emotions such as these must be shared.

Meanwhile, please help instill hope in children whenever you spend time with them.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, keep finding wonder,  have heart

Routine, be it ever so humble…

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 04•21

There’s  often gloom outside my windows as I sit here lately, punctuated with storms and downpours. Sun breaks do occur, but mostly I’m grateful for this infernal wet after last year’s droughts and too-close-for-comfort wildfires.

And these smudgy skies are good for reflection and planning. Now that the holidays are over I’ve been shoring up my routines and habits. Like many people, the pandemic threw off  me off balance.  I found myself exhausted, wooly-headed, and gripped with bouts of lethargy. Distracted and resentful that a trip to the grocery store was fraught with life-threatening danger.

Now, I don’t have kids at home squinting over laptops and emptying the refrigerator. I also don’t live with annoying housemates, nor have I been suddenly cut off from work buddies since I’ve worked at home for years. But in the Before Times I lived among fictional dystopian scenarios, not living through actual ones. This particular dystopian reality has shaken me and sometimes isolation is chokingly real. As the pandemic death toll climbs and new strains are morphing, I’m venturing out less and less often. Sure I text with my besties, but I’m also taking part in fewer live conversations and actual gatherings. Did I mention it’s been raining a lot?

Which means I’m rethinking things so I don’t lose connections to people who mean a lot to me. Which means I cannot drift, waste time, or ruminate too much on sad news and wretched circumstances.  Which means I cannot spend hours doomscrolling or switching on CSPAN or newscasts, agitated and worrying about might be.

Passionate about politics for decades, this whole political mess in Washington has been a distraction beyond description. On days when it seems more theater than reality I can scarce turn away. On days when it seems democracy itself is on the line, I’m bedeviled and pissed off. I follow House votes, Senate floor arguments,  committee hearings, pundits pontificating, historians explaining, Justice Department machinations,  protests growing shriller, and study reporting,  political columnists, newsfeeds, Twitter feeds, voting lines, and lawsuits. The list goes on and my inbox runneth over. The drama, the stakes, the ire all draw me in like a cartoon magnet until too often I look up guiltily to acknowledge another hour has vanished.

While smugly informed, gentle reader, you might recognize the results were chronic stress. Making me jittery and struggling to concentrate.

Too often missing the poetry of everyday life, including its wonders and tiny miracles.

Enter routines and habits to the rescue. Routines are a lifeline. Scaffolding. I’ve written about it here before. I’m starting small on re-upping former habits because small successes are easy to keep repeating, laying the ground for bigger accomplishments. For example, for some odd reason I stopped wearing earrings. It doesn’t seem like much, but I love earrings, own many pairs, some dear to me. So I’m wearing earrings as I have for years.

This might sound trivial, but this bitsy practice still shifts energy,  gives me a pick-me-up.

My life unspools best when my surroundings are orderly. Since childhood I’ve made my bed every morning. I vacuum regularly, give the house a good cleaning every season, washing curtains, moving furniture to vacuum behind, cleaning windows. My Midwestern ancestors were good housefraus, lives structured around meal making, housework, and laundry. Their houses smelling of lemon Pledge and baking bread. Despite this upbringing and spending years in restaurant kitchens, I’ve also fallen into a wee bad habit of abandoning dirty or greasy pans to soak in the sink. Sometimes a day or two passes and I ignore them or guiltily replenish the sudsy water from time to time. I hadn’t realized how much I dislike scrubbing pans until my energy was depleted. So I’m no longer allowing pans to fester no matter the elbow grease required.

As long as I’m confessing, I’m also removing clothes from the dryer right after it jingles merrily. Because I’ve been ignoring it, though I did step into the laundry room and push the button to send the clothes round for another fluff. This too might sound trivial, but I’ve noticed that procrastination leads to more slacking. Mail and recycling piles up. Clothes and items to be donated mound on the only chair in my bedroom. Or I end up with an office cluttered with papers and detritus. Which is why I’m starting small.

My bedtime routine that begins with turning down the heat and checking the locks and ends in bed with a book is a comforting anchor to end my days, so now I’m homing in on my mornings. For years I woke at dawn and wrote first thing until about 11, then showered and took a break. But my sleep habits these days are erratic, my editing projects demanding, and the aforementioned obsessive news consumption highjack my mornings. Thus, I’m avoiding my  phone and iPad first thing. Leaving the TV off.  Writing before editing. It’s blissful.

Because I’m re-establishing structure throughout the day. Foundations. Sanity-producing order. Which leads to productivity.

I’ll report back here as I rebuild my scaffolding, limit my doomscrolling, and wrest back my time for more writing. Because this all has to do with peace within and accomplishment. And I’ve got some fabulous, positive writing techniques to share, so stay tuned.

What I’m reading: Alison Luterman’s essay Fire All Around in the January issue of The Sun.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Write a new story in 2021

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 01•21

2020 was a cruel, exhausting, nightmarish, wrung-out, surreal shambles of a year. So much to bear, grieve, and confront, sometimes with heart-hammering fear. So many adjustments to make amid an onslaught of shocking death tolls and Biblical plagues including swarmclouds of locusts.  In the West the wildfire damage and scars have brutally changed the landscape and ruined lives. Black and brown citizens are still being murdered by police.  So much loneliness and aching for those we could not spend time with.

But here we are at the beginning of another January. Working remotely and wearing masks and waiting for our vaccines. Wary yet clinging to hope.

Whatever you wrote or did not write, lullaby yourself because whatever you’ve chalked under 2020 is okay. And a do-over is possible.

If you wrote regularly you have much to be proud of.

If you finished a big project or  took part in NaNoWriMo you’re a warrior.

Not so much accomplished? Give yourself gentle pass.

Fallow fields can still grow.

You made it through hard times. You witnessed. You managed by innovating and reinventing and caring. You dug deep into your own depths of resilience. Hugging your own empty arms

Turn the page and write a new story in 2021.

Even though large swaths of our future is unknowable, we can still  make doable plans, choose attainable goals.

Mine are simple. Do the hard things. Seek out silver linings. Keep appreciating small wonders. Celebrate what deserves celebrating.  Love deeply. Read more poetry. Support writers, musicians, and artists.

Experiment with and invent new recipes. Buy carryout food from locally-owned restaurants.

Practice kindness and grace. Use my voice. Notice the world through a writer’s eyes. Gather words. Capture thoughts onto the page. Write letters.

Hike new paths. Breathe in the Pacific.  Meet new trees. Grow new flower varieties. As I said, doable.

If you still need a New Year’s boost, here’s a performance by poet Amanda Gorman, “The Miracle of Morning.” She’s a former Youth Poet Laureate who published her first poetry collection at 16.

Keep dreaming, keep bearing witness, have heart.

And please wear a mask.


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 01•21

And so 2020 ends…

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 01•21

I hope you have many reasons to celebrate a new year. I hope you have writing projects that challenge you, friends who cheer you,  and a pile of thick books that will last through this next season.

Thank you to anyone who has stopped by. There’s been heartbreak and upheaval in my life this past year, but like you, I believe in truth, and the power of stories to connect and heal us.

Let’s begin anew. And nurture the ‘invincible summer’ within.



Stalk your Calling

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Dec• 10•20

We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience–even of silence–by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting. ~ Annie Dillard, Live Like Weasels 


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Dec• 01•20

“Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” ~ Jean-Baptiste Massieu

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 25•20

Never has there been a more important time, year, season to focus on gratitude and extend it whenever possible.

Wishing all a day of peace, hope, and thankfulness.


Vincent van Gogh – The Harvest – Van Gogh Museum