Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Tim O’Brien on fiction

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 12•18

The goal, I suppose, any fiction writer has, no matter what your subject, is to hit the human heart and the tear ducts and the nape of the neck and to make a person feel something about what the characters are going through and to experience the moral paradoxes and struggles of being human.

Word of the day: littoral

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 01•18

With thanks to Robert Macfarlane (@RobGMacfarlane)

Littoral: a shoreline region or  related to the shoreline of a sea or lake; occurring at the edge of things. It also means the zone between high and low tide marks on the shoreline. In marine biology the definition is more complex and refers to the zone and conditions of tidal currents and breaking waves. Here is a link to the Encyclopedia Britannica.


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 01•18

A love letter to words

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 28•18

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pernicious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demimonde. I like suave “V” words, Svenghali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon.  I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like  sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp. ~Robert Pirosh from Letters of Note

here is Pirosh’s  letter this opening paragraph is from


punctuate effectively

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 25•18

When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly–with body language. Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow. In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear you the way you want to be heard. ~ Russell Baker

Solstice, also known as midsummer, is dawning….

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 21•18

The Solstice is about to dawn in the northern hemisphere, the year unspooling, flowers everywhere. My dahlias have begun blooming, well, some of them. In one section of the yard two scragglers have only begun to sprout up.

The Solstice marks the onset of summer and the longest day of the year. Onset is a word not much used, but it’s lovely and full or portend, isn’t it?  Here’s what the sky looked like tonight as I drove home, traveling mostly south. We have big, expressive skies in the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes it’s like looking up at a river of clouds overhead. Tonight it was moody, and as if heralding a new season. However, the landscape in this photo doesn’t represent my part of the world. Substitute the Cascade foothills and tall Douglas firs beneath the rolling clouds.

I hope the new season brings a sense of renewal and exciting writing plans. The world needs more writers, but you already know that.

Writing as Resistance

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 20•18

Writing has long been a tool for resisting and protesting tyranny, societal wrongs, and corrupt governments. With the latest crisis  where children are being snatched from their parents seeking asylum, people are protesting from sea to sea.  In fact, the country seems about to boil over from outrage, rage, and frustration. But luckily we’re writers so we can gather up our frustrations and ire and channel it.  Our written words  can also help us seek and foster solidarity with like-minded people.

Ways you can join in:

  • thoughtful social media posts that report new facts or insights
  • sharply-written critiques meant to urge others to action
  • opinion letters or letters to the editor
  • protest, demand for action letters sent to lawmakers or government agencies

Tools to help you along:

  • this protest letter template might prove helpful
  • and here are more tips to make your writing effective
  • a linguist suggests ways to write a protest signs


write to a person

be specific, use statistics whenever possible

use strong verbs–renounce, demand,scorn, abort, defend,  oppress, reject, reveal

ask for immediate action

explain your tie-in to the issue

align yourself with the issue by creating a short bio (retired fourth-grade teacher, mother of three, grandmother of 7)

name specific agencies, laws, policies, bills pending in Congress, or culprits involved (ICE zero-tolerance policy)

sign off using your full name and contact information

create word pictures

Bear witness, stay focused, have heart

According to Markus Zusak

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 18•18

I like that every page in every book can have a gem on it. It’s probably what I like most about writing–that words can be used in a way that a child plays in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around. They’re the best moments in a day of writing–when an image appears that you didn’t know would be there when you began writing in the morning. ~ Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief

Words are All We Have: Maeinschein

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 15•18

Do you have a favorite color? Mine is green, but especially the shades of spring green found in the Pacific Northwest. I could rhapsodize for hours on the many shades and their shimmery magic. When I hike I’m always pausing to point out the light illuminating spring leaves. But then I often pause while noticing how light transforms green on every hike I undertake. I’m not a tromp-through-to-the-end-type of hiker.

Recently I learned a word from author Robert Macfarlane that I need to pass along: Maeinschein. It’s German and means May light on spring leaves. Or more precisely, “the green-gold sunlight that falls through the young leaves of trees and woods in spring/May. Literally “May-light”, “May-shine.”

The German language also brings us Fruhlingsgefuhle which means the joy, excitement felt in spring when the sun is shining and the world feels new with buds and flowers. It also means spring fever.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

You can follow Robert Macfarlane and his Word of the Day on Twitter at @RobMacfarlane



Writers: Are you seeing stories everywhere, because they’re all around us….

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 05•18

A Kiss for Alain Chartier, Edmund Blair Leighton