Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 02•20

Reboot/Course Correction

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 05•20

With July fourth behind us, in the beginning of the second half of the year, I’m assessing my goals because it’s time for a reboot, or more accurately, a course correction. 2020 has been a discombobulating, scary, uncertain slog. It’s like being in an endless storm, the eye of the storm, and nightmare all combined. Now, of course there have been lighter moments, joys, and reasons for hope. I’m especially heartened that more than 26 million Americans protested the death of George Floyd. And the beautiful, heartfelt response as the world joined in.

But no matter how your year is going, or your goals are progressing, there’s still plenty of time to recalculate the months ahead. I’m thinking of the big course corrections that are sometimes required—a space shuttle, a wagon train headed west, a ship exploring the unknown, a polar expedition. Life or death situations.

Some days writing or the need to write feels like life or death. Or a deep, immutable soul need. And has there ever been a time when the world needed writers  more? I think not.

What about you?

Are you on course toward your goals or avoiding or not even focusing on goals?

Are you reading for sustenance and elucidation?

Is a friend or another writer helping you stay accountable?

Have you finetuned  a daily routine that sustains you?

There is still time for accomplishment despite the headlines, the looming election, the terrifying number of COVID cases.

Keep writing, keep  dreaming, have heart 


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 30•20


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 01•20

Peace Rose, named to celebrate the end of WWII

Write in the Midst of Chaos

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 31•20

I was awakened early by thunder yesterday. We don’t get a lot of  thunderstorms in the Pacific Northwest  and so I stayed in bed just listening.  It’s been a nightmare week in the United States. Another black man murdered by police in Minneapolis. Righteous anger, outrage,  and protests over systemic police abuse  at some point shifted to riots, looting, fires, destruction, terror, and despair. Violent militia groups are taking advantage of the situation and wrecking havoc.

Monsters roam our streets. Troops in our streets another hellscape.

You don’t need me or newscasts  to tell you that we’re living in terrifying, uneasy, and unnerving times. As our cities burn all I can think is how I’ve lived through this before and how neighborhoods do not come back from this level of destruction. And now during a pandemic how will communities rebuild?

So many unknowns and terrors.  We’re floundering amid failed federal leadership, seemingly impossible odds, and an unnerving uncertainty. And besides our burning cities, invisible, minuscule DNA materials can slip into our cells with the power to kill us and people we love.

Uncertainty is painful and can be numbing. It creates anxiety and worry during the best of times. But these days it means we don’t know what the future will bring and if we can survive it. If our battered republic can hold.

We’re already grieving more than 100,000 deaths of our fellow US citizens. And now another black man choked to death after centuries of racism, injustice, and abuse of power.

All the grief these deaths have caused is unimaginable.

All the rage is justified.

Here’s my small suggestion: No matter your  situation or coping methods, take notes about your day-to-day experiences, coping methods, interactions or lack of interactions, and deeply felt emotional and physical reactions to the multiple crises we’re all living through. While the future is unknowable, what’s happening within you is discernible.  Do you feel trapped, paralyzed, stumbly? Are you leaving home and experiencing new freedoms as your state eases its restrictions?  Are you living in a city where you’re terrified as dark falls?

Julio Cortez, Associated Press

Julio Cortez, Associated Press

Do you have small kids at home so you have little time to tend to your own fears because you’re cooking, cleaning, and keeping cooped-up kids engaged?  Do you have no answers to your children’s questions about the lawlessness in our streets?

Then dial into the nitty-gritty of this shared nightmare and  your inner world and write it down.

Do not censor your thoughts or worries. This is the time to leave nothing unsaid. Write raw and scared and hopeful and worried and out of your depth.  Write about the powerful ache of loneliness and your fears of violence.  Write when you’re paranoid and lost and you need a vacation from your family or long to leave this battered country.

What does it feel like when your world looks like a battlefront, when rumors are ricocheting around you,  when even grocery shopping feels scary, when you feel choked by wearing a mask?

Are you noticing/feeling solidarity and hope amid the strangeness? Are you optimistic that there might finally be social justice and equality?

If you’ve read my words here or in my columns or books you know I preach the gospel of writers’ notebooks. Recording with your hand observations, inspirations, memories, and data. Writing by hand is good for the brain and your mood. Here’s more information on the topic.

Why write in the midst of chaos?

So you are never desensitized to horror.

Because story telling and truth telling needs to stir our  readers’ most primal emotions. Because the majority of people on this far-flung planet also experience your most primitive, unnerving emotions.

Because fiction and nonfiction often need an unsettling atmosphere to create needed tension.

Because you need to learn how write dread. misery, pain, fear, and grief effectively.

Because paying attention will help translate disgust, body language, and churning emotions onto the page.

Because even in the midst of savage truths stories teach us how to cope and hope.

With deepest sympathy for the family and friends of George Lloyd.

Keep writing, Keep paying attention, Keep safe.

Summer reading

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 25•20

When I think of long-ago childhood summers, I think of reading. Dappled light filtered through maples is easing through my bedroom window or a heavy storm is pounding at the panes, and I am worlds away, lost in a story. There is nothing like the simple luxury of reading a good book.

With this in mind, I’m providing this link to The New York Times  wonderfully curated list of Summer Reads. These days I’m reading Paulette Jiles gorgeous novelSimon the Fiddler. Let me count the ways that Jiles is a writer’s writer. Glistening and hardy prose, impeccable research, quirky and endearing characters, and a poet’s eye for the world. Set during Reconstruction, it’s the tale of itinerant musicians scraping together a modest living amid uncertain times. Oh, and there is an epidemic underway that they’re trying to outrun.  Music holds the tale together and deeply speaks to the protagonist as in this lovely passage: “He knew he didn’t play music so much as walk into it,  as if into a palace of great riches, which opened into still other rooms, and in these rooms were courtyards and fountains with passageways to yet other mysterious spaces of melody, peculiar intervals, unheard notes.”

I promise Jiles’ figurative language, demonstrated in this passage, will inspire. And her characters will thereafter live within you.

With a debt of gratitude to all who have served this country and their families.

Keep writing, keep reading, keep washing your hands and wearing masks.

Silver Linings

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 15•20

The sky is still full  of gloom here, but it’s not supposed to rain today and the birds have lots to say. It’s getting late to plant dahlia bulbs so I might nestle some into the ground today and then attend a socially distanced, backyard dinner later.  Yesterday while I ate lunch (scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and mozzarella) I turned on CSPAN. It was a hearing on the US coronavirus response by the Energy & Commerce  Subcommittee. The silver lining is that US manufacturing of needed medical supplies might return more fully to this country. There could also be more coordinated efforts to stockpile needed supplies in the future, maybe before the next pandemic strikes.

I’m wondering if like me, you’ve found silver linings to our situation. If you’re seeing everyday kindnesses big and small demonstrated around you. If you’re cooking and baking more, gardening more, reading more, cherishing friends more, and spending more time with your kids. I hope you’re enjoying quiet streets and drivable rush hours. I hope spring is lending its usual promise of renewal.

I also hope you’re writing and noticing how downtime is creating some ease in your daily routines. However, I realize that people with children home from school might not have that luxury. But if you’re not homeschooling and turning your house into an all-day diner, maybe you’ve felt the sweet relief of downtime. Maybe you’ve realized that when you’re not multi-tasking and staying busy all the time that your creativity is enhanced. Maybe you’re even napping without guilt.

And I hope you’re filling or restocking your creative well. Returning to beloved pastimes and hobbies along with learning new skills or information. Pulling in inspiration from a variety of sources–online museum tours, podcasts, reading, watching great dramas or fascinating documentaries. Because as everyone knows, a well should never run dry and good writing comes from an interesting mind.

What I’m reading: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund    (warning: you will be struck by writer’s envy, especially since this is her debut novel.) The story follows the teen narrator Linda who lives with her parents  on a lake shore in an abandoned commune in Minnesota. I was transported to the familiar scenes of  lake country and freezing winters and the miseries of adolescence. It’s a story twisted around secrets and tragedy spun with Gothic echoes.  She’s the kind of writer where you’re struck again and again by artful language and unexpected imagery.  I filled two notebook pages with her phrases and word magic.

What I’m listening to: Sugar Calling with Cheryl Strayed. Cheryl is phoning authors over 60 to discuss their perspectives on the way we live now. Her guests so far have included Billy Collins, Amy Tan, Margaret Atwood, and  George Saunders. Their conversations are delightful and listening in will make you feel more connected to the literary community and humanity.

Unlocking Us with Brene Brown is another worthwhile podcast because Brown is simply wise and has years of research to back up her advice about how to cope in our sometimes-harrowing times.. Here’s a link to an episode about keeping calm and dealing with anxiety.

What I’m watching: Becoming, on Netflix based on Michelle Obama’s book tour  It’s simply heartening to watch genuineness, normality, and compassion. (warning it might make you cry and want to travel back in time) Here is more info.

I cannot lie, but I love watch people cook and geek out over delicious flavors. The Chef Show on Netflix currently is satisfying that need. It’s a takeoff of sorts on the delightful film, Chef and reunites Jon Favreau the actor in the lead roll and chef Roy Choi his mentor. They cook with celebrities and chefs and their mouthwatering creations will make you hungry so consider watching with a full stomach.

As someone who once worked in restaurants I also enjoy the diversion afforded by Restaurants On the Edge. In the second season the cast travels to far-flung restaurants in need of help. I’m now convinced I want to visit Solvenia and finally learn to gather wild mushrooms. In Oregon, that is.

Then for Downton Abby and Julian Fellowes fans there is Belgravia a period drama that begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. Full of scandals, scheming villains, elegant drawing rooms, and upstairs-downstairs contrasts, I promise you’ll be sucked in. I especially like how Fellowes manages to depict class differences that should make us all think about how they’re replicated today. It is shown on EPIX, but you can also stream it.

Keep writing, keep stocking your well, have heart.

A pause…

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 14•20

photo by Anni Roankae

If  you’ve been stopping by, thanks for doing so.

My pause here is ending and I’m going to start posting helpful advice and inspiration for writers again.

I’ve been bumbling, enjoying, deploring, gardening, cooking,  chafing, and pondering my way through our current state of at-home uncertainty.  Also dancing in my living room, connecting with friends and writers, editing, reading, and wasting time. (Pinterest–need I say more?) Then there is my usual all-day news consumption with some letup on weekends.

That long list of house projects created with such optimism–barely touched. But I have given away and sorted books, watched the sky, walked amid springtime glories, planted trees,  filled my house with lilacs and  now roses, luxuriated in the perfumed air, and am adjusting (somewhat if truth is told) to wearing a mask.  Throw in a few Zoom and Skype sessions and life is skewed, but still rich and inspiring.

That is, if I get to bed at a decent hour.

That is, if I don’t try to imagine the future.

Would love to connect with you via an email (my full name including page at gmail.com) on twitter or facebook.

Please keep washing your hands, social distancing, and supporting all our front-line heroes.  See you soon around here.


Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 13•20


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 01•20