Tough Love Writing

Writing Block

“You’re scary!”

The instructor was a little taken aback at the comment from one of the young women in the writing class. I knew just what she meant. The discussion came after we spent some time selecting one character from our story and then identifying his or her desires, wants, needs and weaknesses.

I had just finished sharing what I’d written down and I was so far off base. The instructor kept pushing, “More detail, more specific! Why is that important? Why? Why? Why?” It was a very uncomfortable place to be. I didn’t have the answers and wasn’t even clear about the difference between desires, wants and needs.

I debated not attending the second session, because I’d left the first one feeling like I’d jumped into a class too far above my skill level. But, in the end, I decided it was already paid for and I was bound to learn something new.

This week’s class exercise was to write down the point of the story. What is it that you want your main character and your audience to discover at the end? And, what is the climactic event that leads to that discovery?

Several people volunteered to share. Most students were too generic with their responses and so the instructor kept pushing and putting them on the spot. They were uncomfortable, but the results were incredible.

As the instructor got ready to move on, I lifted my hand. He asked me if I wanted to share. Somehow I knew that I would lose something if I didn’t grab the moment.

My responses, as expected, were too broad and muddy.  As the instructor pushed and prodded, I struggled for the answers. My fellow students added their thoughts and my brain hurt as I tried to find the right words. And…as the hot seat sizzled…ZING! There it was…the point of my story in three words.

The tough love has led to places I never would have imagined. This instructor is so powerfully passionate about story telling and his commitment to each one of us, that he pushes us far beyond our own comfort zone. While I’ve always thought I could write a book, after this week’s class, I believe it.

I can’t wait until next week. Hmmm…I wonder what else he teaches? Thank you, Michael!!

Writing Journeys

Writing Journey

It’s over.

I finished my first writing class Writing 101 at the Lighthouse in Denver. One of my goals, or resolutions for 2014, was to improve my writing skills. While several of my other resolutions are stalled right now, this one has moved forward.

What did I learn in this four week class?

  • Relax and let it flow– Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling, just write. Exercises with writing prompts and time limits forced me to put something down on the paper. I’d get started and somehow, finishing the first rough section would lead on into other thoughts.
  • There is and should be more than one style-  As our class shared writings, I found they were so different. The same prompt ended up in so many different places…and each one was amazing in its own way.
  • Not every story deserves to be in the light- Some stories, or what I would consider to be my ramblings, will never be shared. I’m still glad I put them down on paper and someday, parts of them may evolve into future stories.
  • Write it by hand- I’m not sure what it was about writing in a journal, but the flow of my writing improved when I got rid of the keypad. Our instructor and the majority of students agreed that it made a big difference.
  • Most importantly, I can do it- As many of you know, I was afraid of taking this class. I needed to overcome my lack of confidence to even show up. Let’s face it, some of my writing sucks, but there are fun glimpses of hope for future success.

So what’s next?

The other students and I are starting a writer’s group. Not everyone is participating, but I’m excited to be challenged by those who are. The first meeting is tomorrow night at a local coffee shop. That’s a logical place for this part of the journey.

I signed up for my second round, Four Week Craft Series: Plotting the Plotted Plot, starting this Thursday. While there are other classes that might have been the next logical step, they didn’t quite fit my schedule. I received an email from the instructor a few days ago letting us know we would be working on one of our stories. I looked back at my writings from the first class and found one that might work. That’s a relief.

A writing challenge:

The writing prompts in class were really helpful to leading me in new directions. So here’s a suggested prompt for those of you interested in giving it a shot. Remember, no perfection allowed.

Look around the room and find a newspaper, magazine or other written material with pictures. Go to page 23, or the next page with photographs. Select one and write a story about it. Don’t think about it. Just set your clock or cell phone timer to seven minutes and write.

Only seven minutes of your time could be the start of something big.

Happy writing!!

Prompting a Story

Young Woman Writing in Her Journal

Last night was the second session of my writing class, Writing 101. Considering how afraid I was to begin, I’m amazed at what a difference it has made already in the way I think and feel about writing. The group is filled with nine women from diverse backgrounds. The stories we share are so wonderfully different.

The exercises the instructor uses to trigger our writing are sometimes difficult and sometimes fun.

How does it work?

Last night, we were each given a small piece of paper to write down three things:

A color
An object
The name of a person

Then, we passed our paper to the person on our right. We had five minutes to write a story that included the three words we’d just received…blue, book, John.

Ready, set, go…

He sat on the floor and pretended to play with his cars while his mother rested in a nearby chair. She was doing it again, writing in the blue book. The sound of her pen on paper was almost silent and she’d pause, looking up. Then she began writing furiously, forcing her pen against the paper, scratching so loudly it could have been the sound of the engine in one of his cars. 

John looked up as the writing stopped and saw his mother weeping. What was in the book that would make her cry? As he jumped up to hug her tears away, he tried to see what was written on the pages, but she quickly closed the book, sealing the mystery inside.

One day he was going to find the book and open it to reveal the pain. He would rip out the pages that caused his mother to cry and bury each one in a separate place in the yard, never to be found again. Then, he would buy another book, not blue, but a bright yellow like the sun and write his own story that would make his mother laugh and dance with joy, just like before.

After sleeping last night, I revisited the story and made minor modifications. I loved this writing prompt and the story that came out of it. Are there things you use to trigger your writing?

Where in the World


Self portrait looking up at the mirrored ceiling at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

One of the reasons I’m a photographer is that I like being behind the camera, instead of in front. I didn’t mind being in photos when I was younger and much thinner than I am today. The truth is, this is what I look like and people see me look like this every day. Who am I fooling?

Here’s one of my favorite pictures from Antarctica. It was taken by my good friend and travel buddy, Delia. I’m still overweight and…my expression is a little goofy, but what is so great about the photo is the story it tells.


I’m working to get out from behind the camera more so that I can be part of my travel story. My friends and family like seeing me in these incredible places and surprisingly, I’m finding that I do too. There is a limit, however. I won’t be showing you the photos of the polar plunge. I do have a signed document certifying that I took part in the Antarctica Polar Plunge, but those photos are in my private collection.

Are you part of the story, or hiding behind the camera?


The Connection

The man looked somewhat tattered and torn. I glanced as I rushed by. I couldn’t really see his face. His life was just another tragedy played out on the streets. I shuddered at the thought that something like this could happen to me. I turned for a last look and the man gazed back at me.

He had a small twisted smile and a glint in his eyes that reflected a peace I couldn’t understand. Immediately, I stopped where I was. I’m not sure why. The man approached. I was fearful of what he wanted. He handed me a piece of paper and looked me straight in the eye. “Sir, you look as if you’ve had a tough day. Can I tell you about Jesus?” The tear ran down my cheek and I said, “Yes, I’d like that”, and sat down with him at the curb.

copyright Jennifer Steck 1995

What Heather Knew

Heather knew she couldn’t change the world, but she knew that she could change herself. So, the next day, she hugged fifteen people and wrote notes of encouragement to three others she knew were going through struggles in their lives. She even smiled and said, “Hello”, to strangers she passed on the street.

By the end of the first week, Heather’s world had been noticeably changed. People where she worked were much more pleasant and not afraid to encourage others. Heather was thankful she’d been given the courage to risk a bit of herself in order to make a difference.

What Heather didn’t know was that out of the fifteen people she hugged the first day, twelve of them hugged ten people each the first week. And so on, and so on…

What Heather didn’t know was that three people she send notes to, wrote letters of encouragement to three more. And so on, and so on…

What Heather didn’t know was that the strangers she smiled at felt the love in her heart and passed it on to other strangers. And so on, and so on…

Within the next two years, the ripple of love spread throughout the world.

All Heather knew was that her area of the world was much improved and although she still felt she couldn’t change the world, at least she could change her part of it.

That’s all Heather knew.

©Jennifer Steck 1995

Just Believe

A little boy was overheard talking to himself as he strode through his backyard, baseball cap in place and toting ball and bat. “I’m the greatest baseball player in the world, ” he said proudly. Then he tossed the ball in the air, swung and missed.

Undaunted, he picked up the ball, threw it into the air and said to himself, ” I’m the greatest player ever!” He swung at the ball again and again he missed. He paused a moment to examine bat and ball carefully.

Then once again he threw the ball into the air and said, “I’m the greatest baseball player who ever lived.” He swung the bat hard and again missed the ball.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “What a pitcher!”


This is a great story in honor of baseball season.

Have you stopped believing?

Challenge: Between the Pages

There is something about walking into a book store that turns me into a little kid. I can spend hours, especially now that many of the stores give you cushy chairs so you can preview your selections. They also added an attached coffee shop so that after you buy the book, you don’t have to wait until you get it home to start reading. Libraries are also wonderful places. The joy of children in a library is contagious. Have you ever looked at their faces when they are in the process of carrying out all the books that they have checked out? They’ll never be able to read them all, but there is something about carrying out a large stack just in case.

This challenge may take a months to complete. Take your time. That is part of the enjoyment of this challenge which is to take time to read. You don’t even have to do it all on your own.


Time for Yourself
10 Books
A Comfy Chair or Place to Read
Your Favorite Reading Beverage
Library Card (Optional)
Children to Read to (Optional)

Take time out over the rest of the year to read 10 books. I know it seems like a lot, but turn one page at a time and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can work your way through a good story. Change it up and add a book on how to do something you’ve always been interested in adding to your repertoire. Pull out a book on poetry, science fiction, a biography…the possibilities are endless. Don’t forget to document your progress and give yourself credit., I’ve been playing with a journaling book that include painting and crafting. I’ve had more fun over the last few weeks with water color paints and the pages of my journal.

Do you have any favorite books to recommend?

I really liked “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.

So, grab a book, sit back and enjoy!

Three Cheers

One of America’s most famous educators was Alice Freeman Palmer, known as the “ambassador of sunshine.” Once, when she was conducting a round table discussion, she was asked to reveal the secret of her cheerfulness.

“I will give you three simple rules,” she replied.

“First: Commit something to memory every day–something good. It need not be much–just a pretty bit of poem, or a motto.”

“Second: Look for something fine every day. And do not miss a single day, or it will not work.”

“Third: Do something for somebody else every day–every day!”

“This is all that is necessary.”

A Good Cry

A little girl was sent on an errand by her mother. She took much too long in coming back. Mother, therefore, demanded an explanation when she finally did return. The little girl explained that on her way she had met a friend who was crying because she had broken her doll.

“Oh,” said the mother, “then you stopped to help her fix her doll?”

“Oh, no.” replied the little girl. “I stopped to help her cry.”

Unknown Author

Sometimes a good cry can make all the difference…