Working with A Young Writer: Noticing Favorite Things & Play


“The puppy flew out of a cupcake. Her name is Candy.”  –Natalie, age 8

Natalie is the youngest writer I coach. When she walked in with a box of rainbow-colored modeling clay, I set aside my prompts for the afternoon and admired her tiny, intricate creations. As is always the case, what you love is the doorway to your creativity. Your passions are stronger fuel than the instructions of any teacher. Sure enough, when I asked questions and followed her lead, her story was incredibly imaginative and wonderful.

The next time you are hoping to motivate someone to write, yourself included, notice what is already being created but perhaps overlooked. When working with a young writer, pay attention to her play.

Build the writing world on a foundation of beloved things.

Courage is Simply the Willingness to Be Heard

The Willingness to Speak Your Poems -

A new writer thanked me today for showing her the way to courage, the courage to speak up, the courage to share work.

I don’t feel courageous.

As a featured poet for an event last week, I found myself standing at the mic thinking, “Why did I say yes to this?” Before I could say a single word, there was a blank moment when my poetry appeared in my mind as a Very Stupid Idea. This isn’t the first time I’ve had that thought, and it won’t be the last.

What I keep coming back to: the willingness to be real. The willingness to show my pain and my struggles, my outrage and terror, my creations, my experiments, my soul.

The willingness to speak and to be heard is more powerful than fear. That’s all I have, really. It is the willingness to be the person I am at my deepest core.   I know others won’t always get me; they definitely won’t all think I’m brilliant. My poetry may indeed appear to others as a Very Stupid Idea. Yet they’re not the ones I answer to.

That soul of mine: it’s where the accountability is.

And so I’m willing. I guess this adds up to courage, all on its own.

The Highly Sensitive Writer: Support for Empaths

As I play on the shores of social media, having a grand old time, I forget to watch my footing.

I’ll be breezing along, posting updates and sharing photos, when suddenly, I feel horrible. I will have spent too much time in this world of celebrations, complaints, cravings, and shout-outs. There’s a weird sense of lostness.

I’m drowning in the lives of others.

At first, I was embarrassed to acknowledge this problem. Social media mavens and writers I knew didn’t seem to struggle. I did a lot of pondering and exploring. This led to a  magical realization:

I’m an empath.

I have to be careful how I engage with the world. I must protect my communications, because I absorb the feelings and needs of others.

It might be weird, but it’s pretty special, too. It means I can find another’s heartbeat in an instant; listening is in my blood. I love hearing the ways that my work has brought healing and inspiration to others.

Many of my clients are empaths, too, exploring their intuitive gifts on the page.

Writing Prompts for Empaths is a simple free worksheet you can visit with your journal if you’d like to explore your own sensitivities.

I’d love to hear any thoughts that emerge for you.

And I look forward to being in touch . . . that is, if I’m not taking a social media time out!

    You can read more about highly sensitive, creative people and empaths here:

View my Flipboard Magazine.

Authentic Writing for Memoir and Fiction: Don’t Skim the Memory

I’m wearing my editor hat today. As often happens when I do developmental editing, I notice places where the story is skinny. I perceive areas of “skimmed memory.”

Skimmed memories on the page are a red flag that the author doesn’t want to return to this experience.

returns - library

It’s tempting to skim a difficult memory to avoid pain. It’s so much easier to pull out the black box recording of this life-crash moment. Why relive it? I’ll just say the thing I always say when people ask me about it.

But what would happen if we allowed ourselves to revisit the moment on the page?

I’ll tell you what would happen. We would experience a fresh stab of pain . . . but we’d also receive new insight. Life is complicated, whereas our skimmed and reported stories are not.

Today, Sam writes:

“My marriage with Sabrina was doomed from the start. After treating me like the man of her dreams, she announced on our honeymoon that she had made a mistake.” Sam goes on to write, in a single paragraph, all that was wrong with the marriage.

Clear-cut judgments are easy. We lose the complexity and ambiguity and interest that both life and story share.

Yet I understand. Who wants to return to these memories, add detail, reach for honesty, and find things were truly complicated?

IMG_1010All the same, I’ve worked with Sam for a while, and he is a strong, courageous writer. I know he will take the time to investigate this paragraph. Precious years and intricate wisdom are here to be excavated. Perhaps three or four new pages will emerge.

Sam could show us how they drove for hours after the wedding, when the hotel lost their reservation. He might show that honeymoon breakfast table where the waiter spilled a mimosa on Sabrina’s dress. He could show Sabrina, her hair straggling and her nerves frayed, saying words she didn’t mean. He could reveal his own short temper, and how he barked at the waiter.

Writing our stories demands honesty. This is true whether we build fiction or remain in the territory of memoir. When we revisit an experience, letting go of ready-made judgments, we encounter the stunning beauty of authentic storytelling.

NaNoWriMo and Places of the Imagination

I’m taken aback at my sudden directive to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’d planned to do some work on my novel, but in a last-minute gut decision I committed to fully enter the world of my imagination.

And I’m glad for it.

I put so many demands on myself that I don’t give free reign to projects that take my imagination full tilt. I’ll create, but I’m wary of my time. I’m wary of losing control. Working in bits and pieces helps me feel sane.

You can’t create art that astounds you if you’re trying to stay in control.

What I’m discovering is that digging into a world of my imagination is renewing my energy, not using it up. I’ve had it on my list, for weeks, to write this Fire By Night post, for example.

And I’ve also longed for more art. I’m doing that too.

IMG_0195You’ve got to let go, meld with the process, and move where the creating takes you.

And so I’ve rearranged my schedule temporarily in order to lose control.

How about you? Are you on a wild ride of creating, or are you trying to keep everything neat and tidy, and same as always, so you can maintain certainty?

If you’d like to chat in person when I come out of NaNoWriMo hiding, please join my visits as a guest author on Saturday, November 8 at 1:30 at Another Read Through Books in Portland; and as a guest poet on Saturday, November 29, at 7 pm at Mon Ami Coffee and Crepes in Vancouver.

Why I’m All Over the Place: My Three Blogs

Some folks have asked me lately, “Tell me again, which blog should I go to?” Because I’m all over the place with three different blogs. I know, I know. Confusing.

Lemme ‘splain.

I have different ways of being, in different parts of my house. They’re all me – but they serve different functions. So here’s the breakdown when it comes to my blogs.

Wildfire Writing ( – the front door. This is what you’re reading now. It’s the place to greet and be greeted. I’m aware of my community here, and what makes it all work. It’s where to check in and see what’s going on.

Kindling the kitchen. This is the creative space where I serve up prompts, and share creative conversation with others who want to play and hang out.

A Fire By Nightthe room upstairs. In my house, the room upstairs is where I pray, journal, make art, and process my life. I do yoga. Sometimes I just sit and look out the window. This blog is that space for me – an intimate setting where I reflect on the big picture of my life, relationships, and spirit.

So there you have it.

I didn’t want you to be confused anymore.


Getting Support for Taking A Creative Break

Edee Lemonier, Writer, Community Leader, and Web Wiz


I like what coach and poet Mark McGuinness has to say about Creative Burnout, especially “control freakery.” I relate to the creative rock star who gets to do what she loves and is surrounded by adoring fans – in my case, a community who loves to encourage me as much as I love to encourage them.

And I also relate to the need to sometimes walk away from it all.

But this isn’t easy to do.

As a business owner, I was nervous about the plan I’d made in June, to take September off and walk the Camino de Santiago.  In the eight years I’ve been a writing coach, I’ve learned that business stops when you stop responding to people. My break would mean taking a month off, disconnecting my phone, and allowing my students to sit idle and un-encouraged for thirty days.

But I also began to realize I was modeling relentless activity, and a life leashed to a computer. Unlike Stephen King, who purportedly never takes a vacation from writing, I must take a creative break.

So I left. Crossed my fingers and threw my cares to the wind.

The wind blew on my community while I was gone, rustling up this writer, that encourager, that artist. Groups met without me.  Creativity thrived.

This wouldn’t have been possible without Edee, who hosted Wildfire Wednesday at Cascade Park Library in September. Edee makes my job easy because she is teachable, committed, open-minded yet confident in her talent. She is a people person and yet a solitary artist. Her work astounds the reader. Not only did she take over the library night, but she let me know I wasn’t forgotten while I walked.

It wouldn’t have possible without Patty. Patty rustled up the evening Wildfire Writing Master class, finding a temporary location, sending announcements. This imaginative writer and caring, even-tempered, listener has one of the most amazing combinations of talent that I’ve ever met in one human being.

And then there was Jenna, my fellow coach and dear friend. She kept the enthusiasm going for the artists group I facilitate and roused the troops at Rouse. She listened to my pre-trip jitters and post-trip overwhelm. She wired me support on the airwaves – I felt it all.

Being a creative rock star loses its glitz when you start thinking you have to do everything, all by yourself.  Being surrounded by willing, giving human beings is what it’s all about.

Thanks to these three, and to all of you, the music plays on.


Rules for community engagement: Don’t be a lone rock star. Let shine the leadership gifts of those around you.

My Writing River: A Poem

snippet collage version Delightfish

by Emily Gillespie

It starts with a trickle

My writing river is flowing on uncut soil
Atop the leaves and the dirt, forging a new trail
One fit for future waves to maneuver
It’s poking over to the left, seeing if it likes that
It turns to the right when it sees an opportunity to flow
Not scared to turn around if it doesn’t feel right
If it doesn’t suit the potential of this new writing river
A river that will take years of repetition to carve into the earth
Years of nudging its way into a strong current
riverWidening as it sees fit
And narrowing when it needs
But always flowing
Disregarding the trees
And the logs
And the rocks in the way
Not even the longstanding mountains stand a chance
Because this is my writing river
Stories as tiny as guppies and as big as whales will find their way down
Colorful energetic spindly fish storiessnippet collage version Delightfish
And simple silver mackerel fish stories
Long, winding eel-like stories
And dark, unmoving bottom feeder stories
All will be honored and accommodated in my new writing river
Just wait


Thank you to writer and storyteller, Emily Gillespie, for describing what it is to surrender to the writing process while honoring the discipline and practice. Loving the wisdom!

Give Your Particulars, Tell Me Who You Are

Thursday Master Class

Students new to Wildfire Writing classes show up full of hesitation. How can they share their work with the others in this community, when the class is comprised of all beliefs and backgrounds?

There are many pieces of ourselves that others might not “get.” Questions of race and religion, of politics and persuasion, of secret ambitions and sexual identity.

What I’ve found is, the more we share the specifics of our particular lives, the less important become our differences. The woman detailing her disordered eating strikes a chord with the man describing his overbearing father. Concerns may seem completely different, but stories find our shared beating heart.

I love it when writers are brave enough to share their roots and ties, exploring what these things mean. Liva Montana’s poem, Communion, for example, makes me hungry for more of the poet’s religious experience and symbols.

Have you found a place where you can reveal your differentness? Keep reaching for that, and do keep putting down on paper all that you are.

(Image: Wildfire Writing Master class, July, by Desiree. These writers are fearless in bringing their whole selves to the page.)

Goals vs. Purpose: Measuring the Creative Life, Where Everything Counts



My daughter B, home from college, is sleeping in my writing space.

I feel displaced, frustrated. Failing.

What about all the things I hoped to accomplish this summer?

Publishing: submit
Short story: start
Art: finish picture book
Novel: get halfway through this monster
Nonfiction: draft book

I’m not getting anywhere. Stuck.

“So, Christi,” I ask myself. “Why are these things so important, anyway?”

I take the list apart and look closely.

I want to get my words “out there.” I want to mean something.

Short Story.
I love the fun of a short piece, the surprise of discovering where it will go.

I want my art to delight.

I want to fuel my creative life, to stay with the craft and enjoy it.

I want to teach, mentor and forge relationships.

All of the above.

Ultimately, this is why I do everything: to love and be loved.


And then I realize I’m doing it. ALL OF IT!

Total mindset-flip. How?

I stopped looking at the goals (the “what”) and got in touch with my purpose (the “why”).

Things are much simpler than we make them. Your purpose is far more important than your goals.

I invite you to downshift into a greater understanding of why you create.

My list is below. Now it’s your turn.


How I Stayed in My Purpose Today


Made a couple of greetings to send friends. These two hand-crafted cards will mean something to my dear readers. If this isn’t publishing, what is?

Short story:

Chose carefully my words for the cards. 


Decorated the cards.

Novel/fueling creativity:

While cleaning kitchen, listened to John O’Donohue’s thoughts on being an artist (To Bless This Space Between Us). Worked on novel for 15 minutes. Wrote two pages in journal. Walked with a fellow creative coach.

Nonfiction/teaching and mentoring:

All week, taught and coached gifted, appreciative, unique, amazing writers.

“Loved and was loved.”

In the weeks that my daughter has been home, we’ve shared laughter, stress, stories, adventure, art, and hugs.

Which means I’m right on target with what matters to me.

It’s all in knowing what to count.


Creative Change in Relationships

Living well means loving and honoring the people in our lives. Sometimes, though, we use them as an excuse to avoid the work we know deep down that we need to do.

This is a personal look at how I’m emerging into brave places in my relationships.

It’s not an easy thing – and in fact, involves loss and disappointment.

But these are the scary choices we face on the way to being our most authentic, creative selves.



Willamette Writers Conference – Video Sneak Peek on Procrastination

In nearly two decades of working with emerging writers, I’ve noticed that many don’t acknowledge the grip procrastination has on them. At some level, they feel bad about putting off what they know they should be doing. But in their procrastination, they often hide the truth from themselves and pretend they are just too busy to write.

If that’s not enough, they’ll actually manufacture problems at some level in their lives . . . so that they don’t have to face their creative struggles.

How about you? Are you honest about your problem with procrastination?

How do you recognize it? How do you overcome it?

I’ll be helping writers slash their procrastination at my August 3 Willamette Writers presentation. Here’s a sneak peak at insights I’ll be offering at the conference.

Contact Christi