Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Notes from Dr. Susan Swartwout on Writing Talismans

Last Saturday I attended the second annual All Write Now! Conference on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.

The opening keynote speaker was Dr. Susan Swartwout, whose gothic poetry book, Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit, will be available soon from Brick Mantel Books.

During her presentation, Dr. Swartwout spoke with wisdom, grace, and enthusiasm on the topic of writing talismans.

According to the dictionary, a talisman is "something producing apparently magical or miraculous effects."

Dr. Swartwout shared that during her career she was given the talismans of "persistence" and "crap shoot" by two writers, so she wanted to pass along a few talismans other writers can use.

* Write daily. "Don't ignore your muse." No matter if you journal, blog, or prefer another form of writing, find the will, desire, and drive to write every day.

* Write yourself. "Don't try to be your favorite writer." Write what you know, or what you can know, or what you want to learn more about.

* Never stop learning. Read! Reach outside your comfort zone and read works you wouldn't normally read. Enlarge your vocabulary. She quoted E.L. Doctorow, "Start from nothing and learn as you go."

* Spill it! Write as fast as you can. Let your ideas flow honestly. Don't listen to the voice of your internal editor, or your mother, or someone else trying to filter your words on the page. And keep in mind your first draft is your worst draft.

* Take risks. Don't take the easy way by avoiding uncomfortable topics, but also don't overshare. She gave an example of a man who wrote in too much detail about one of his body parts. She suggested keeping a dream journal to record your dreams as soon as you wake up so you can capture the "raw ghosts" wandering around trying to break through your subconscious.

* Write with enthusiasm! She compared writing with enthusiasm to smiling when answering the phone. Write with zest and have fun. The first thing a writer should be is excited!

She wrapped up her talk by suggesting writers use their superpowers for good, because, she said, "Nobody else can do it but you!"

So, how about you? Do you have a writing talisman to share?


  1. None of my own as feeling lame writer at moment...but do agree with write fast and with excitment. Some things excite me so much I can barely get them to paper. They are fun to me...even editors don't think so. My talisman might be keep sticky notes in pocket...I do jot ideas on sticky notes and put on desk edge to see every day until I expand on them in folder or file.

  2. What great advice! Now if only I can remind myself to put these things into practice on a regular basis. I agree with Bookie - keep notepads everywhere, including in the car. I get some of my best ideas while driving.

  3. Hi Claudia,
    Sticky notes do help. My problem is there are times when I can't find them or can't read what I wrote on them.

    Hi Tammy,
    You are right. The act of driving can be inspiring.

  4. Donna--Thanks for sharing these tidbits. You forgot to toot your horn a bit. Didn't you speak or teach a workshop at this conference? Toot toot toot!

    The only thing I can think to share is "Put it out there. Share with a writing group. Embrace the act of deconstruction."

    1. Hi Sioux,
      Thanks. You are so kind.

      And I agree with sharing with others -- and embracing the art of deconstruction.

  5. Great advice. Sounds like this was a good conference. Thanks for sharing, Donna!

    Critter Alley

    1. Hi Pat,
      It was a lot of fun and informative.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. These are awesome! The one I have trouble with is the "spill it." I've managed to do that for NaNo, but when I'm doing regular writing my internal editor is always on. I'm not sure how to shut it off! I get things written and work done, but it does take me longer than if I just let it fly.

  7. Water inspires me, so either I must shower more frequently or move to a beach. Great advice from Susan.

  8. Such wonderful advice! And I agree with all of Susan's talismans. I guess I would modify the "write what you know" one just a bit and add "write what you love." As a Midwestern girl who grew up in a fairly over-protective household, I didn't feel that I knew very much in terms of life experience when I came to writing. So the "write what you know" thing intimidated me. When I heard at a conference someone say, "Write what you love" I felt better about it -- because I love lots of things! So I adopted that as my mantra. Thanks so much for sharing this, Donna!

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Wonderful post Donna. Great advice by Susan.


Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V - Interviews with Lonnie Whitaker and Dr. Barri Bumgarner

Here is the second installment of interviews with contributors who have stories in Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V , from Ozark Writers, I...