READY, SET, NA-NO-WRI-MO … Tips, Tricks and Writing Rules from P.L. Travers, Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac

ravers in the role of Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, c. 1924
Travers in the role of Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, c. 1924


Some of us say we write from the heart, some from spirit. P. L. Travers, OBE (1899-1996, Australian national, British citizen),  actress, poet and the conjuror of Mary Poppins, wrote in a Parabola* article that

I sit down inside my abdomen and brood and brood until I figure out how I feel about it.”



I noted the quotation above but I don’t remember the exact context of the piece. I think it was Tavers’ way of talking about the exploration of a painful childhood, one out of which she created a children’s classic. She once told a friend that the people and the objects of her early life were like a spindle around which she wove the threads of her imagination. That worked for her as a writer and for us as readers. In using her childhood to create characters and stories, she gave us a gift that ranks with those given to us by J.M. Barrie, L. Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll.

Of course art-making isn’t therapy, but I often think artists don’t need to be quite so loath to admit some relationship between art-making and therapy.” Short-story writer, Deborah Eisenberg, Paris Review Interview #218, 2016

Travers’ why of writing was – at least in part – to heal and to imagine the childhood she would have liked.

Ultimately, we write for many reasons: to recover, to find closure or completion, to find meaning and understanding and to cherish the gifts of life. I relish life through writing. When I write a poem about an experience or observation, it’s often a way to savor it, prolong or relive the pleasure or heal the wound. It’s a way to live hugely. On the other hand, sometimes I use fiction to reframe experience. I think most people would agree that we also write to have our say and – in the spirit of Joseph Conrad – to help the reader see. That may sound to some like colossal chutzpah, but we all have something to say. We all have a perspective to share.

No matter where our writing comes from or why we write, we have to get the job done. For many of us the muse is a fairly consistent companion. For others it’s a struggle to connect. Either way, we develop habits, disciplines, and rituals to court the muse. It is often as though there is a sort of magical thinking or personal superstition in play. We must sit in this chair at this desk or at this cafe or we simply can’t write. Perhaps that’s why well-known and prolific writers are always being asked how, when and where they write, just another way of saying, “How do you court the muse?”  The answers writers give can reveal demons, superstitions, irritation with the question, or even a tongue firmly in cheek. The “tips” or “rules” can be wise, cool, pragmatic, quirky, absurd or disagreeable. You may end up feeling affirmed, acquiring a useful tool, or finding yourself entertained.

Henry Miller‘s policy was to work on one project at a time. Some will disagree with that. I do. I think many of us find one activity feeds another, that our multiple projects or different artistic outlets form a rich diet for the muse and make us more productive. I have a writer friend who says, “suum cuique” . . . to each his own  . . . though to the old Romans that phrase was about justice (may each get their due), not about writing rituals. But the point is made.

200px-Journal-of-a-novel_cover-smallJohn Steinbeck’s tips are pragmatic, born of a long, intense and consistent experience. In the fall of 1968, Steinbeck was actually too ill for a standard interview and one was pieced together from the East of Eden diaries (Journal of a Novel) and from some letters, which were later collected and published in one book. The tips have been widely published and were also included in Steinbeck’s Paris Review, The Art of Fiction** interview. [The Paris Review Interviews are required reading for writers and poets.]  Steinbeck’s second tip is “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.” This is consistent with the philosophy and structure of NaNoWriMo. You write, write, write all month and don’t do your rewrites, editing and proofing until after that.

Jack Kerouac’s famous thirty tips are … well, they’re Jack … quirky … but useful  … You can check them out HERE on the Gotham Writers’ Workshop site.

Jack Kerouac by Palumbo
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), American poet and novelist

The best tip I ever got was to “listen to and feel, see and smell the world around you.” Inspiration is everywhere: in the air and its scents, in the conversations you overhear, in your self-talk and memories, in the arguments with your spouse and the aroma of dinner cooking. It’s in the coo of the mourning dove, in the feel of your child’s hand in yours, in your own hopes and dreams and the life experiences and observations others share with you. Inspiration is in the news and in history. Be open to everything without exception. Nora Ephron constantly reminded those around her that everything “is copy.” We might say that everything holds the seed of a story, a character, or a scene.

Some of my most profitable lessons came from my high school English teacher, Sister Francis of Assisi, C.S.J. who encouraged my early writing. Sometimes I imagine her leaning over my desk and I hear her whispering  …

What is it you really want to say?
Is this word appropriate? It is accurate?
What is your theme?
Does this really have to rhyme? Be cautious of rhyming.
Is this artfully dramatic or is it bad melodrama?
Is that lyrical or flowery?”

Read and read some more:
What writers do you enjoy most? Why? What can you learn from reading their work?
What novels do you dislike? Why? What can you learn from your reaction?

Reorder and rename the everyday. In truth the ordinary is often extraordinary and it’s your job to recognise and illustrate this.

Practically speaking, the muse is probably most responsive to the simple act of gluing the seats of our pants to our chairs and staying there until the job is done. Perhaps the muse is not fickle. Perhaps to be constant she requires our constancy.

Tips, tricks and rules are helpful and can be inspiring, but take them under advisement. In the end, the best magic for courting the muse is the magic that works for you ….

Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand”. Henry Miller

* Parabola is a magazine of The Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition. P.L. Travers was one of the founders.
** The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction interviews from 1953 through 2016 are freely posted online.

© 2016, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credits ~ P.L. Travers via Wikipedia, uploaded there by Rossiter and in the Australian public domain. The book cover art likely belongs to the publisher or estate and is courtesy of Bookworm  (Mary Poppins) and Wikipedia (Journal of a Novel), Jack Kerouac by Palarmo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic


Poet and writer, I was once columnist and the associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The River Journal, The Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman

SUNDAY ANNOUNCEMENTS: Calls for Submissions, Contests, and Other News and Information

“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas A. Edison

TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS: The search for places to send your poems or other literary creations can seem overwhelming. It’s not an easy task but it is part of the job. All jobs have aspects that are unappealing.  The leads here are meant to help a bit, to lighten the load, to offer some insight into how this business works and – I hope – to encourage you to seek opportunities on your own.

YOU need to . . .

  • familiarize yourself with publications (that is, READ them) so that you know whether the piece you want to submit is suitable for the journal, zine, magazine or anthology you’ve targeted [not in your best interest to waste your time or that of an editor];
  • get ideas and inspiration for new works by learning just what editors are seeking and reading what other writers have written; and
  • strategically submit your poetry, fiction or other art to publications and competitions.

It can help to attend classes and conferences where you will meet writers, publishers, and agents.

Commitment to your career dictates that you DON’T rely solely on market lists. That you do the research to find your opportunities. This involves sitting in the library studying literary magazines and doing deep internet searches.

Courtesy and professionalism suggest that you DON’T impose on working writers to ask where you should send your latest poem or manuscript.  That’s your job and not doing your job marks you as a dilettante.


Opportunity Knocks

BRUSH TALKS, an English language journal about China, publishes essays, travel essays, profiles, memoir and narrative nonfiction, photographs and occasionally poetry. Details HERE.

CHEAT RIVER REVIEW publishes poetry, flash fiction and nonfiction. Submissions are open through October 7, 2018. Details HERE.

HOOT, a {mini} literary magazine on a postcard [charming!], accepts work on a rolling basis: flash fiction, poetry, memoir, non-fiction, book reviews. Payment. Submission fee ($2). Details HERE.

LONG LEAF REVIEW is open for submission of flash and short fiction, short creative nonfiction and poetry through September 1, 2018. Details HERE.

PARHELION LITERARY MAGAZINE is open for submission of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and visual art through September 1 for its October issue. Details HERE.

SAVANT BOOKS AND PUBLICATIONS has an open call for submissions to its 2019 Annual Savant Poetry Anthology. Unpublished work only. Deadline: 31 December 2018. Details HERE.

THE SOCKDOLAGER publishes original 1,000 – 5,000 word genre fiction online. Currently this zine is closed for submissions but will announce reopening on Twitter and Facebook.

WALLOON WRITES REVIEW, a contemporary writers and readers companion has an open call for submissions to its fourth edition that ends on September 1, 2018. Of interest: original stories, poetry, creative writing and photography inspired by Northern Michigan and UP. Details HERE.



Open call for submissions of poems, stories, essays, creative nonfiction to be considered for a Best of the Net Anthology published by Sundress Publications. Submissions must come from editors of journal, chapbook, zine and so on. Deadline is September 30, 2018. Details HERE.


The BeZine

Call for submissions for the September issue.

THE BeZINE, Be Inspired, Be Creative, Be Peace, Be. Submissions for the December issue – themed A Life of the Spirit – closes on November 10 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific .


Please send text in the body of the email not as an attachment. Send photographs or illustrations as attachments. No google docs or Dropbox or other such. No rich text. Send submissions to

Publication is December 15th. Poetry, essays, fiction and creative nonfiction, art and photography, music (videos or essays), and whatever lends itself to online presentation is welcome for consideration.

No demographic restrictions.

Please read at least one issue. We DO NOT publish anything that promotes hate, divisiveness or violence or that is scornful or in any way dismissive of “other” peoples. 

  • December 2018 issue, Deadline November 10th, Theme: A Life of the Spirit

The BeZine is an entirely volunteer effort, a mission. It is not a paying market but neither does it charge submission or subscription fees.

Previously published work may be submitted IF you hold the copyright. Submissions from beginning and emerging artists as well as pro are encouraged and we have a special interest in getting more submissions of short stores, feature articles, music videos and art for consideration. 

The Poet by Day



Response deadline is Monday, August 13, at 8 p.m. Pacific.  Poems are on theme are published on this site on Tuesday, the August 14. Details HERE.


Opportunity Knocks

ANHINGA PRESS and CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, FRESNO sponsor the PHILIP LEVINE PRIZE FOR POETRY [annual since 1983, a book contest] “open to all poets (except current or former students or faculty of CSU/Fresno). The winner receives a $2,000 prize and publication and distribution of the winning manuscript by Anhinga Press. The winning poet also receives 25 free author copies of the book.” Details HERE.

CAUSEWAYLIT an online zine of Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose, Fairield University is run by grad students who run a monthly contest and accept craft essays year round and poetry, fiction and nonfiction four times a year. Modest submission fees. $50 cash award to winner. Currently the deadline for poetry is August 31; fiction is September 31; and, nonfiction is August 31. Details HERE.

DOGWOOD: A Journal of Poetry and Prose hosts an annual competition with a cash award for each for best essay, story and poem submitted during it’s reading period. Entry fee: $10. Deadline: September 5, 2018. Details HERE.


Accessible anytime from anywhere in the world:

The Poet by Day always available online with poems, poets and writers, news and information.

The Poet by Day, Wednesday Writing Prompt, online every week (except for vacation) and all are invited to take part no matter the stage of career or status. Poems related to the challenge of the week (always theme based not form based) will be published here on the following Tuesday.

The Poet by Day, Sunday Announcements. Every week (except for vacation) opportunity knocks for poets and writers. Due to other Sunday commitments, this post will often go up late in the day.

THE BeZINE, Be Inspired, Be Creative, Be Peace, Be – always online HERE.  

Beguine Again, daily inspiration and spiritual practice  – always online HERE.  Beguine Again is the sister site to The BeZine.

YOUR SUNDAY ANNOUNCEMENTS may be emailed to Please do so at least a week in advance.

If you would like me to consider reviewing your book, chapbook, magazine or film, here are some general guidelines:

  • send PDF to (Note: I have a backlog of six or seven months, so at this writing I suggest you wait until June 2018 to forward anything.Thank you!)
  • nothing that foments hate or misunderstanding
  • nothing violent or encouraging of violence
  • English only, though Spanish is okay if accompanied by translation
  • your book or other product  should be easy for readers to find through your site or other venues.



PLEASE do not mix the communications between the two emails.

Often information is just thatinformation– and not necessarily recommendation. I haven’t worked with all the publications or other organizations featured in my regular Sunday Announcements or other announcements shared on this site. Awards and contests are often (generally) a means to generate income, publicity and marketing mailing lists for the host organizations, some of which are more reputable than others. I rarely attend events anymore. Caveat Emptor: Please be sure to verify information for yourself before submitting work, buying products, paying fees or attending events et al.






Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”

* The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton