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MY THESAURUS, REX                               


A dinosaur that's not extinct

sits atop my writing desk.

This wordy fellow makes me think.                                

I use the terms that he suggests.


He is my buddy, pal, my friend,

my pardner, sidekick, confidant.

From Once upon...until The End

he's fearless, stalwart, brave, gallant.


When my mind's confused, unclear,

a bungled, flustered, jumbled mess,

he helps me choose a word that's clear,

distinct, lucid, manifest.


He feeds me good alternatives,

choices, options, substitutes.

A banquet for the perceptive,

clever, cunning, keen, astute.


If we should ever have to part,

take leave, split up, or separate,

my poems would have a broken heart,

dejected, crushed, and desolate.


Though his pages are quite worn,

damaged, tattered, shabby, frayed,

I wouldn't trade my dinosaur,

thesaurus, helper, partner, aide.



A few years back, the blockbuster movie Independence Day adopted the moniker ID4 to sell merchandise. Last year, entertainer Jennifer Lopez began going by the name J-Lo. Recently, I’ve heard friends refer to Ann Arbor as A2, and find myself doing the same.


I began to wonder, are we Americans too busy to use whole words…or are acronyms and abbreviations just too much fun to resist?


It’s easy to assume this is a backlash of the computer generation with their PC’s and CD Roms.


They enter chat rooms where they LOL and <G> instead of saying, “That was funny.”  They listen to MP3’s, watch DVD’s, and ride around in SUV’s. (Except in communities where 4WD’s are unPC.)


But can this abbreviated language be so easily blamed on the Gen X’ers?


I think not.


Each generation of Americans has its own acronyms. Just ask anyone who ever ate at Mickey D’s, used TP, or watched TV.


Ever own a VW Bug? Ride a BMX? Eat a BLT?


Did you vote for FDR? JFK?  LBJ?


Do you have a ZIP code?


Aha! I thought so.


And in our small world of children’s writing, we pull out our acronyms faster than our SCBWI membership cards. We’ve all received SASE’s from S&S months after the stated turnaround time in the CWIM. We hope our PB WIPs become F&Gs and that we get our acceptances ASAP.


Whether you were a GI in WWII in the 40’s, were a Yuppie in the 80’s, or graduated from MSU the year of the OJ trial, you entered Y2K with your abbreviations in tow.


Don’t be afraid of  Ab-Speak—embrace it!


Remember: An acronym a day keeps the MD away. (And that’s important since your HMO isn’t accepted at the ER!)


Lisa Wheeler (aka LAW) uses her PC to write PB’s, EZ’s and MG’s in S.E. MI



I have to move.

Am I being evicted? Uprooted? Transferred?

Nope. Nada. Nix.

I have to move because of my address.

It's boring. Or as L. M. Montgomery's heroine, Anne Shirley might say, 'It has no scope for the imagination'.

As a children's writer, I need all the 'scope' I can get. (Insert mouthwash joke here.) But how is one to feel the least bit inspired on a street with the unimaginative name of Joyce?

Oh sure, Joyce is a good name for females. Like Jane, Joan, and Jean, it is sensible, strong, and denotes an all-around likable gal.

But as an address, I'm afraid it fizzles.

I recently found out that the gentleman who is going to illustrate one of my books lives at 'Cherry Tree Cottage'. What a wonderful address! An address fit for a children's illustrator! Lots of 'scope' there. If one cannot feel inspired at Cherry Tree Cottage they must truly be a tortured soul.

Or how about Klickitat Street? That's where Beverly Cleary's Ramona character lived. But it is really, truly a street in Oregon. A street that inspired fun and play and the little girl who captured America's heart.

I have never had the opportunity to live on a street with a fanciful name. I grew up on Center, moved to Triangle, then to Sheek. (Which could've been inspirational if someone had been inventive enough to spell it Chic.) But alas, they didn't.

Am I destined to spend my days in a residence on a street with a name duller than chalk?

Heaven forbid!

I just have to move. And when I do move, it will be to an address that rings with inspiration. In my own little corner of the world, I have found two possibilities--Chipmunk Trail and Tulipwood Lane. I would write wonderful stories on Chipmunk Trail! (Who wouldn't?) A few towns over I found Yellow Brick. ( Can you imagine how creative a person would feel living on Yellow Brick Road!?) Or, I may just have to move south, near my father who lives on Hamster Way which is very near to Caribou Court and Wallaby Lane. Or maybe I'll go west, near my friend who has the good fortune to live on Shady Meadow Drive. (She is always inspired and writes absolutely wonderful stories!) Or how about north, near my in-laws in Newberry, which is just next to Paradise. (Which every children's author knows is absolutely true--even if the town got the spelling wrong.) There's a street called Shady Lane nearby, which is almost as good as Cherry Tree Cottage.

In any event, I must move. I am sure all kindred spirits will understand. As for the rest of you--Can I interest you in a house for sale on Joyce Road?

(Addendum--I wrote this essay several years ago and have just now put my house up for sale. I am finally moving! Where, you ask? Well, you can bet the house on Rosewood will provide plenty of scope for my imagination.)



"I read my story to my grandchildren and they loved it."

OUCH! You've heard that one before. Then it gets worse.

"Will you critique it for me?"

Now, you're between a rock and hard place. Do you give this person an honest critique, offer your opinion, crush their fragile ego into a pile of rubble? Or do you smile, say, "Your story is wonderful," and crawl back into your hole? The answer is YES...

...and NO.

First, consider...



Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines critique as : a critical estimate or discussion.

Critical meaning: a careful judicious evaluation.

When you offer to critique, you are entering into a contract of sorts. You are agreeing to read the work with a critical eye, a helpful mind, and a heart toward serving your fellow writer.

One way to define what a good critique is, is to define what a good critique is not.




  1. 1.A PADDLE No spanking allowed! No matter how awful you feel the writing is, you must consider the person behind the work. Be a gentle taskmaster and never undermine or belittle. Remember 'the golden rule'. Someday, you may be on the receiving end.


  1. 2.A FAN CLUB If you honestly feel the work is wonderful, please let the writer know why. A gushy 'I loved it' does nothing for the author. Tell her why you loved it. What worked for you. What you felt were the strong points of the work.


  1. 3.A SOAP BOX The writing is good, but you do not agree with the opinions expressed by the author. Too bad, baby! A critique is not the place for your personal views on politics, religion, or child rearing. You are to critique the writing, the presentation of the subject, only the things which pertain to the writing process. If you feel that your bias will not allow you to be fair minded, decline from critiquing the piece.


  1. 4.A STAGE You may be a ham -- but this is not Hamlet! No showing off. Even if your writing skills are far more advanced than the writer you are critiquing, DO NOT rewrite the piece. Offer suggestions that lead the author onto the path of stronger writing. After all, a critique should help a fellow writer learn and grow. Give him the opportunity to edit and rewrite his own work.


In the end, helping a fellow writer to make her piece the best it can be will have its rewards for both of you. You can learn a lot from critiquing another's work. As you sharpen your critiquing skills, your writing skills become stronger.

Next time someone says, "I read this story to my grandchildren and they loved it!" tell them that is a great first step. Then dig in together on a thoughtful, inspiring critique. Maybe next time you see this author she'll have even better news....

..."An editor read my story and she loved it!"




            My last name starts with 'W'.

            It stands for 'Woe is me'.

            'Cause bookstores sort

            by author's name,



            While 'A' names get top billing

            and middle 'M's are fine,

            I'm always on the bottom

            getting shoe marks

            on my spine.


            Wedged down here,

            between the best,

            I'm in good company.

            'Cause when folks stoop

            for E.B. White,

            they just might notice me.


It could be...

Writer's Stump--When your ideas won't grow and seem to get cut off at the base.

Writer's Rut-- When you get stuck. The wheels are turning but produce no noticeable results.

Writer's Sieve--When the brain won't hold a thought. All ideas just run through it.

Writer's Wall--When you run into ideas that are flat.

Writer's Drip--When ideas come s-l-o-w-l-y. One...

Writer's Drought--When ideas start out dry and never come to fruition.

Writer's Mirage--When ideas seem plentiful, but it's just an illusion.

Inspiration: Do’s and Don’t’s

I am frequently asked how I get my story ideas. The truth is, I don’t get them—they get me. So if you want some ideas to come your way, here are a few foolproof methods.

Do place yourself in a position where you will have absolutely no access to writing tools. (Perched on top of a ladder with a paintbrush in hand is perfect.) A great idea will be sure to find you as long as you aren’t carrying a notepad.

Don’t, under any circumstances, sit in front of your blank computer screen. Ideas hate white space. This is also true for clean sheets of paper. Run from them!

Do keep busy with non-writing related activities. Story ideas like to sneak up on people. Pretend you’re not looking.

Don’t set aside uninterrupted hours to write. This will only send great ideas packing. If someone has offered to take the kids for the weekend, you have set yourself up for a double whammy. You might as well head to the movies, phone a friend, or re-grout the bathtub. No idea is gonna come knockin’ until you start on that grout.

Do plan lots of chaotic activities. Ideas are drawn to chaos: organizing a family reunion for 200 relatives, planning your daughter’s wedding, or hosting the Boy Scout sleepover. If you’re busy, they will come.

Don’t stress about ideas. Stress about life!  A wise bumper sticker once said, Life is what happens while you are making other plans. I say, Ideas are what happen when you are living a life.

So, get a life!

And maybe a few good ideas will follow. 


I've heard tell that we writers have muses. Greek Goddesses of myth that offer inspiration and ideas to poets, writers, and artists. I am not of Greek origin, and though I've eaten my share of baklava over the years, I don't believe I've found favor on Mt. Olympus.

If I truly had a muse, I am sure she would take pity on me, and only give me bursts of inspiration when pencil and paper are readily available.

Would a muse keep me awake until four in the morning? Would she make me drive through stops signs and head down one way streets? No. A muse would never do that.

What I have is an imp!

My personal imp delights in making me look like an empty headed boob. He taunts me with ideas when I'm in the middle of important adult discussions. He dangles words in front of my face as I drive and has, on more than one occasion, caused me to burn a meal. My imp relishes days when my schedule is full. It is then that he tempts me constantly with well turned phrases. He's a naughty fellow who scoffs at invitations, dropping in when least expected.

Although he's a fiendish little urchin, I've grown accustomed-- actually enjoy -- having him around. He makes life more interesting. He helps me explain laundry in the freezer, oranges in the oven, and brushing my teeth with Ben-gay.

When he's not around I miss him, and take up reading to fill the time. Before long that bugger shows up, always when I'm in the middle of an irresistible chapter. Tapping at my forehead and whispering in my ear like a rambunctious toddler awakened from a nap. Play with me!

I am not immune to his charms and, being my personal imp, he knows how to work me. Before long, the book is set aside and I'm bursting with words -- glorious words!

Funny -- my imp always knows when there is going to be a knock on the door.



I grew up in Pencil-vania

The name seemed strange to me

A state named for a tube of lead?!

(I took things literally)


My 1st grade teacher told me

It was named for William Penn

Imagine the confusion

In my tiny mind back then


Who would name our proud state

After simple writing tools?

Perhaps it was the same guy

Who sold No. 2's to schools


Good thing they can't change the name

In this day of Compu-Mania

I wouldn't want to claim a state

Called Macintosh-L-Vania!


Today, I had a Three Stooges moment. I walked into our dark garage without removing my sunglasses. BOING!

I had stepped on the prongs of the garden rake, causing the handle to swing straight up into my face--a direct smack to the nose. After checking for blood, (there was none) I instinctively looked around. No one saw my moment of humility.

Darn! A perfect unplanned klutz event and no one around to appreciate it. What a waste of good slapstick.

Ever feel that way about your writing? You know, when you write the perfect line. Or when your character takes off and seems to write themselves. Or when you finally find the rhyming word that has eluded you for weeks? Ever wish someone was there to share that moment? Applaud maybe? Somehow validate that experience for you?

I do.

I've had writing victory moments where I wished a whole stadium would applaud. Heck, I'd even let them do 'the wave' if they were so inclined.

But unlike Hollywood, Broadway, or even Wrigley Field, our performance goes unseen, unsung, and unheralded.

No one flicks their lighter for an encore, after a clever turn of phrase. No one gives a standing ovation when you finally finish that difficult chapter. No one blares out appreciative whistles when you type out that soul stirring description of an apricot.


The writing life is a lonely one. How many times can we ask our spouse or children to "Listen to this paragraph," or "Just read this one line", before they join Write-Anon (a self-help group for lit-enablers). I've seen that desperate look on my children's faces when I approach with papers in hand, begging, "One page. Just read one page. Do it for Mommy."

Wouldn't it be great if, like the Three Stooges, each performance was followed by a round of applause or (when appropriate) laughter? Wouldn't it be wonderful to announce, "My meter is finally perfect!" and have the whole family stand up and cheer? Would it be too much to ask to get a Star on my office door?...Well, okay, maybe that is carrying things a bit too far.

But like my perfect slapstick moment, our 'performances' go unheralded. Oh sure, if we're lucky enough to have the work accepted, it will eventually get read. But will anyone stand up and applaud the fourth Stooge?

I think not.   

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