The Write Stuff

Three women writers offer advice, encouragement and wisdom on the craft of writing.

Whether you need to finally express the things you never told your dead grandmother, blast out that autobiography that swells within you, or gush the ruddy contents of your soul into a journal, three women writers have answers.

Meg Files, author of Write from Life, and Lauren B. Smith, author of Unsent Letters, both from Tucson, were joined last month by California's Sheila Bender, author of Keeping a Journal You Love, at Borders Books.

Files, English department chair at Pima Community College, has been teaching creative writing for the last 30 years. She says Write From Life will appeal to struggling, hopeful and stuck writers by offering help. "We have to remember why we're writing. Those who have the goal of riches and fame will probably be less successful than those who write because they are compelled to write for the writing's sake. Those people have a better chance of selling their work," she said.

Files directs the Pima Writers Workshop each May where, for $65, writers can get atmospheric inspiration and manuscript consultations at no extra charge.

"I've observed over the last 16 years of running that workshop that those who have the ambition of making it big fall by the wayside pretty quickly when they don't have immediate success. Those who are interested in their own stories, in the writing for its own sake, write fresher, bolder, livelier stories than those who are trying to figure out the formula," Files said.

"The book will appeal to struggling writers and hopeful writers. It will also appeal to people who are stuck along the way. I encourage people to write from their own life experience. That's where the passion is; that's where the pain is. It's about taking risks with writing. It seems as if we are exposing ourselves and in many ways, even with a shopping list. Another big risk is writing from personal experience.

"The biggest hurdle for many writers is to get past the notion that they have to have a plan instead of just setting something in motion and letting it go. We have to relinquish the security of control. This book should help people who have writer's block. They have started it but can't ever seem to finish it. It talks about the fears that hold us back and how to overcome them. I think I do have some important things to say to struggling writers. I can give them some courage and hot tips, too. There are shortcuts, ways to make writing easier," she said.

Files will read at Reader's Oasis on Speedway Boulevard as part of a writers' workshop at 2 p.m. on Saturday, January 25.

For Lauren B. Smith, author of Unsent Letters, Writing as a Way to Resolve and Renew, writing can be lifesaving therapy that helps people get through the problems of their lives. "Unsent Letters was written out of personal experience with the power of letter writing. [It] appeals to anyone who has a desire to move out from under the weight of old hurts and painful memories that hang over life like a moth-eaten, outdated cloak," Smith said.

"Medical research has shown that poor management of ... (anger) is tied to heart disease, some cancers, aggression and violence. Writing is one of the tools we can use to defuse the anger that resides within us," Smith said. She suggests people write letters and not send them.

"Writing letters to someone who has caused you pain, someone with whom you have a disagreement, or someone who has let you down, for example, gets the bad feelings off your chest. Writing one letter, then another, then another allows you to examine your feelings and, at the same time, to wring the strength out of a painful emotion. Meanwhile, not sending the letter until you have thoroughly clarified how you feel keeps you from deepening the wound or intensifying the pain connected with the person on the other end of the hurtful experience," Smith said.

She cites President Abraham Lincoln, who often used the process of writing letters that he didn't intend to send when confronted with frustration during his presidency. "He would retire to his office, pour his strong feelings into a letter, seal the message in an envelope and file it away. Then, he was able to deal with the situation with a clear mind and sense of controlled emotions."

Smith's book appeared on shelves in July 2002, and was selected as the July offering of Writer's Digest Book Club, along with Files' Write From Life.

Smith argues people can gain identify and more control over troublesome emotions by expressing them in language. She offers ways to confess love, say goodbye, ask for help, seek forgiveness, accept disappointment in ourselves or others and express anger.

"Write to yourself, pretending you are a friend or relative who has been watching the serious misunderstanding unfold. Describe your relationship as if you were walking with it through autumn leaves, through the first snow of winter, through gentle ocean surf. For a moment, be a child. Use your imagination to see yourself in your relationship from as many new angles as possible," she said.

Sheila Bender, author of Keeping a Journal You Love, published by Walking Stick Press, keeps an online magazine about writing from personal experience (

She studied the English poet William Wordsworth in college. She gives the Wordsworth poem "I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud" high regard for paving the way for keeping a journal and showing the importance of a writer being alone with solitary thoughts.

"Wordsworth's simple poem speaks volumes about the value of taking time for your inner life apart from others. I believe his poem is a whole treatise on the value of solitude in making us sturdy.

"For Wordsworth, wandering lonely as a cloud is not desolate--his wandering lonely as a cloud is a happy loneliness. Clouds share the sky with birds and have the other clouds as neighbors, and they can 'see' all that goes on below and above. However, each cloud is distinct, separate, undispersed, and in and of itself--like you!" writes Bender.

The Wordsworth poem that inspired her:

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

"I think you might want to write this poem inside the front cover of your journal as a reminder of the value of solitude, both the solitude in which the world springs forward into your senses and the solitude in which you recollect that happening. The work of the journal keeper encompasses both of these occasions," Bender writes.

Bender also offers study and workshops for writers, along with a catalogue of her books and accomplishments at

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