New! SPILLING INK CONTEST for Ages 8- 12!

image by anne mazer


You asked for it - you got it! Announcing a new Spilling Ink short story contest for 8-12 year old writers. Send us your best story, short or long (1000 word limit, please). Our deadline is February 15, 2012. We have exciting new prizes (Yay!). As usual, Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer will be the judges. Hope to see you enter! Classes and homeschoolers welcome! Check out more details here. -- Ellen and Anne


Wake up & Smell the Coffee: Gratitude for Writers 

photo by Anne Mazer

When it comes to writing, what makes you feel grateful? Here are our Thanksgiving lists for you to ponder. Feel free to add your own in the comments. Happy Thanksgiving! Love, Anne and Ellen


Ellen Potter

As a writer I am daily thankful for:

  1. Coffee. 
  2. The sudden and overwhelming need to pluck my dog’s ear hairs.
  3. Coffee (I cannot overstate my esteem for the bean).
  4. The New York Times obituaries (Anne got me hooked on these).
  5. Unscheduled visits from friends who want to go out for a cup of coffee.
  6. A few moments of deep breathing to slow down my heart rate from all the coffee.
  7. And most of all . . . the looming threat of having to pay back a book advance if I don’t stop plucking my dog’s ear hairs, reading obituaries and drinking coffee.


Anne Mazer

Why I’m Grateful to be a Writer

  1. It’s fun to go to work in a bathrobe.
  2. I love roaming in the fields of imagination.
  3. Words! Words! With only one “l” (and a lot of work) they become Worlds!
  4. Having a “steam release valve” for my overly active brain.
  5. I actually get paid for this?
  6. Spending time at the library, walking, and daydreaming are part of my job description.
  7. The disasters in my life turn into comic fiction. Celery ice cream, anyone?
  8. Because I love books.
  9. Ellen Potter is my writing partner.
  10. My readers.
  11. YOU!!!

The Art of Finding Time (To Write, of Course!)

Les Montres Molles by Salvator Dali


Ellen Potter:


 Though I’m embarrassed to admit it, I am a self-help book addict. I just love the way they take your tangled, unruly life and comb it out, arrange it prettily, and send you on your merry way. Of course, your poor life gets knotted up again after a few days, but still, there’s always the hope that one day the pretty life will decide to stay for good.

Here is my attempt to help comb out a few of you Parent/Writers:

How to Find Time to Write with a Young Child in the House

Wait for it . . . wait for it . . . Zzzzzzzz

Lots of people told me to write when my son was napping. That seemed obvious enough, but it never really worked. Half my brain was upstairs in my son’s crib, obsessing over every twitch, and you can’t write anything decent with half a brain (although your sales might be spectacular).

  But one day I noticed something interesting. I had woken up at 4 am to check on the baby. He was in that limp stage of sleep. No twitching. Just deep, deep R.E.M sleep. Suddenly I felt released. He was drifting through his own dreamscape, so I was free to drift through mine. I hurried downstairs, booted up my computer, and put in two hours of solid writing before he woke up and lassoed my brain again. After that, 4 am became my writing time. So that’s my first bit of advice:  Notice when your child sinks into that deep, limp-limbed sleep, and hightail it to your computer.

Buy a smoking-great stroller

Zombie Moms. You’ve seen them in the supermarkets and playgrounds. You may even have seen one in the mirror. They have bloodshot eyes and they look like their brains have been sucked out of their skull with a breast pump. When you have babies or young kids in your house, thinking about anything becomes a struggle. Yet, so much of writing is thinking. What’s a writer/parent to do?

 My solution was to find a fabulous stroller. It had all the bells and whistles. It kept my son happy and it kept me happy. We were able to take long walks and, miraculously, I began to think again. I’m not even going to pretend to know how this works physiologically, but as I walked I felt my brain limbering up. Before long it grew semi-coherent. Then, gasp! The story ideas began to pop.

I’m going to quote something that my friend always used to tell me when she bought something pricey. “It’s an investment,” she’d say. I used to poo-poo that, as in “Do you really think those $500 heels are going to pay off in dividends?” But now I’m going to make the same suggestion about strollers. Buy a great one. It’s an investment.

Finally, I have one word for you. Babysitter. Get one.

We’re not talking Nanny here. No big bucks involved. How about hiring the teen next door who will play with your baby for an hour or two? You don’t have to leave the house. I never did.  You probably won’t be totally off-duty, though, so you might want to use that time for the less strenuously creative work, like revisions. Or sleep.



Anne Mazer: 

Writing in Time

The Eye of Time by Salvator Dali

 As the daughter of two obsessed writers, I grew up with a skewed view on time and its uses. While most people try to fit writing in with their crowded, busy lives, my parents squeezed their lives into their writing schedules. Want to talk to your parents? It better be something serious: arterial bleeding, mangled limbs, or at least a police car waiting outside. If you wanted serious attention, it helped to have insights about books and writing. So when I grew up and decided to become a writer, it was either a minor miracle, or the most obvious thing in the world to do.

For many people, figuring out how to manage their time as a writer is a titanic struggle. But for me, I assumed that writing was a priority to which all else took second place. This eliminated messy, uncomfortable questions about relationships, work, or what I wanted out of my life. At the time, I wasn’t married or a mother, so happily, no innocent bystanders suffered in the practice of my art. My “office” was a small round dining room table in the corner of my studio apartment (craning my neck while looking out the window, I could almost see the Hudson River) and every night after work I sat down at the typewriter and wrote for at least an hour. In fact, I don’t remember ever eating at that table. It seemed like a no-brainer to me; if you wanted to write, you sat down and did it. I dimly realized how lucky I had been to get writing habits hard-wired into my DNA. 

 When I got married and had a son and then a daughter, the first cracks appeared in this “perfect” system. As a child, I had often spoken to my mother through a locked door. It’s an almost archetypal image  – me on one side of the door, begging to be let in; on the other, my reluctant, suspicious, and annoyed mother. Now both a mother and writer myself, I knew I wasn’t going to shut, much less lock the door on my children. But writing with constant interruptions was no easy task, either. My former husband helped out by putting our children to bed every night so I could write. Unfortunately, I was usually brain-dead by 7:00 p.m., and reduced to scrawling the same three sentences over and over for an hour. But it was better than not writing at all.

When my kids were growing up, I was constantly scrambling to find writing time. It became much more complicated when I found myself a single parent. I felt not only clever, but also downright heroic as I surfed the waves of illness, summer vacations, and school events. I snatched eagerly at every opportunity for a few quiet hours to write. There were no locked doors and my son and daughter became a part of my writing life, rather than an obstacle to it. Now that they’re adults, however, I find myself reflecting back on those days and wondering whether it was so important to always prioritize writing? Maybe not. It’s an ongoing struggle to balance relationships and writing. I'm still surfing those waves!


Writing Then and Now

Max at the typewriter/photo by Anne MazerAnne Mazer: Writing Before and After Technology

When I first began writing, I worked on a portable typewriter. Mistakes had to be painted over, and retyped. If there were too many of them, I had to do over the entire page. Not only that, but when you had finished the book, you had to type a final copy by hand: neatly, without mistakes. Then I’d hurry to a print store to make a copy for myself before I sent it off to the agent. (All that paper flying around! Hundreds of pages! Not very green.)  

What a thrill it was when I got my first computer. It was a hand-me-down from my parents and it took at least five or ten minutes to boot up. Imagine my joy when I realized I would never have to retype a page again. And I could move whole sections of text around in only seconds! With the time I used to spend retyping, I could now practically write an extra book each year.

 Then came email. I checked it only once or twice a day, because my dial up access was so slow. And I was still mailing out manuscripts to my publisher. They’d send them back as hard copy, marked up with red editing pen and flagged post-it notes. But one day, they started asking for electronic copies. And then they started sending back electronic edits. Pretty soon I almost never talked to anyone on the phone anymore.

With broadband Internet and faster connections, the time-honored writer’s traditions of wasting time and avoiding writing became much easier as well. Now instead of chewing on pencils, starting out the window, or crumpling up paper, I am able to read gossip on any celebrity I want, stare at stupid jokes on Facebook, or check my email every five minutes. (I have done this.) For writers, sitting alone in their rooms for hours, the Internet is a very powerful, very deadly drug. User, beware.

Computers have made my life much easier in many ways. Or have they? In the past, “all” I had to do was write the books.* Now, I am not only writing the books,** but I’m also maintaining two websites, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, an Amazon page, a Goodreads page, as well as posting on my own blog and this one, writing guest posts and interviews for other blogs, answering emails and snail mail, etc. etc. Sometimes I wonder how I find time for writing.***

One thing hasn’t changed: writing**** still takes a lot of time, thought and work. Would I rather be typing and retyping, printing out copies, and making changes by hand? Would I rather be tweeting, updating, liking, blogging, and posting?  Check out my next blog post or tweet for the answer.

*Hardest work I’ve ever done in my life.

**Very, very hard work.

***Did I mention how hard it is?



Max typing/ photo by Anne MazerEllen Potter: Writing Before and After (Baby)

When I was pregnant, more seasoned mothers congratulated me heartily and asked me all the usual due date, gender, and name questions. Then they asked what my plans were for work after the baby was born.

 “I’ll just write when the baby naps,” I told them breezily.

That’s when their smiles faltered.  “Good for you,” they said uneasily, as though I’d told them that I was planning to march into the Oval Office and serve up my solution to the financial crisis. All things considered, that might have been easier than writing with an infant.

Here are just a few things that motherhood has given me: 

1. A swift kick in the Alps

Before motherhood, time was as free as air. I was frolicking through my day like Heidi in the Swiss Alps. Then came the wee one. Suddenly, time was a precious commodity.  And yet, I found I was able to write more in less time. How does that work?! I think I was fueled by sheer terror of not being able to meet my deadline. It was very eye-opening. Now I know that I actually don’t need oodles of hours to wait for the Muse to whisper in my ear. Or maybe the Muse is also a mother and puts us writer-moms on the top of her To Do list. 

 2. A distaste for blood and gore.

 No, I’m not talking about childbirth.

Before having my son I could write about anything without flinching. My short stories (for grownups) poked around at some pretty grim stuff.  But along with motherhood came a sudden distaste for fictional violence. My heart was tenderized. Even though the bad guy totally deserved to be whacked in the head with a crowbar, he was somebody’s kid, wasn’t he?  And what about his poor mom? Suddenly I couldn’t bear to write about anything bloody or violent. And I deleted Quentin Tarantino movies from my Netflix Queue.

 3. A sense of Poospective. I mean perspective. 

So there I was, driving to New York on my way to meet a Hollywood producer who had just optioned the film rights for one of my books. I was feeling like hot stuff.  I had taken along my husband and infant son because I was still nursing. Just as we’re parking and getting ready to meet the producer, my husband uttered the dreaded words:

“Do you smell something?”

Oh yeah. Diaper blowout. It was as though my son wanted to remind me who was really running this show. A Hollywood producer? Au contraire, Mommy. Think again. All bow down to the power of the poo!

And for the record, it’s impossible to feel like hot stuff when you are wrist-deep in . . . well, hot stuff. 



Congratulations to the Winner of our Teacher's Contest

photo by Anne Mazer
Congratulations to Tish Harman-Murray, who has won our Teacher's Contest! This was a first for us, so we're pleased to have received such a wonderful entry. -- Anne and Ellen


I am an English/Language Arts Support Teacher at COIL Charter School in Fremont, CA.

This is my second year of offering a Spilling Ink Writer's Club for kids grades 3-12 who like to write.

 For our first monthly meeting I asked my students to bring in a collection of images (photos or Internet graphics) that inspire them to write. To compliment Part I of Spilling Ink, I had them use those images, along with text or drawings if they wanted, to create a collage. This proved to be quite an engaging activity for each of them.  As they worked I walked around asking them questions about what certain images represented to them and how those images or words or drawings inspired them to write.  One child drew a picture of Katniss, the female protagonist in The Hunger Games trilogy. She said this character inspires her to develop strong characters in her own stories. Another student chose a picture of wild buffalo on an open range. This 5th grader said the image inspired her to write stories set on the prairie.

Next month the students will bring back their completed collages and share with the group what they've created. I'll then proudly display these collages so that other students can also be inspired by what inspires this group of young writers.

Thanks to Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter for writing the book that inspired this activity!