Great Writers (and me) on Writing

Tony - Writing

I have some great news for which I am very thankful.  I have accepted a position as a writing instructor at a local community college.  The course is called “Introduction to Academic Writing” and it is primarily designed to teach beginning students to construct well written, persuasive essays.

To make the most of this educational opportunity, however, I want to share my passion for writing as well as the mechanics of how to do it well.  To prepare, I have pulled out part of a post (below) I wrote on writing.

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. ― Maya Angelou

The primary purpose of good writing is not to fix a problem, but to make it more meaningful and beautiful to live in a world filled with problems.  This is one reason I don’t read more Charles Dickens and why I haven’t even started Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  I’m thinking more of fiction here, but even good non-fiction should steer clear of one-dimensional moralism if it is to be effective.  The song must be sung, not explained or advocated or shouted out.  Which leads to my next quote –

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. Anton Chekhov

Again, while this is true for any writing, I find it especially true for songs and poems.  Don’t say you’re depressed because your girlfriend broke up with you and then go on for 500 words telling me the symptoms of your depression.  Pay a therapist to do that.  Instead,  paint a picture of your sadness, like John Prine in the chorus of  “The Blue Umbrella” –

Blue umbrella
rest upon my shoulder
hide the pain
while the rain
makes up my mind
well, my feet are wet
from thinking this thing over
and it’s been so long
since I felt the warm sunshine
just give me one good reason
and I promise I won’t ask you any more
just give me one extra season
so I can figure out the other four.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ― Mark TwainThe Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Here is where I’m going to put in a plug for self-editing. I read a lot of blogs about writing and I notice that many writers mark their progress by their word count.  Some even set goals of writing 1,000 or 2,000 words a day (or some such amount).  I believe if your goal is good writing, you should lo0k instead at how many words you delete.  I knew of a college professor who set page limits to essays.  If you exceeded the number, he would rip off the extra pages, throw them away and write across the paper, “It seemed a little incomplete.  Try again.”  One right word yields far greater power than two (or three, or one hundred) wrong ones.

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. ― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

I like this quote both for its humility and wisdom.  The truth is, we never really get it “right” in this writing life.  Becoming better writers should always be our goal for some distant “one day.”  The direction we should be headed to get there, however, clearly should not involve complex formulas but simple methods of telling it like it is better than we told it the last time, possibly even better than anyone has told it before

Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. ― Flannery O’Connor

In terms of writing material, we have a lot within us into which we often fail to tap.  It’s true if you are writing on any subject, you should do good research and not just sit back in your writing chair (mine is a recliner) and write what is on your mind.  Still, if we just pay enough attention to our lives (and the world around us), we will have plenty to start writing every time.

In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody. ― Oscar Wilde

What may have been witty hyperbole in Wilde’s day has become almost literal truth today.  I visit many blogs that have few (if any hits).  E-books are being published that sell almost no copies.  You can’t even give them away.  We could debate what is worthy to be read, but I believe three of my primary obligations as a writer are to read, read, read.  Read what others are writing on their blogs.  Read new books being published by known and unknown authors.  And then, to relax before bed, read (or listen to) the classics (including the Bible) to let my mind be refreshed by the gifted wordsmiths of days gone by.

What are your thoughts on writing?  What quote sums up what you believe most true for you as a writer?

What Matters: Prompted Flash Fiction

For the first time in his life, he believed his opinion mattered. People would listen. Lives would be changed. The world would become a better place.

Robert went into the kitchen and reached for a bag of Guatemalan Fair Trade coffee beans, smiling to himself.  Pouring the beans into the hand grinder he inherited from his grandfather, he measured the right amount with his mind.  No need for scoops.  He knew what was best.

Turning the handle of the grinder in a steady, confident motion, he looked out the kitchen window.  His neighbor Mrs. Grumsfeld was weeding her rose garden. Her wide-brimmed straw hat with the red ribbon reminded him of his grandmother, God rest her soul.  If only she could be here to see him today.

At the appointed time, the grinding stopped.  He placed a filter in the basket, emptied the grounds from the wooden drawer and affixed it in place. Moving to the refrigerator, he reached for the pitcher of filtered water. Closing one eye, he filled the maker to the four cup mark, closed the lid and pressed the “on” button.  A ritual as meaningful as prayer.  Done to perfection to produce the perfect results.

Mrs. Grumsfeld was kneeling beside her bushes, looking up at the empty sky. She was clenching her straw hat to her chest.  Motionless.  Her knees covered in earth.  Unnoticed.

As the coffee perked, Robert picked up his laptop and plucked the keys as a poetic performance.

“” he repeated as he typed.

“Start a New Blog.”  He grinned and pressed “Enter.”


(animated) Typing typing typing.


(The first line was provided by the “Write Now Prompt for November 5, 2013” at Today’s Author)

Building Community by Featuring Followers IV

Time for a Stat-ervention? Checking you blog stats can become addicting. I challenge you to walk away for the month of Oct and see if you can refocus on the joy of blogging.

The statisticians here at “A Way With Words” have advised me some time to put out only one post a day, saying –

Your optimum visits-per-post ratio can best be achieved with a single, targeted daily post. 

I say,

Get a social life.

Tonight I’m in the mood to “share the love” and feature more of my followers, hoping to further build community and simply sow seeds of gratitude for having faithful readers.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the title below —

“Building Community by Featuring Followers IV”

Building Community by Featuring Followers III

 It’s Sunday afternoon.  Morning worship is over.  The Colts have the game well in hand. Over two hours before evening worship.  It’s time to fire up the virtual grill and welcome a few more followers over, carrying casserole dishes of flash fiction, bags of poetry, and coolers of life reflections.  A good time will be had by all.  To join in the fun, simply visit any of the sites or featured posts and tell them Tony, who has “A Way With Words” sent you.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the title below —

“Building Community by Featuring Followers III”

Bon Apetit!

the planet blue potluck!

Building Community by Featuring Followers

Today, I was drawn back to my followers and decided to  feature some of them in a series of posts, both as a way to express gratitude for their following and build more community — sort of like an “A Way With Words” pot-luck.  I’ve included links to seven of these blogs, as well as to recent posts I find indicative of their work.  I hope you will be led to visit their sites and that you might mention you found them here.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the title below —

“Building Blogging Community: Featured Followers”

cute blogging notepad!

 from Katie Whalen Krysh

What’s New @ “A Way With Words”

View album

I just added the photo above to my “Who Am I” page, along with a link to my emerging website – Tony Roberts, Writer and Editor and a new e-mail address: .  I am in the process of moving this blog to a new, hip web address (to be unveiled soon).  Below, is a picture of my new socks and shoes…

View album

Now, as my buddy Steve Franz would say, “All the women will be falling at my feet.”

The Perfect Game (for Beginners)

Last night, I came upon a choice post called “Baseball for Beginners #Kill Me Now” at The Number Kevin.  Kevin humorously describes his effort to find meaning and purpose in baseball game.  His reflections prompted me to write a rather long response that was just too good not to share (in a slightly redacted form).

This post really brings a smile to my face.  I came to know baseball before I came to know Christ (and for many years grew much closer to it than him). 

I’ll never forget going to a Cincinnati Reds game when I was at seminary with a group that included a South African man who had never even seen a baseball before. 

There was a rain delay and I (on his left) and a friend (to his right) spent 3 hours instructing him on the intricacies of the sport – the deceptive flight of a curve, the infield shift for a lefty hitter, the blasphemy of the Designated Hitter.

He just smiled and kept repeating, “I see.  Okay.”

The game finally started and nobody could get a hit.  It was boring.  By the 7th inning, we realized Tom Browning (for the Reds) had a perfect game going.

So, putting our love of the game above our Christian ethics, we gathered our South African friend and snuck down to watch the end from some abandoned seats along the first base line.

We carefully whispered to him the significance of the event without jinxing it by saying the actual words “Perfect Game”.

With two outs in the ninth, we were bursting at the seams.  The third batter grounded out to third.  Our South African friend was the first to jump up and scream repeatedly at the top of his voice,


Yes, I witnessed one of the rarest feats in all of sports.  There have been over 132 seasons of major league baseball.  Currently, 30 teams play 162 games each, which amounts to 162 x 15 contests (it’s too late for me to do the math).  The number of teams and games have expanded over the years, but a low estimate would be 132 x 150 x 12 = ? .

Do you know how many perfect games there have been?  23.  I saw number 12.

23 out of (aw heck, I’m going to find a calculator) 237,600.  Roughly speaking, that means the odds of you seeing a perfect game when you go to the ballpark are 1 in 10,000.  (That’s about as likely as a politician campaigning on a tax hike).

And I saw one.  More than this, my South African friend, who had never even heard the crack of a Louisville Slugger walked right into Riverfront Stadium that night and witnessed history being made.  This would be something akin to a guy who just happened to be on the moon with a film camera running to catch Neil Armstrong take “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I may never win the lottery (especially since I don’t buy tickets).  I may never write a best-seller (especially since I cringe at graphic sex and violence).  But, by golly, I have seen a perfect game.

God Speaks Through WordPress, G-Mail, LinkedIn and Facebook

In a post yesterday afternoon, (“Writer for Hire: has “A Way With Words”) I revealed that I was fully embarking on a career as a writer.

Last night, a Toronto psychologist (Richard Amaral of Psychology for Growth) sent me an e-mail asking if I would be interested in editing his book.  We discussed the terms today and, when I checked my e-mail this afternoon – there it was, ready for me to review.

In some LinkedIn messages last night, I put out word that I was exploring doing freelance work (and possibly an internship) doing projects  related to writing (Technical Writing, Copywriting, Marketing, Editing, Social Media, etc…)

This morning I had a message back from Elizabeth Mellencamp Johnson of The Mediation Point, asking if I might be interested in helping her with the launch of her upcoming book.

Yesterday, I sent a message to a Facebook friend David Anderson of Dave Anderson & Associates inviting him to lunch to discuss ways I might better market my writing and editing services.  Over baguette sandwiches, Dave offered a wealth of helpful information and agreed to help me set up a website.

God’s timing is impeccable, wouldn’t you say?

Not all our prayers are answered so quickly, of course.  Sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is, “Wait.”  Sometimes it is, “No.”  There are times, however, when God’s answer to our prayers is “Here you go.”  And what glorious moments those are!

“Answered prayer” from Opal Massey in Inspiration — God is Love

Note about my new blog sub-title:  You may notice that my sub-title has changed (again).  What once was “God is ‘I Am’, Therefore I Think (and write)”  is now “Writing for Well-Being”.  I made this change not because I wanted to take God out (in fact, God is still present in writing and must be present for well-being).  No, I made this change to be less philosophical and more practical.  “Writing for Well-Being” describes both the therapeutic aspect of blogging for me as well as, I hope, the positive impact good writing has on readers.

I’m interested to hear from you – “What do you think of the change?”

John Prine, Prison, Sex, Religion, Abe Lincoln, Grammar and Happy Meals (favorite Google Hits)


I was inspired by a recent blog post I read to check out the Google searches people have used to find “A Way With Words”.

My overall impression is that Google Search is doing a fine job of directing readers I want to reach my way.  I hope, in turn, they are finding here much of what they are looking for.

I thought it might be a helpful service, however, to directly address a few of the searches I found particularly appealing –

has john prine ever been to prison

No, you are thinking of Johnny Cash, who recorded “Live at Folsom Prison”.  John Prine did write the song “Christmas in Prison” but he did this with his artistic imagination and poetic license (which he keeps in his billfold next to a picture of Fiona in a bathing suit).

the pursuit of happiness sex scene

Hmmm.  I guess I could work in a sex scene between my 70+ year old lead characters, but that would be just, well… gross.

religion is a system of wishful illusions

On the contrary, as C.S. Lewis once wrote – “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.”

which president is better abe or george and why

Well, according to one of my new blogging buddies, Abraham Lincoln was actually one of our worst Presidents.  I disagree.  While it’s hard to definitively discern history, I believe Lincoln did as good a job managing the worst period in our nation’s history as any President before or after him has done (in much less difficult times).

why is there a place for grammar and mechanics in modern culture

Just as the sun rises in the morning and the moon rises as night. we rely on grammar rules and mechanics to provide anchor our words such that we can make beautiful sense.

how to write an interview on happy meal

Go to the source.  Old McDonald’s Farm.

The End of the World (as they knew it)

Tonight I’m doing a reading for the “Upstart Poets Series” at the People’s Bar in Bloomington, Indiana.   Here’s one of the pieces I’m going to share.

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There was a knock at the door and suddenly the Christmas lights went out.

“It’s the end of the world!” said Maura, an avid reader of apocalyptic literature who had yet to give up on the Mayan 2012 prediction.

“We need to pray.” said Paul, who, at 16, had found his way into a youth group at a local evangelical church.

“First we need to confess our sin,” said Father, rather quizzically.  He was a lapsed Catholic who hadn’t been to Mass in years and he wasn’t sure of confessional rules in the End Times.

“Okay, I’ll go get my cell phone.  I just downloaded a confessional app.” said Thomas who, after a season of doubting, had found a link to a site called “The Virtual Vatican” that had given his life new meaning and purpose.

“Let’s just answer the damn door and check the breakers!”  said Sonya, who had come out last year as an atheist.  Two years ago, she came out as a lesbian.  The year before that, as Bipolar.

Sonya answered the door.  Nobody was there.  She checked the breakers.  None of the fuses were blown.

“I tell you, it’s the end the world!” repeated Maura.

“Let us pray.” said Paul, bowing his head.

“First, confess.” said Dad, a little more certain.

“Where’s my cell phone?” asked Thomas.

“You guys are nuts.” declared Sonya.  ”I can’t wait to post this on my blog!”

“YOU ARE A BLOGGER?” they all exclaimed.

Sonya just smiled and quietly brushed a strand of hair from her face.

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What do you think?