WRITER’S WORKSHOP I, Week 4: A Celebration and My #1 Writing Tip


We came, we saw, we measured—twice. We cut 10% of the excess—once. We twisted our opening lines to create grammatical tension. We have arrived. It’s Week 4 of the Writer’s Workshop, and that means it’s time to step back and celebrate our hard work. Next week, I will be back with some fresh points to ponder and a new writing prompt. Until then…

My #1 Writing Tip:

I am taking two writing seminars online, Advanced Grammar and Academic Writing, to help me prepare for entry in a Creative Writing MFA. Today, in the grammar class, I had the opportunity to interact with a classmate from the Middle East who is taking the class for a business promotion. He told me that he had mastered verbal English but struggled with his writing. I shared the best tip for writing that I have ever received and suggested that he read his work out loud, an idea given to me by a famous writer a few years ago.

In my opinion, the best tool you have for discovering your writer’s voice (and uncovering your mistakes or awkward, unclear phrasing) IS your voice. I read most of what I write out loud before I hit the publish key. Sometimes, I ask one of my children to read a piece for me. I encourage you, if you don’t already, to give it a try.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in this first Writer’s Workshop. If you haven’t yet and are thinking about it, please jump in and join us next week.

For today, I present our Writer’s Workshop I creative talent:

Sarah’s Measure Twice, Cut Once III

Ian’s Nathan – Version 2  (Note: Ian’s new opening line: In stark contrast to the evening’s events, countless stars hung peacefully in the black night.)

Christine’s Shopping Trip

Angela’s Measure Once, Cut Twice

Manja’s Clip cloppity clop (Links to her first and second revisions and contains some interesting debate on whether all that editing causes a loss of the writer’s voice or not. As I commented there, for me, this depends on the audience you are writing for. Getting published is about playing to “strangers” (and appealing to editors). Most of us have blog followings of people who love our work as it is. The two audiences are not the same.

Liyona’s Sherlock and Claire, opening rewrite  and Sherlock and Claire, after 10% cut

Stephen’s “Cut Me, Mick, Cut Me!”  (where he cut the words: nonetheless and thus and didn’t tell us that the question was rhetorical but allowed it to stand on its own. Showing is more powerful than telling.)

RedCat’s The Seamstress

And this poem from Jane Tims:

Version Two

With this version, I have made the punctuation consistent (I usually use very little punctuation in my poems), eliminated some repeated words (for example, ‘men’ in the first stanza), written some ideas to be more clear (I think the idea of XXVI beside XXVI is clearer), and created some regularity in the stanzas (now in the pattern 5,3,5,3,5,3,5,3 etc.).

measure twice, cut once

slogan of careful men
who raised these covered bridges
posts and beams
shaped and joined
and finished

carpenters and labourers
cut every rafter
to fit, position precise

laid on the ground
marked XXVI
and so on
over the river

laid as prescribed
side by side, XXVI beside XXVI
chords, struts, braces and posts

Howe truss braces
and counter braces
making ‘m’s and ‘w’s
and diamonds, timbers
and metal tension bars

built with a camber
to take the downward weight
of the bridge as it settles

bridge done, and a herd
of cattle
driven through
to test sturdiness

then, careless
someone fails
to read a sign


The French Village Covered Bridge (Hammond River Covered Bridge #2) was built in 1912 and removed in 2017 after a13-tonne excavator dropped through the decking of the bridge in October 2016. The excavator, loaded with 3.7 tonnes of wood, exceeded the 12 tonne maximum posted for the bridge.

26 thoughts on “WRITER’S WORKSHOP I, Week 4: A Celebration and My #1 Writing Tip

  1. This is so awesome Tanya! Thank you for doing this; it must have been a TON of work to coordinate even after all the thought you put into the project. Whatever the results of my sentence, I am grateful for your time and enthusiasm!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Tanya, for the debate as well. So this week we are only to read our peace aloud? 🙂 I will. I sometimes read out a passage or two but never the whole thing through.

    Just to give my view to what you say, “Getting published is about playing to ‘strangers’ (and appealing to editors).” It’s similar to how I feel about my photography. I prefer that people like my words and images for what they are, for their natural appeal. I certainly don’t wish to play to anybody. I suppose I wish to organically grow so good that no editor in their right mind would reject me.

    Hahhah, even to me this sounds mightily preposterous but it’s how it is. Thank you for helping me see it clearly.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi, Manja! Yes, the only “assignment” this week is to read your work and celebrate all the great writing.

      I love the idea of growing organically. If we grow our followings to big numbers, we certainly can make the argument to editors that we have a market for our work. Honestly, I think it takes some of both approaches to succeed, at least in the publishing field.

      I have work that I publish on my blog and work that I send to literary magazines and publishers. Recently, I have even written pieces with particular contests and publications in mind. Some people might think of that as a form of selling out, but those stories are still mine and are told in my unique voice. I am learning to find that fine line that tailors a piece for publication but still feels like “me.” I am also learning to embrace critical review and sift through to find the parts my stories benefit from. I want those stories to be published, and they are competing against stiff competition. That means I have to write with an eye toward the editor or stranger.

      I think it is an interesting debate and a healthy one for creative souls to have. The correct answer depends on the person and the audience. Maybe even the particular story or picture.

      I am working on next week’s prompt and challenges. You have given me a lot to think about. Thank you! 🥰

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: WRITER’S WORKSHOP I, Week 4: A Celebration and My #1 Writing Tip

  4. This discussion touches on the fulcrum of the creative life. Do we want to be published? For me this is a teeter totter, some days I am on the side of yes, when I get that rare gumption that yes I could do it… then other days I am on the side of “no, I have my audience and they are who I want to read” …the organic approach.

    What is the right answer? For me, given my need to make money to pay the bills and the fact my chosen medium is poetry… it is the latter. To invest in my poetry career right now would put too much that matters at risk. Will I eventually? Probably. For now, the organic approach will have to suffice.

    I look at the past couple of weeks as a case in point. Life has just tossed me curve ball after curve ball, much like everyone, so even my blogging has fallen off for the sake of figuring out “normal” and making sure things are taken care of…

    But, I do recognize that if I want to be published today, I would have to make sure my ego could absorb the critiques necessary to meet the “standard” of publications. Sometimes it is, sometimes not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You make some great points here, Stephen. I want to draw attention to the last bit: can our egos absorb the critiques necessary to meet the standards of publication.

      All creative souls have to learn to handle criticism, whether it comes in the form of editorial critique (which can be the pivotal moment which makes or breaks a writing career) and the criticism of family and friends who often don’t understand our creative endeavors (one of the key reasons a lot of people blog in the first place). Our blogging followers become a supportive network of like-minded, creative people who provide priceless support and encouragement to us (and hopefully we return the favor).

      If we want to be published, we must learn to embrace thoughtful criticism and sift through rejection to get to the useful nuggets. Those nuggets are pure gold. Editors aren’t always correct, and they can have widely varied opinions; but, they are professionals on the front line of publishing, and they love stories. They read the competition, and their comments, if we are lucky enough to get them, are given in a context of other writers and stories. I think of talented editors as mentors to the budding writer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wisdom here, I appreciate. The work, though, becomes the limiting factor in relation to time. We can edit and edit and edit, but we cannot edit time back into the day. This becomes the stumbling block of my own ambitions as a writer. That and my mind tends to want to create and so I become prolific; when my mind stills long enough to revisit old works I am either struck numb by the emotions they unkindly return to me or I don’t know on which page to begin. Still, what will become of my words. I feel like they just need to make their way out into the universe and become whatever they are to become to those who humble me with a read. Meanwhile, I go on my walks and my thumbs flicker around my phone and somehow these words just come out of me from a place that needed to shed them. I blather about I don’t know what anymore in this comment, but I do agree with you… to be published one must be steeled to the critique of editors and the incessant return of letters seeming to whisper “try again” as the opener cuts their seal.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Fullbeard Lit and commented:

    Good evening friends and guests of Fullbeard Lit! Have you heard? Tanya Cliff has been leading a fantastic Writing Workshop every Saturday at the Go Dog Go Cafe and I would love for you to check out the amazing work our participants came up with… as well as the stimulating conversations in comments.

    Last week, Tanya discussed how to create an effective opening sentence by developing tension with a ‘but’ construction; like how good improv-ers use the ‘yes, but’ to create tension in a scene.  In a short story, the author does not have the benefit of two witty, trained actors on stage in front of a slightly tipsy audience, but has to use that opening line to establish characters, show conflict, and draw in the reader.

    Scroll around and read what we came up wit… wash you hands first!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with your #1 tip, it helps me every day. Many of my awkward sentences are the result of haste or sloth. I find most, not all, when reading my work aloud. I then listen, using the reading tool on my computer, and find mistakes that my mind skipped over. It only reads the words, not the intent.

    I’d wish you lick on your MFA, but your skill renders luck irrelevant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I will take the positive wishes too. 😂
      I am excited about the MFA. It also opens the door to teaching at the collegiate level, something I have wanted to do for a long time.

      I have never used a reading tool, but I love the point that the oral read catches words, not intent. Most of my mistakes come from autocorrecting the passage in my mind to what I wanted to say.

      That gets me wondering: I know that seeing-impaired people use tools like the reading tool to correct work. Do hearing-impaired people have any comparable tools? Something that would allow them to check their work against how it reads?

      One of the beautiful things about technology is that it serves as a leveler for so many issues, from handicaps to economic hardships to cultural barriers. It is so important that we make it available to everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a good question. I’m not very tech savvy, more of a nuts and bolts type of person. I’m gonna think out loud for a minute…

        …The personal computer is primarily a visual tool. It already has numerous built in features that alert the user by highlighting spelling and grammatical errors. There are also apps that one can use to help improve sentence structure, spelling, etc. I don’t know if there are any apps that have been developed specifically for deaf and hard of hearing people, to alert them to repetitive word sounds or difficult transitions of sound. (Masters thesis, Hmmm…?)

        I recently wrote a short story about a person who is partially sighted. I learned that there’s a minefield of incorrect terms referring to people with visual impairment or people who are deaf. I stepped on a few. Deaf and hard of hearing people don’t like the term ‘hearing impaired’. I’m not trying to be critical, I just think that you would want to know.

        I also suffer from an over-zealous internal editor when I write, and an over-anxious narrator that misses obvious errors in my writing.

        You had a great workshop, I missed the start but you gave great advise. I used a little just now!

        Liked by 1 person

      • My bad…apologies to anyone who is hard of hearing. I grew up with an uncle who has Down’s syndrome, and people called him “retarded,” which I still find gross. He has Down’s syndrome and is severely learning-impaired (at the level of a three or four year old). “Blind” and “deaf” used to have the same negative connotation as “retarded,” and the really horrible “deaf and dumb” was commonplace. That is where the more gentle terms “hearing, learning, visually – impaired” came from. As with every issue and every generation it impacts, the politically correct terminologies shift, and we must shift with them. That said, if anyone calls my uncle “retarded” or a “retard,” I will correct them…loudly.

        Hope everything is good your way! Stay safe and healthy!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I hear ya! Language, connotation, and terminology has changed. It will continue to change as those who are affected decide for themselves what is culturally correct. Sometimes we hurt others when we think were being sensitive.

    Here’s an idea
    we should all speak in haiku
    and say more with less
    and tanka would be nice for
    clarification at times

    All’s well. Thank you Tanya

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Sunday Chat with Stephen, 3/29/20, or the one where I quote Toni Morrison (again) and talk about the home you have here at the Go Dog Go Cafe. (P.S. Stay Home and Wash Your HANDS!) | Go Dog Go Café

  9. Pingback: WRITER’S WORKSHOP II, Week 1: Sally Packed Devilled Eggs, The “Deep-Holes” of Alice Munro | Fullbeard Lit

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