An Index to the Website
may be found by clicking here.



New WordPress Blog!

I've set up a new WordPress blog (with the help of my web-wrangler) because it gives me more options than the blog on this website, including the ability to post more photos, the ability to link with social media across the web, and a subscription service that sends a dandy version of the blog directly to your email inbox. Try it out.

Notes from a Western Life at WindbreakHouse.WordPress.com

You can continue to read the blogs here, however a few of the very long blogs under the category of "Writing: Where I've Been" will only appear on the WordPress blog.



An Index of Blog Topics
may be found lower down in this left-hand column so, for example, you can search for all blogs with "Writing Suggestions."

A dated archive of blogs is also available below the index.

Click here to jump to the index, or scroll down to see a selection of photos related to the blog posts.






Blacksmith or Wordsmith

Iron legs from yesteryear.

Smaller iron items inside.

The scrap-iron table.



Dust, Grass, and Writing

Like the native grasses, the roots of writing go deep and reach out in many directions.

Tough prairie grass roots splitting open a rock.

Green life may be found under dry debris.


Fringed Jacket Foofaraw

Turtle carved from bone.

Turtle made of silver.

Warrior Woman pin.

George's grizzly bear claw earring.

Powwow jingle cones made of tin.

Brass bell.

A tiny dream catcher.

Harley Owners' Group pin in honor of Jerry.

Wally McRae's cufflink and tooth.





South Dakota Poet Laureate? Not Right Now, Thanks.


"An older writer, conscious of his or her limited life span, may have specific projects in mind to complete. Thus, requiring that the Poet Laureate travel and teach extensively may exclude older writers regardless of their worthiness to hold the position."



Don't just click "like" about some political story you read.


Pick up the phone or write a letter and make a difference.



Ah! The Bathtub.

A brass hook on a nearby wall to hold my robe or a towel.

A removable wire basket stretches across the tub to hold my soap and sponges.



Windbreak House
Now on Facebook.


If you Like me on this Facebook page you'll get notifications of my newly-posted blogs as well as announcements about my books, writing retreats, and other events to do with Windbreak House.

www.Facebook.com/​WindbreakHouse

No kitten videos, but I post Tuesday Writing Tips, Wednesday Word Posts, and various other writing-related stories, announcements, book reviews, photos and the occasional joke.



Ah, Spring!


Want to know more about this critter?

See the Gallimaufry Page for more about the bird, including more photos, and some odds and ends that don't fit anywhere else on this website.



More Stories and Essays by Linda
may be found on this website.

* Home Page Message archives
Many of these essays have writing advice. All have photos, some have recipes, a few have poems.

* Poetry Page essays
Read suggestions for writing and performing poetry and the stories behind some of Linda's poems.

* Critter Stories
Brief stories and photos of birds and wildlife seen on Linda's ranch may be found on this page.

* Gallimaufry Page
Stories and photos that don't fit anywhere else.



Linda on YouTube

Nancy Curtis, publisher and owner of High Plains Press, recorded a couple of videos of Linda reading her poetry and posted them on YouTube.

To see Linda read "Where the Stories Come From"
click here.

To see Linda read her poem "Make a Hand"
click here

Or go to www.YouTube.com and search for Linda Hasselstrom.

You may also want to visit the High Plains Press facebook page where you will find these two poetry videos and much more about the many great western books-- poetry and non-fiction-- published by High Plains Press.

Thanks, Nancy!

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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog



Free Advice: Worth What You Pay For It
Or: Why I Won’t Give you Free Advice on Your Manuscript

June 4, 2012

Tags: Writing Suggestions, Writing Workshops, Life of a Writer, Publishing, Book Promotion, Book Selling, Computers, Writer: Helen Rezatto

Linda talking at a workshop for which she was paid.

. . .
Dear friend of a person I barely know,

You wrote your friend to say you are fed up with workshops, that you know you can write. All you need, you wrote, is a mentor to help you put your manuscript into book form.

The mentor, you wrote, should also tell you how to sell your published book. “I need a connection,” you wrote, urging her to give the letter to me so that I would become that mentor.

Your friend did give me your letter: at a workshop where twenty writers had paid for the time and expertise of several published writers. For four days the experienced writers worked with those students, ate lunch with them, sat for hours discussing their work.

You weren’t there because you have decided workshops are a waste of time and money. Sadly, that is sometimes true.

As a science fiction writer replied when asked why science fiction is worthless: because 99% of everything is worthless. A few years ago I saw a workshop that promised to introduce writers to an agent even if they hadn’t written a word. Legitimate agents are unlikely to discuss your publishing prospects if you don’t have a book contract in hand for a book that’s already written. (See my suggestions about whether or not you need an agent elsewhere on this website.)

A writer interested in attending any workshop should investigate it the same way you would investigate any purchase: asking questions and doing research to see if what you are buying will be useful to you.

But workshops can be beneficial. You may gain information you didn’t know you needed. And you might connect with other writers who are learning about the profession and who have the same concerns. You mentioned the cost of travel and motels as being prohibitive. So look for assistance where you live; aspiring writers are everywhere. Scan want ads, check with friends, examine the bulletin boards of libraries, bookstores. Search online for “writers, Your Town USA.” Visit websites on writing topics.

Ideally, you will find compatible writers who will exchange writing with you, so that everyone comments on everyone else’s work. This can be time-consuming; you owe your fellow writers the same effort you expect them to put into helping you. But it is likely to be the single most useful thing you can do for yourself as a beginning writer: to discover, cultivate and cherish fellow writers so you can all help each other. I wish I’d known this opportunity existed and found writers with whom to exchange information at various stages in my career. Most of what I have learned has come from making mistakes and doing research on my own.

You said you need a “connection.” Surely you have read news reports of publishers going bankrupt, of bookstores closing nationwide. Even nationally-famous writers with long lists of books published by reputable companies are finding their books rejected as publishers cut costs and try to profit with new competition.

If you consider yourself a writer, educating yourself about the world of publishing is part of your job. Read available news about publishing, writers, bookstores and libraries to learn about your chances of publication. If you believe your writing is valuable, then you must find your own method of getting it in print.

You may dream of receiving a contract from a major publisher but many other methods of publishing exist, from print on demand to online publishing. You can write your thoughts on the Internet through blogging, publish in an Ebook, self-publish, create a POD (print on demand) book or join a publishing cooperative.

Information on publishing is easily available. You can learn how to publish a book via the internet or in your public library. Librarians I know are eager to help their patrons. Start with a look at Writer’s Market and The Literary Market Place. In the library or bookstore or online, browse the dozens of “how-to” books on writing and publishing. Look at bibliographies so each source leads you to others. Every day hundreds of writers figure out how publish their own books. You must do the same. This is the good news.

You already know the bad news: some of the people spreading information are not honest.

As an author, plan to learn new skills that will enable you to publish and promote your writing in the way that suits you best. No mentor, no matter how generous or well known, can determine which publication method is best for your book, submit it, design it, edit, copyedit and proofread the manuscript, oversee publication and help you sell it. Because you know your own manuscript best, you must develop your own ideas about where and how it might find readers; that’s just part of the job of the writer.

Do you picture yourself as a famous author seated comfortably on a chair in a TV studio, casually discussing the latest book? Even famous authors have to work hard to sell their books. Commercial contracts often call for a certain number of speaking and book-signing appearances in particular cities as part of the publishing campaign. The author who publishes with less-famous publishers has to arrange his or her own travel. In both cases, when the writer is traveling to promote her book, she’s not writing. Many authors now use the Internet for promotion, blogging, tweeting, exchanging reviews. And more and more frequently, I hear the complaint, “I’m spending all my creative energy promoting my work, not writing.”

In writing to me, you proudly said you do not have a computer, that you are “too old to learn” and can’t afford one. Without a computer, your task is more time-consuming in several ways. Internet research is faster, though often less reliable, than library research. Most publishers no longer read printed manuscripts; they require attachments sent in the proper format.

Still, most settled regions swarm with people willing to teach you how to use a computer, often at low cost. For example, senior citizens’ organizations offer many such classes particularly for seniors of limited means who aren’t interested in “surfing the net” but in writing their life stories. I know a dozen people in their 80s and 90s who confidently use their computers to pay their bills, do research, write to friends– and none of them are well-to-do.

When you told your friend that I should help you write, publish and promote your book, you did not mention any effort you may have made to find help in the busy metropolitan area where you live. I know that city to be thronged with writers at all levels; many of them are generous with their time and teach or give workshops. I might have ignored your letter or said “No!” but I’ve spent hours composing this reply. Those are hours lost from my own writing. And if you are like many who have asked me for help as you did, you will be angry, resentful, perhaps rude about my refusal to put aside my own work to help you with yours.

I have and do work hard to help writers who show initiative and determination to see their work in print. But if I am to get any of my own work done, I must limit the time I take away from it to give to others.

I am a full-time writer; I begin writing by nine each morning, stopping only to cook and eat lunch. In the afternoon I may write or answer mail or email. I also have all the usual responsibilities: cooking, cleaning, gardening. My writing is an important part of my livelihood. Because I don’t make enough money from selling my books to eat, I have developed other ways to make a living from writing.

Once upon a time, when had real jobs and was not writing as much or as seriously, I worked free for “good causes;” I reserve the right to do so still. But my writer friend Helen Rezatto lectured me: “You wouldn’t call the plumber and ask him to fix the leak in your pipes for free,” she said. “Why should writers be expected to give away their hard-earned knowledge?”

Often, I am invited by a college or university (with paid professors) or a high school (with paid teachers) or a civic group or arts organization (with paid staff) to teach writing for a day or more. They don’t mention pay but the invitations promise chirpily, I’ll have a “chance to sell my books.” This usually means I’ll sit at a table in the foyer as everyone goes home to lunch or out for the evening. People issuing such invitations do not consider the costs of travel, overnight stays, or time lost from my work. I speak from experience; I’ve done hundreds of such jobs in and around my home state.

If Helen were alive, she’d remind me to tell them that I might sell far more books staying at home and blogging or tweeting. People value service in direct proportion to the amount they pay for it, she insisted, and writers who perform their work for free are always underrated.

I make my living in three ways. I am hired by colleges, universities and writers groups to give workshops and talks. I expect those organizations to pay for my time, just as if they’d hired a plumber. (See an explanation of my fees on this website.)

I conduct writing retreats at my ranch. Writers who come for retreat usually spend two full days and two half-days here in my retreat house, consulting with me on work they have sent ahead. When I receive their email attachment, I can write comments directly in the manuscript. During the retreat, I print copies for the writer and for me and we devote our time together to reviewing and revising the work. I offer suggestions for publication once I know the writer’s needs and abilities. (Descriptions and costs of a Writing Retreat are described on this website.) They pay for my expertise just as they would pay the costs of a college class, and for the same reasons.

Third, I provide writing consultations by email. That is, writers send me their manuscripts-- by email, as attachments-- and I write comments throughout the work, sending it back so that the writer can work through my suggestions line by line. (Descriptions and costs of Writing Conversations are also described on this website.) I no longer accept paper manuscripts sent by mail because the process of commenting is so much more laborious for both the writer and for me. My $50 an hour charge for this service is, I’m told, hundreds of dollars below the industry standard.

I have spent more than fifty years writing and publishing my work, educating myself about the process-- so I believe I am justified in charging for the time I spend helping others. Writing and working with writers are my only businesses.

So I urge you to invest your own time to learn about the profession you chose by calling yourself a writer. Study the business and decide what procedure is best for you. If you have faith in your work, you will find a way. Thousands of people with limited resources have educated themselves and published worthwhile books in one form or another.

You could be one of them.

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How to Live in Spite of Your Computer

April 5, 2012

Tags: Computers, Email, Writing Suggestions, Creating Calm

. . .
A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history, with the possible exception of handguns and tequila
--- Mitch Ratcliffe
Funny Times, April 2006, p. 4.


I drove away from the computer repair shop that day feeling pretty darn smug. My computer needed repair over a weekend, so I’d spend four days without it. Not only was I not worried, I looked forward to the weekend as if it were a vacation.

Since I didn’t get a computer until long after most people were speaking glibly of their PCs and I habitually write in longhand and read widely, I expected to have no trouble at all filling time without the mechanical device.

When I got home, I carried my groceries upstairs and then whipped downstairs into my office to check my email.

Hmm. Maybe computer withdrawal would be harder than I thought.

So I set about reconstructing my life of writing without the blasted thing. The results were satisfying enough to convince me that it would be beneficial to any of us to deliberately choose computer-free days in the future.

First, I realized that without the computer, my schedule could be changed. On the average day, I get up at 4:30, turn on the coffee, let the dogs out, and return to bed for an hour or so of reading. After breakfast, I go to my computer-- and I could begin writing at that moment.

A few years ago, before I got email, a fellow writer, commented on how productive I was, how much writing I got done. “What’s your secret?” she asked. Well, I said, I started work early in the morning and stop only to fix lunch.”

“I do the same thing,” she said and then stopped. “Well, first I take a quick look at my email. And sometimes when I’ve finished that I’m amazed that a couple of hours has gone by.”

These days, I don’t start writing as soon as I sit down at my desk. I know that my assistant has probably sent me email from my public email address, so I check. Ah! There’s the answer to my question about what accommodations are available for that speaking engagement. And I’d better see if I can accept that writer for a Writing Conversation by eMail. And I ought to let that officer of the history group know that I will attend the meeting. There’s the schedule for the workshop in October; I’ll print that out. Oh, and Nancy has played Scrabble; I’ll play my turn now.

And before I know it, an hour has passed. I’ve done what I so deplored in my friend.

So I shake myself and get back to work on the latest project, feeling a bit harried and hurried and guilty for wasting that good writing time. Feeling guilty and harried is not a good way to begin one’s writing day and yet only rarely do I slip through the email reading only positive messages.

One way to begin my writing day in a better frame of mind would be to leave email unopened until I have written something. This is easy when the computer is twenty-five miles away, a little harder when it’s sitting on my desk. Fortunately, I have two desks: I try to keep the old-fashioned one clear for hand-writing.

That weekend, I set out to break the Email First habit by tackling the job of writing a foreword for a soon-to-be-published book by a friend. I collected the manuscript and stretched out in my comfortable recliner with a yellow tablet. The dogs settled on the couch beside me; outside the window, grouse gurgled in the trees. Ah! The life of the writer!

Usually when I am reviewing a manuscript, I fill it with sticky notes to mark passages, writing cryptic notes. Every few minutes, when an idea becomes too complex to fit a manuscript margin or a yellow sticky note, I go to the computer and expand my immediate responses into more coherent paragraphs.

Because I couldn’t go to the computer, I had to hand-write every step of my thought process. I’d read an essay, taking notes in the margins and on my yellow pad about its contents. Then I’d make a cup of tea to sip while I thought about the implications. How did this piece relate to the previous essays? Each period of thought led to more notes. Without the cursor blinking at me, I seemed to have more time to flip back through the pages to check references, re-read passages and appreciate them again.

Sometimes, even when I get to the computer fairly quickly after making notes on the book, I’ve lost track of some convoluted idea. Having to write out my thought process helped clarify my thinking about many points.

The slow speed of hand-writing my thoughts allowed my brain to race ahead of my fingers-- and this meant I had to consciously think out each step of what I was saying. “No that is not what I mean; it’s more nearly this.” I leapt up often to refer to the dictionary. The resulting foreword is, I think, better than it would have been had I done all the work on computer.

Naturally, when I got the computer back, I first copied my notes and then reviewed the manuscript. I am convinced that I covered the points I needed to make more thoroughly because of having to write them out by hand.

Of course the job wasn’t finished-- I did considerable revising on the computer, reminding myself that when we first began to use these things, we called them “word processors.” And it is easier in many ways to “process” a lot of words with the machine: one can tentatively check spelling, though no spell-check program is very reliable. I do like using the word counter to keep track of the length of the writing, and moving paragraphs from place to place in the manuscript is easier with the machinery. And since I do my best proofreading with a hard copy, I can without guilt print multiple drafts-- on the back of already-used paper.

Throughout that weekend without the blinking cursor, I didn’t have to work hard to find both jobs and entertainment that didn’t involve the computer. My partner was away, so my only companions were the dogs. We took longer, slower walks, played many more games of kick the ball. They could stay longer in my lap because I didn’t get up as often to go to the computer to check on some point or write a paragraph.

During my free time, I let my mind relax, wander. My reading broadened, rather than being simply an escape from the constant demands of writing. I picked up a mystery and then swapped it for a couple of nonfiction books I’d been meaning to read and a volume of poetry.

Still, I had to remind myself not to check email. The need to do so was a gnawing that reminded me of how hard it was to break myself of chewing my fingernails. And of course that’s the secret: Much of our addiction to the computer, in whatever way we express it, is only substance abuse-- like smoking a cigarette. It’s not good for you but it digs its talons into your body and mind so you have to be determined to break its hold.

Unlike most of the other substances we abuse, computers really do have benefits: but only if used in moderation.

Friends received notes, postcards and long thoughtful letters. I baked cookies and didn’t eat all of them. I read six books, some for enjoyment and some because they related to various writing projects. I found dozens of packs of cards and was chagrined that I had to concentrate to remember how to play solitaire without a screen. I couldn’t play any of our board games-- I had no partner-- but I did put together one of the many jigsaw puzzles I’ve found at secondhand stores.

I counted wildlife: a dozen rabbits, two antelope and then six antelope, a bald eagle, an owl, and four chukar partridges along with a couple of dozen sparrows. I took the camera with me and studied patterns in the grass, tracks in the dust, rocks.

Before my weekend of solitude, I’d take breaks from my writing to fix meals, help my partner with a project outside-- but I’d always check the email first when I came back to the computer. Now, unless I’m expecting an important communication, I often spend most of the morning working on my current writing project before giving in to the Email Desire.

Some of the changes I made that weekend are, I hope, permanent. Nowadays, instead of automatically thinking “email” every time I look up from a job, I try to do something else: stroll out onto the deck and take a good look around. Perhaps go to the greenhouse, pet the dogs, check my paper file of unanswered letters.

And I’ve started shutting the computer off at 5 p.m. daily just as if it represented paid employment: no games, no email, no flashing cursor. Since we have no TV, we play board or card games, entertain the dogs.

Hmm. Now where did my partner put that magic trick he bought so long ago?

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