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Writing Conversations by eMail
Work with Linda from Your Own Home

But First . . .

For the practical details on how you can work with Linda from your home, via Writing Conversations By eMail, click here and you will be taken to the "Writing Help" page of this website (or click on "Writing Help" on the menu bar above).

There you will find information on how the Writing Conversations work, the fees, and how to apply. You can also read a sample Writing Conversation to get an idea of how the process works, and read comments by people who have worked with Linda in this manner.

What's Here?

Why Are They Called "Writing Conversations"?
Linda's philosophy behind Writing Conversations by eMail.

Handouts! Yes, You Can Try This At Home
A sampling of Linda's teaching handouts
with some writing exercises, grammar lessons, and things to ponder.

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Why Are They Called "Writing Conversations"?

Linda has been a teacher of writing for more than 40 years, instructing at colleges, secondary schools, and numerous workshops for public and private groups. In 1996, she began conducting writing retreats for women at her own Windbreak House Retreat, offering intensive instruction and encouragement.

But for years Linda resisted working with writers through the mail. She wrote:

"Working face to face with a writer allows me to watch his or her expression and recognize when I have wounded feelings or need to explain more clearly what I mean. Writing is extremely personal. If I judge an inexperienced writer solely from black lines on white paper, I may miss a vital clue that would make the difference between pedestrian writing and brilliant writing."

Some Windbreak House participants persuaded Linda to continue working with them through the mail, once a working relationship had been established at the retreat. After a few years' experience working this way, Linda became more comfortable with the idea of writing comments on manuscripts even if she isn't able to discuss them with the writer face to face.

Linda also learned that working with digital manuscripts was much more efficient than putting pen to paper. (Hey, if Thomas Jefferson had had a computer he wouldn't have used a quill pen for the Declaration!)

In 2003, Linda agreed to be one of the non-fiction writing instructors for the Online Mentoring for Writers, offered by the Split Rock Arts Program at the University of Minnesota, and discovered that working with writers she hasn't met wasn't impossible. After working online for Split Rock for more than a year, Linda began to develop her own system of working with writers through e-mail.

Because she feels that helping a writer improve her work should be a cooperative effort, as it is during a personalized writing retreat at Windbreak House, Linda came up with the idea of a Writing Conversation, where teacher and student exchange comments, ideas, suggestions, questions, and replies.

Just as any conversation will falter if only one party speaks, a Writing Conversation by eMail will be most effective and beneficial if the student first communicates clearly what help she desires, and then replies to Linda's commentary with queries and responses, so that Linda will know whether she has explained her suggestions fully.

Here's what Linda has to say about working with writers via computer:

I prefer to work with writers of nonfiction and poetry, since those are the genres in which I have published most often, and in which I have honed my instincts while teaching.

I can and have worked with writers on fiction, but unless a writer wants my expertise on my region or subject matter, a first choice for a mentor should be a writer who practices in fiction regularly.

Participants should have a strong desire to write, which does not necessarily mean they want to publish what they write. They should have an average working knowledge of the English language. If their grammar isn't perfect (and who can achieve that?) they should be willing to collect the reference works that will provide them with the ability to improve their writing. They should be persistent, willing to work on a piece of writing until it satisfies them.

At my own writing retreat, Windbreak House, I've worked with writers from all over the country, with varying interests and in varied genres. They seem to benefit most, and be most pleased with the results, if they are intensely interested in their own work. If a person is just beginning to think that he or she might like to write something, I suggest they write for a few years before seeking advice from a professional.

I provide comments in the form of suggestions, explaining why, from my experience as a professional writer, I believe my idea will help the student improve. I always make clear that while mine is an educated opinion, it is only one viewpoint.

Writers need not have published work, or even be interested in publishing, in order to be serious about the desire to record their experiences and views.

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Jane, a writer who has attended many retreats and worked with Linda via Writing Conversations by eMail sent us this photo of herself at home sorting handouts from Linda.

Handouts! Yes, You Can Try This At Home

Those of you who attend a writing retreat at Windbreak House or who work with Linda via "Writing Conversations By eMail" will no doubt be given handouts. Some are instructional, some have writing exercises to try, many have excerpts from books or poems to illustrate a point or just to savor. To demonstrate revising, Linda often uses snippets of prose that could be improved.

The joy of handouts is that you can read them immediately and then again perhaps six months or a year later, to refresh your writerly mood.

Here's a small sampling:

Excerpts from the Handouts:

Excerpts from the Handout:
by Linda M. Hasselstrom

Many writers who come to Windbreak House say they want help with figuring out how to devote at least a day a week to writing, because no matter how hard they plan to do so, they usually fail.

Here’s how I manage to write every day: I never think of “writing for a whole day.” Very few people could sit down and spend 8 hours writing, even if they are used to it. Instead, I plan to begin the day with writing, and know the time may be short. I re-read a poem I am working on; I read one or more good published poems (right now I’m reading all of the published work of our national poet laureate, Ted Kooser.) I scribble in my journal while I drink my coffee and eat a granola bar. I do not do anything else until after I do at least one “writing” job. I KNOW my time may not last long-- the phone will ring, the e-mail will bong, someone will want something. But I’ve done SOMEthing-- and that cheers me, and also encourages me to get back to writing during the day because whatever I’ve read or written nags at me, trickles through my mind like one of those advertising jingles you can’t forget. A better metaphor would be that the work I’ve begun murmurs like a gentle mountain stream!

Often, though I have no expectations of getting anything done beyond this early-morning beginning, I finish the day realizing I’ve worked on several things. I always take note of what I’ve accomplished, and give myself positive feedback. I’ve done better than if I said, “Well, I can’t start that, because I need a whole day to work on it.”

Think back over your day: how much time did you spend simply waiting, time that you might have spent writing. Add it up. As the letter-writer says, what she scribbles while standing in line is not all good writing, but it’s writing-- and writing anything leads to writing something else. Never say to yourself, "Oh, that’s not worth writing down." Don’t prejudge; write! Your subconscious brought it up for a reason; later you can decide what it’s worth.

William Stafford usually wrote in the early morning. He sat down with a pen and paper, took a look out the window and waited for something to occur to him. He wrote about simple things like farms and dead deer and winter. He wrote about the West and his parents and cottonwood trees. He advised writers: If your writing isn’t working, if it doesn’t seem to be good enough, lower your standards and keep writing.

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Excerpts from the Handout:
by Linda M. Hasselstrom

This is a common mistake. The effect of the dangling phrase is to make the noun following it the subject of the opening phrase. The following examples prove that many editors-- even from some reputable publishing houses-- don’t seem to catch the error.

Any misplaced word, phrase, or clause can be said to dangle, but the term is applied primarily to verbal phrases that do not refer clearly and logically to another word or phrase in the sentence.

To correct a dangling modifier, rearrange the words in the sentence to make the modifier clearly refer to the right word, or add words to make the meaning clear and logical.

1. "By opening one side of this valve, saline solution flows into the heart."
-- from Wyoming Trucks, True Love, and the Weather Channel: A Woman’s Adventure, Jeffe Kennedy, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004. p. 97

So the writer is really saying:
"Saline solution opens one side of this valve."

Correction: Use active voice and put the proper subject at the beginning of the phrase:
"When I open one side of this valve, saline solution flows . . ."

2. "Long used medicinally, the herbalist Gerard prescribed it . . ."
-- from High Country Herbs, Cheryl Anderson Wright, Pronghorn Press, 2003, p. 85.

Grammatically, the writer is saying:
"Herbalist Gerard has been long used medicinally."

Correction: Put the subject at the beginning of the phrase.
"Lavender has a long history of medical use; the herbalist Gerard prescribed it . . ."

3. "Weighing forty-nine pounds in seventh grade, no horse minds my burden."
-- from Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer: A Story of Survival, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004; p. 83

Translation: "The horse weighs 49 pounds."

Correction: "Since I weighed forty-nine pounds in seventh grade, I was no burden to the horse." Or: "No horse minded my burden, since I weighed forty-nine pounds . . ."

4. "A hurricane hovering off the coast, I would throw a yellow slicker on and stand on the front porch, where the force of the wind would momentarily suspend me above the wooden boards before I took leave of the building to seek more stable ground."
-- from Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer: A Story of Survival, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004; p. 123

Grammatically, the sentence says:
"I was a hurricane hovering . . ."

"When a hurricane hovered off the coast, I would throw on a yellow slicker. . ."

5. "Raised in Cheyenne, Linda Phillips’ first book was published in January . . ."
-- from (Cheyenne) Wyoming Tribune-Eagle , August 9, 2004, p. A5.

Grammatically, the sentence says:
"Linda Phillips’ first book was raised in Cheyenne and published . . ."

"Linda Phillips is a Cheyenne native, and her first book was . . ."
An additional problem is that "raised" means lifted-- but "reared" is the correct term for "cared for during childhood."

Types of danglers and their cure:

1. Dangling participial phrase:
"Discouraged by low grades, dropping out seemed to make sense."
Correction: Add a subject
"Because I was discouraged by low grades . . ."
or "Discouraged by low grades, I thought . . ."

2. Dangling phrases containing gerunds or infinitives.
"Instead of watching the late show, a novel was read."
"Instead of Watching the late show, Hilary read a novel."
(Note that the first sentence is in passive voice, the second in active; it’s easier to make this error in passive voice.)

3. Dangling elliptical adverb clauses
Elliptical clauses contain words that are implied rather than stated.
"When confronted with these facts, not one word was said."
"When confronted with these facts, nobody said a word."
(Again, note the change from passive to active voice.)

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Excerpts from the Handout:
by Linda M. Hasselstrom

1. How would you know if you were dropped blindfolded in the middle of some place very familiar to you: your town, your home, farm, bedroom? Write specific sensory details that set this place apart from any other.

7. Describe a real person physically then write a one-sentence judgment: She’s the kind of person who would steal her grandmother’s gold teeth.

9. Describe your favorite meal, using all 5 senses.

10. Write “I’m __ years old and I know a few things.” List 20 things you know how to do: type? Darn a sock? Mud a wall? Fix the fan belt with a nylon stocking when it breaks 50 miles from town?

12. Write a diary entry for this day 10 years from now.

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Excerpts from the Handout:
by Linda M. Hasselstrom

In deciding HOW MUCH TRUTH should be in my writing, I ask myself these questions:

1. Is it true?
Memory can be faulty & your mind may unconsciously edit to enhance your role

2. Am I writing self-consciously, self-importantly– that is, only for the purpose of demonstrating my brilliance or another of my fine qualities?
If you think as you write, "The entire free world is going to read this and the people I’m writing about might be angry,” you may leave out important points. Everything you write should have some purpose, some aim, though it may not be immediately apparent.

3. Is the story I’m telling too intimate, too private to tell in public?
Ask yourself, "Who are my readers and what do we have in common?” Is it relevant to reveal your political beliefs, your religious beliefs or sexual preferences.

4. Will what I write help anyone?
Can you choose to violate your own privacy for a good purpose? Can omission of details give a false impression?

5. Is this story mine to tell?
Will what I write hurt anyone? Will that person hurt me? Have I written about illegal activities? If you tell someone else’s story, will the truth hurt them or their descendants?

6. Have I told this story ONLY out of nostalgia? Only for its sentimental value, a dramatic effect on the reader? Have I made a human friend into a dead saint? Am I looking for sympathy?

7. Am I giving advice?
Do I slap the reader in the face with the “moral” of the story? Readers prefer to find the story’s purpose themselves, not to be told what to do or think. Show the reader, don’t tell her; present evidence, not judgment.

8. Does everything I have written advance the story, the purpose, the theme?
Have I included anything, as Annie Dillard says, “just for the lousy reason that it actually happened”? Have I included any incident just for its dramatic value when I know it does not advance the story?

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