Are Creative Writing Classes Right for Me?

A Free Writing Evaluation Can Answer that Question

by Deborah Owen

Are creative writing classes for everyone? No, perhaps not… but the fact that you’re reading this article indicates the answer may be yes for you. Ye olde subconscious doth not lie.

What Will You Learn in a Writing Class?

Even if you have good sentence structure, a good background in English, and are talented beyond your wildest dreams, you still need the inside dope on how to sell what you write. Writing classes will not only teach you the latest writing requirements, but you will also learn how to target a market, research it, write for that particular market, establish a rapport with editors, write a cover letter and develop the self-confidence to present yourself properly.

Writing shortcuts are only for geniuses or those who have connections in the publishing world. If you fall short of being a genius and you have no publishing connections, roll up your shirtsleeves and get ready to sweat with the rest of us. Anything worth having is worth making a sacrifice for.

What Will a Writing Analysis Do For You?

Do you need a punctuation review course? A brush-up course on creative writing mechanics? Do you need to learn “Show, Don’t Tell”? A writing analysis will provide an unbiased view of your skills and offer a suggested beginning point.

Almost anyone can become a writer if they really want to. Creative writing is a learned occupation, just like anything else. If you have average punctuation skills and you can craft a decent letter, the chances are good that you can become a full or part-time writer.

How to Get Started

Most people can begin selling articles to newspapers in their first writing year. Even if your goal is in the fiction realm, this is the place to start. Local newspapers pay about $15 per article (+ $5 for each picture used). Although the proceeds are low, this is a great way to fund your writing courses, collect press clippings and establish a résumé.

Creative writing seems almost romantic to some people, but it is no such thing. It can be downright frustrating and it’s very hard work. Writing classes are exciting, but they can also be difficult. The dropout rate is over 50%. To keep yourself out of the dropout bracket, develop the right mental attitude before you begin.

Creative Writing Classes – What Will be Expected of You?

You’ll need to set aside 60-90 minutes a week for homework. More is better. Some options for working that amount of time into an already pressed schedule are: rise 15 minutes earlier, stay up 15 minutes later, or use 15 minutes of your lunchtime for studying/writing. If all else fails and you can’t keep up with the workload, extensions are usually available at no additional fee.

You must have one thing in order to succeed – creative writing must be a priority in your life. Isn’t it worth the investment to become more than you are now? Isn’t it worth the investment to find out if writing is for you? Life is short. Why not take the leap?

Next Steps

For a free and honest evaluation of your writing skills, send a G-rated 1,000-word story or article to Creative Writing Institute’s CEO, Deborah Owen: Please see for writers’ guidelines (rules) to receive the best results. Your 20-point analysis will cover such things as imagery, characterization, dialogue, structure, plot, strong and weak points, “Show, Don’t Tell”, style, verb action, wordiness, passive voice, and presentation, among other things.

So go ahead. See what your potential is. You might be surprised.

If you liked this article, be sure to follow our blog here on WordPress! You can also find links for our Facebook and Twitter pages at our website:

How to Format a Short Story

Formatting Tips

by Pat Decker Nipper

Formatting a story is designing how it looks in print. Determine the layout of your manuscript by setting parameters. Look at examples of written material. Are the letters large enough to read comfortably? Are the lines far enough apart? How are the new paragraphs formatted?

Professional formatting will make your work shine. If you follow these standards, your manuscript will be ready to submit, whether in hard copy (paper) or online. Although the following is a commonly accepted standard for formatting, individual publications occasionally vary, so be sure to check before you submit.

The 2010 Writer’s Market has illustrations of formatting and includes good advice. They say to use white 8-1/2 x 11 paper, and “ …no artsy fonts.” They also suggest you use a laser or an ink-jet printer.

Below are the common formatting standards, as developed over years of creating documents.

1. Leave one inch of space on all four margins of the paper—top, bottom, and both sides. 

2. Left justify your pages. That means every line should align on the left. The right margin is not justified, or in other words, it remains “ragged.”

3. Indent five spaces at the beginning of a new paragraph.

4. Choose an easy-to-read font. For PC users, try Times New Roman or Verdana. Macintosh users might like Palatino.

5. Set the font size at 12 point for easy readability.

6. Stay away from italics, except where needed to be grammatically correct.

7. Avoid bold, except in headings and areas where you want to emphasize text.

8. Double-space if you’re printing on paper. Single space if you’re submitting electronically, and in such case, double space between paragraphs.

9. In dialogue, each new speaker starts a new line.

10. Add your personal information in the upper left corner of the page. The title can carry over to the additional pages, along with a page number.

11. Center the title of the story and your name under it on the first page. Some publications want you to start the first page about one-third of the way down. Check their style and follow their example.

12. Avoid hyphenation at the ends of lines. e.c

These are general rules. Needless to say, guidelines always take president. For extra information, check The Chicago Manual of Style. You can even find it online. Another good one is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. There are many more style guides on the Internet.

Pat Decker Nipper is a native Idahoan and former teacher, now living and writing in San Jose, California. She is the author of Love on the Lewis and Clark Trail and a number of short stories and articles. For more information visit

Join the beginner’s short story contest at Contest closes Aug. 31, 2012. Please FOLLOW the guidelines so your entry won’t be disqualified. Don’t forget to click “like” before you leave!


Contest Winners for Short Story Contest


Thank you to our judges: Head judge – Jo Popek – and judges Mr. Lynn Carroll
and Annie Evett. Without them, there would have been no contest. Many
thanks! Here are their decisions for Creative Writing Institute’s
Third Annual Beginner’s Writing Contest:

1st place: Secrets Best Kept by Diane Davis
2nd place: Annabell Hated Being Asian by Michelle Yu (age 15)
3rd place: Apples, Pumpkins, or Manure by Shirley Dilley

Honorable mentions: Helen Crall, Sneha Koilada, Shirley Dilley

Read 2nd place, 3rd place and honorable mention stories here:

And now for our first place winner’s story in it’s entirety…

SECRETS BEST KEPT by Diane Davis (See Diane’s bio at the bottom)

Rachel pulled the last box out of her mother’s closet and set it on the bed. Putting her fists in the small of her back, she stretched her aching back and rolled her shoulders. With a sigh she opened the flaps. She had delayed long enough. The cleaning service was due this afternoon.A loud clang from the kitchen indicated her older sister, Sylvia, had things moving along in there. Packing up the debris from the life of a sixty-two-year-old woman was physically exhausting, but when she was your mother it was emotionally taxing too.

Rachel pulled a pink baby afghan out of the box and laid it aside. She didn’t know whose it was, but she and Sylvia would never have kids. Maybe she’d give it to the Cradle Guild at church. Next came a jumble of stuff. A tassel from a graduation cap, a Kewpie doll, an old Timex, a pair of baby shoes.

At the bottom of the box she found a small brown notebook bound with a thick rubber band. The cover had no writing on it, front or back. Rachel started to take off the rubber band, but hesitated. It felt wrong, digging through Mama’s personal things like this. She had been a private person, loving but reserved, even with her family. Now that she was gone, Rachel felt like she was violating some unwritten rule. But she couldn’t throw the notebook away without looking at it. After all, there may be something important in there. She pulled off the rubber band and opened the cover before she could change her mind.

In the upper right-hand corner of page one was what looked like a date:14 Juni, 1968. The page was crammed with line after line of her mother’s fluid cursive, but Rachel couldn’t understand a word of it because it was in—German? Did her mother speak German?

Flipping through the rest of the notebook, Rachel’s unease grew. She didn’t know what this meant, but she sensed it was bad. Why would Mama have a diary written in a language she never spoke in everyday life? Had she been hiding something?

Rachel’s first impulse was to show it to her sister. After all, Sylvia was thirteen years her senior—maybe she would remember a time when Mama spoke German. Rachel almost called out to her, but the words died unuttered. Her sister had taken Mama’s death hard. That’s why Rachel had the task of packing their mother’s room. Sylvia had finally managed to achieve a certain amount of calm. Showing her the notebook might send her on another crying jag. Besides, maybe it was nothing.

Slipping the notebook into her purse, she decided to find a translator. If it turned out to be harmless as she hoped, she would show it to her sister when the time was right.

* * *

Weeks passed. Rachel had forgotten about the notebook after she scanned the pages and emailed them to a college friend who knew a German language major. Now it was tucked away in the bottom drawer of her nightstand under a half-finished novel and a crossword book. Life went on.

The packet came on a Saturday. Rachel sat at the kitchen table staring at it, torn between the urge to burn it and curiosity over the contents. Once she opened it and read the translation, there would be no going back. Not knowing would drive her crazy, but did she want to deal with the revelations it might contain, good or bad?

Grabbing the packet, she tore it open and pulled out the loose pages. The cover letter was a courtly salutation followed by a polite request for payment, signed by the translator. Her hands shook as she laid it aside and started to read the text.

The first dozen pages related everyday anecdotes about Sylvia and Father, along with notes about her rosebushes, and various church activities. Rachel scanned them, charmed by the light tone of the entries. Her mother seemed to be happy in those days.

At page thirteen, the tone became dark and frightened and angry. Rachel’s reading pace slowed as she tried to comprehend the horrible things her mother had written. She reread portions, too stunned to take it all in. By the end, tears streamed down her face and sobs clawed at her throat. It was much worse than she had ever imagined.

Hilda didn’t know when the incest began, but she gradually became aware of subtle clues. Sylvia shrank from touching her father and avoided direct eye contact with everyone. She had always been shy, but every day she became more withdrawn. Her appetite decreased and she rarely smiled. Finally Hilda was so worried she took her to the doctor. That’s when she learned the depth of her husband’s depravity.

Twelve-year-old Sylvia was pregnant, and Hilda suspected her husband was the father. The family would never survive the shame. To be so young and unmarried and pregnant was bad enough, but to bear a child of incest was horrible. There was only one thing to do.

Hilda put the word out that she was pregnant then took Sylvia with her to stay with a friend in Phoenix until the baby was born. She told her friends that her doctor had recommended the drier climate so her asthma wouldn’t flare up and endanger the baby’s life. After the child was born, Sylvia and Hilda brought her home with nobody the wiser. Rachel grew up blissfully unaware that her loving older sister was her mother, and her mother was actually her grandmother.

Robert never touched Sylvia again, as far as Hilda could tell. Perhaps her threat to go to the police scared him into compliance. But it seemed his depravity only went dormant for a dozen years.

To her horror, she noticed that he began to pay special attention to Rachel. He touched her frequently and his hands lingered on her arm or back. He insisted she kiss him on the lips and he hugged her tight, often pulling her onto his lap. Hilda knew she had to do something before it was too late.

She couldn’t let history repeat itself.

Over the next few days she began to put digitalis in his food, gradually increasing the dose. Never one to go to the doctor, he stayed in bed, forcing fluid even though he kept vomiting, trying to sleep in spite of his splitting headache. Two days later he was dead of a heart attack.

Rachel laid the last page down. She stared at the wall as she struggled to find her balance in this new topsy-turvy paradigm. Her grandmother had killed her father to save her from incest, and her mother was alive. Why she wrote it down, and more importantly, why she wrote the whole tale in German were mysteries that had died with Hilda.

Her mother was alive! Smiling for the first time in hours, Rachel jumped up and rushed to the phone, but she put the receiver back after dialing a few numbers. She covered her mouth as a fresh round of tears rolled down her cheeks.

Sylvia had lived with the pain of this secret for years. Would it be more painful for her if she knew Rachel had learned the truth? Or would it be better to go on as sisters with a close, loving relationship?

Sinking back into her chair, she closed her eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. Letting go of the tension, sadness and fear, she opened herself to accept everything the diary had revealed. She was still the same person she had been before reading Hilda’s words. There would be time to decide what to do with the knowledge later.

The phone interrupted her meditation. She checked the caller ID and her smile came through in her voice when she answered.

“Hello, Sylvia. I was just thinking about you.”

About the Author

Diane Davis, an Arizona native, is a happily married mother of two with a life-long passion for words. She’s had ten short stories and an essay published in online ezines like Long Story Short, Menopause Press and FlashShots, and won first place in Phyllis Scott Publishing’s short story contest. Diane’s goal is to become a novelist.

CHRISTMAS SALE on WRITING COURSES at until Dec. 31, 2011. All courses now only $177. Eight weeks in length with your own private tutor. It just doesn’t get any better than that! Payment plan available. See the site for more details.

Making Time

Finding Time to Write by guest blogger, Hope Clark, Funds for Writers

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin
you have, and only you can determine how it will be
spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it
for you.”

~ Carl Sandburg ~

You cannot create time. You are allotted time. Twenty-
four hours in a day. So when you say you don’t have time,
you’re wrong. You have the same amount as anyone else.

So when someone contacts me, and asked how can they make
time for writing, I turn up the tough love to a pretty
high volume.

You make time for writing by sacrificing something else.

There! Problem solved. Now all you have to do is decide
what you toss out of your life to make room for your stories.

Oh, but you can’t. You have the job, kids, parents, church,
volunteer activities, exercising, gardening, cleaning, commuting,
Wednesday’s bridge, Friday’s movie night, and the list goes on
and on. How do successful writers do it?

Let’s start with one week. Find your notebook or calendar
that has plenty of room to write on, and make note of
absolutely everything you do. No fudging. No forgetting
and making up answers. You have twenty-four hours in a
day, seven days a week. Note them all.

Maybe you cannot give up your kids, as much as you’d like
to on some days. However, you can do the following to
spend more time writing and less time with child-rearing.
Yes, I said it! Take some time away from the kids. I’m
serious as a heart attack when I say that if your children
do not see you passionate about something other than them,
they don’t learn how to go after something great in their
lives or respect others who do.

1. Pick your writing time, even if it’s 15 minutes a day.
2. Make that time off limits except in case of emergency
(dinner isn’t an emergency).
3. Do not break your own regimen, or you teach the kids
it’s okay to break their own obligations.
4. Have someone watch the kids even if you’re in the house.
This teaches the kids that rules are rules.
5. Attend a conference. You’ll miss them more than they’ll
miss you.

Don’t have kids? Let’s take the job, the commute, volunteering,
and so on, and step back to analyze them in a different light.
How can they be streamlined, short-cut, or reorganized to
consume less time?

There’s always a way. With all the books on Amazon, obviously
somebody is finding the time. You are not the martyr. You are
not so unique. It’s just a matter of reorganization,
prioritizing, and frankly, not being afraid of tackling your
writing as if it were vital to who you are.

See more of Hope’s articles at

For more great writing tips, get our newsletter at

Writers, Don’t Abuse your Short Story Readers

Short Story No-No’s
by guest blogger, Annie Evett

Short stories have rules specific to length. Don’t abuse your readers by wasting time on unimportant, mundane details, bad structure, or clichés. Be punchy and get to the point. Put a bit of ‘burlesque’ into your writing with hidden sparkles and treats around every corner. Tantalize and tease your readers and they’ll beg for more.

• We have a responsibility to honor the gift and talent we hold in weaving a short story.
• We owe it to our muse. Be strong enough to stab to the inner heart of the story.
• Don’t wimp away or cop out with extraneous details.

Show, don’t tell. A stark image of a naked body may stir some people, but the addition of whisper-thin draping and dimmed lighting will allure a greater percentage of people. Tantalize your reader with snippets of information. Avoid the “full frontal” mode.

Using tags, exclamation marks. Don’t overuse tags like screamed, shouted, said, yelled, fumed. Telling the reader how your character states their words is an insult to their intelligence. (The possible exception is whispered, since it can hardly be conveyed any other way.) Show action and emotions with dialogue or action, not tags and exclamation marks.

Don’t state the obvious. Only mention details that are necessary to the scene. Example: “She sat in the café chair at the table across from him” is remote unless she was sitting on the floor in the café or she’d been sitting there for so long her bottom was numb. If the scene doesn’t demand it, delete it.

Using clichés. Avoid clichés like the plague. (Forgive the cliché.) Get rid of the “rugged trapper,” “kind prostitute,” “crooked cop,” “gorgeous girl,” “flashing eyes,” the sighing constantly scenes or the melodramatic and predictable storylines unless they are absolutely essential.

Your readers will correct you. They’ll correct your grammar, point out your spelling mistakes, misuse of tenses and other writing conventions quicker than you can hiccup. There will always be someone who knows more than you. When they read your story, they’ll rip you to shreds for inaccuracies. Do your research well.

Spoon feed your readers. Readers actually enjoy being a little confused as the story unfolds. However, some plots and themes are so obscure, only the writer can safely discuss them, so don’t be too obscure. Some genres such as science fiction or fantasy need a little more detail, but Show, Don’t Tell is hard to beat.

Giving details. Detailing physical descriptions and what a character is wearing takes too much time in a short story. The reader will create the character in their mind if you give them a skeletal framework to hang their thoughts on. Skip what he/she ate for breakfast unless it is crucial.

For more great writing tips, get The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at We are a 501(c)3 charity that sponsors cancer patients in writing therapy and are presently piloting a writing course for the blind. Your tuition will help support us. Thanks! “Like us” and leave a quick comment. You don’t have to subscribe or join to leave a comment.


SHORT STORY CONTEST for BEGINNERS listed below… by Bob Bruggemann

If you want to win a short story contest, the first thing you must do is study the rules. Many submissions are disqualified because they don’t meet all the requirements. If formatting guidelines have not been given, single space the text and indent the paragraph. If the rules state a maximum of 1000 words, a 1200-word story, however brilliant, will hit the trash pile. If the short story contest calls for G-rated material (which means no swearing, vulgarities, or erotica) and your entry contains just one swear word, it will be discarded.

Welcome to the judging world, where judges go strictly by the rules. Assuming you follow the guidelines, the judges will then look at these four elements:

• Originality
• Creativity
• Style
• Technique

Let’s look at each one and see what they mean.


Short story contest winners come from second, third, and tenth thoughts. Some contests give you a theme, such as, “Wedding Day.” What’s the first story idea that comes to mind? Whatever it is, forget it. You can bet everyone else will have thought of it, too. A large percentage of submissions will be so similar that the competition will be fierce.

Make your short story unique and the judges will love you. Come at it from a different point of view. Seek a new angle.


Don’t wrack your brain for an idea. Relax. Get your conscious, critical mind out of the way and allow ideas to bubble up from your subconscious. In other words, daydream.

Ask yourself who, what, when, where, why, how, and ‘what if?’ Let your train of thought go where it will. Before long, you’ll have an idea for a story that is different.

For example, what if a shy looking woman attended a wedding and sat in the back, all alone? At the reception, she avoided conversation. She partook of the food and drinks and then left. Back in her lonely, one room apartment she scanned the Forthcoming Marriages column in the local paper to see where her next free food and wine would come from. See? The ‘what if’ question can lead you down original alleys.


In short story contests, you’ll never wrong with the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Sweetie! Don’t try to impress the judges with $3 words. Like any other reader, they want a story that is readable and absorbing.

Every sentence must move the story forward. The reader doesn’t want flowery descriptions of a rose garden in the moonlight. He/she wants to know what the girl is doing there at two in the morning and what will happen next. Stick to the point.


A short story contest calls for three distinct parts: the beginning, middle, and end. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

The beginning introduces the main character and what the short story is about. The middle develops the theme and keeps the reader hooked. The ending must be believable, resolve the problems, and leave the reader satisfied.

Above all, don’t overlook simple formatting rules.

• Make a new paragraph for every new speaker
• Single space your short story and indent paragraphs
• Run the spellchecker!
• Watch your punctuation

And Finally…

If you don’t write an original entry for a short story contest, at least rewrite it to fit. For example, Creative Writing Institute’s contest is G-rated, which means no swearing or vulgar language. We’ve already received entries that contain good stories but the author probably didn’t cull out swear words from a story they had already written so it won’t be eligible. What a shame. Make sure your entry fits the rules.

This is short story contest is especially for beginners and the first thing the writer must learn is that judges go strictly by the book. See the rules here and abide by them: Above all, have fun! First prize wins $$ OR a FREE Writing Course!


Third Annual Beginner’s Short Story Contest

A contest that is truly for beginner’s only! If you have been fortunate enough to sell a book or a short story, congratulations – but you don’t qualify for this contest. If you have self-published, you do qualify. This is an honor system.


1. Any genre (Horror, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Drama, Children, etc.)
2. 1,000 – 1,750 words
3. There is no entry fee, but since Creative Writing Institute is a non-profit charity that sponsors cancer patients in writing courses, we’re asking entrants to donate $1 – $5 donations through credit card or PayPal at If you can’t donate, you’re still welcome to enter.
4. Short Story rights remain the property of the author
5. Entries must be G-rated. That means no swearing or vulgarities.
6. Contest ends midnight, USA Eastern Standard Time, October 20, 2011
7. Mail to head judge,
8. Put WRITING CONTEST in the subject line
9. Entries will be judged on originality, creativity, style, and technique
10. NOT following instructions may lead to disqualification
11. Up to two entries per person
12. Winners will be notified by email on or before December 15, 2011.

Prizes: 1st place winner will receive cash (up to $100, depending on donations received) OR a free, tutored writing course at Creative Writing Institute, valued at $200. In addition, the winner will receive two books, Word Magic by Cindy Rogers and an autographed copy of Word Trippers by Barbara McNichol. Our thanks go to both Cindy and Barbara for making these prizes available. Winning entry will be published on and our blogs, along with the winner’s bio and picture, if provided.

Second place: Two free tutoring sessions with CEO and Founder, Deborah Owen, and a copy of Word Magic by Cindy Rogers. Winner’s name will be published on and its blogs and we will provide a link to your story.

Third place: One free tutoring session with CEO and Founder, Deborah Owen, and an autographed copy of Word Trippers by Barbara McNichol. Winner’s name will be published on and its blogs and we will provide a link to your story.

Honorable mentions: Names will be published on and its blogs and we will provide a link to your story.

This is a small contest and your chances of winning are good. Enter now!

If you haven’t signed up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter, which is chock full of writing tips, you can do that here: Fear not – we won’t spam you.

Amateur Writing Contest Ends – On to the judging!

Our amateur writing contest was a huge success… small enough for good competition but big enough for… uh… good competition. 😀 Thank you one and all. On to the judging! We’ll notify you as soon as possible. Allow up to two months.

NOTE: I just changed the controls on this site so that you can comment without joining the site, putting in a code or leaving an email address. I know your time is limited, as is mine.

WRITING TIP: Writing is easier when you have the proper tools. I’m not talking about having fingers to type or write (although that helps). I’m talking about things that will keep you motivated such as joining a writing group, posting your work in those groups, giving and receiving comments, subscribing to The Writer Magazine (or some other) and getting a marketing book such as Writer’s Market. Invest at least $50 a year in yourself. Write 15 min. every single day – even if it’s only about the tidbits of life.

What questions do you have about writing? Just ask and we’ll answer. Please bookmark us, hit “like” and all that good stuff. Help us out and drop in for a visit at You can also find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Happy day!

At What Point Do You Call Yourself A Writer?

According to the dictionary, a writer is one who writes. Yet most writers don’t consider themselves “real” writers unless they have been published. Is it because the literary world is responsible for dubbing a person a “writer”? Or is it because writers lay that definition on themselves? I think it is the latter.

I remember the first time I ever heard “a writer is one who writes”. To test the theory, I started calling myself a writer. Of course, the first question people asked was, “Where have you been published?” or “How many books have you written?” My own mother said, “Until you’ve had something published, don’t call yourself a writer.” You will probably run into the same thing, but let me give you a clue:

Friends and family will never look upon you as a writer, no matter what you do.