writing by Image by Viktoria Borodinova

 Photo: Viktoria Borodinova

There was a cartoon published in The New Yorker magazine many years ago that I still often think about.

A group of people are at a party (holding wine glasses) and surrounding a guy who looks a bit uncomfortable. The caption (paraphrased, since I don’t remember it exactly): “Oh, you’re a writer. How nice. So what do you do for a living?”

I still find this cartoon more painful than amusing because really, making a living as a writer is very difficult if not impossible. But the pain also stems from others not valuing it as something we have chosen to do with our lives because it may not have a dollar sign attached to it.

Curious how the words “making a living” only refer to a paycheck. We may hate or at best tolerate the jobs we do to earn that money to cover the essentials in order to live, but then we’re not really alive, are we?

man running

For me, whether I am paid or not for my writing, it is what I do. It is how I define myself. It is my identity. I live in order to write. I am a writer. Whatever else I do (paid or not) is peripheral to being a writer.


That declaration took a long time to acknowledge and to feel comfortable over. Now it is my first and natural response whenever I am surrounded by strangers holding wine glasses at a party, or whenever I present my passport to questioning border guards in a new country, or whenever I need to introduce myself in any capacity to anyone in the world.


The difference is that now I don’t apologize for it, nor attach another profession to it in embarrassment; nor do I justify it to anyone. It’s who I am.

Whether you are a beginner or a pro, it is up to you to decide if you are a writer. If you write because you feel it in your heart, soul, mind, and yearn to do it whether or not you are paid or published, then you are a writer.

I am a writer-605764_1920

Own it! Say it to yourself. And then whenever you must, tell it to the world.

Writing wisdom:

“Surely, the writer is needed just as much as the monk or politician or painter or anyone who can balance and see the good and evil in the world as it presents itself to us.”

—Nikolai Gogol, Ukrainian Fiction Writer, Playwright, Essayist

Cheers, Irene

P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?



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© 2019 by Irene Zabytko, all rights reserved.


girl-by Aviavlad

Months before my first novel came out, I contacted local libraries to see if I could set up reading events. Of course no one had heard of me, and the book was not yet born, so it was a difficult enough prospect to convince people I was a real author.

Most were kindly and I sent their contact information on to the publicity person at my publisher who was far better at coordinating those things.

But one librarian wasn’t as welcoming. Not so much because she didn’t like the idea of hosting a reading, but because of something else I wasn’t expecting.

My name!

After I introduced myself and told her about my novel, she said in a dry and condescending tone: “You’re not publishing under your last name—are you?”

warning shaking finger-2284170_1920


Growing up as an ethnic in America, I am used to slowly spelling out my last name to everyone.

I laugh politely at their mispronunciations and try to be good-natured about anyone being taken aback by a last name that begins with a “Z” of all things (that particular letter seems to confound Americans in particular).

alphabet- by Mary PahlkeHowever, this librarian’s reaction was one that was totally surprising and I was not sure how to handle it at first.

I felt insulted, but on the other hand she had a point.

I will admit that my name is difficult to pronounce for most people. It’s not a commonly heard name (unless you are in Eastern Europe I suppose), and maybe it would be better for marketing purposes if I had changed it before publishing.

After all, many famous writers changed their names.

Sometimes it is less wearying to simply have a shorter, commoner, more memorable name. For example, the Polish-British writer, Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski is none other than the more famous and certainly the easily pronounceable Joseph Conrad.

Most likely, Conrad had his own fill of snooty librarians who found his Polish surname over-saturated with too many syllables and consonants for regular Anglo-speakers to utter properly.

Other writers blessed with easy-to-pronounce surnames also often choose to write under pseudonyms but for other reasons.

Usually, they don’t want to be discovered especially if they are writing in another genre or style or on subjects that might shock or alienate their fans.

Joseph_Conrad 1904 by George Charles Beresford

Joseph Conrad (1904)

Still others do it for personal reasons and tend to change their names often. Very famous writers like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King have written under pseudonyms as a way to discover if their writing holds up beyond their real world-famous names.

As for me, I decided to keep my name.

After that librarian’s haughty response, I did come back at her with this retort: “Well, Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky didn’t change their names, and they did all right.”

Of course, I didn’t get to read at her library after I said that, but at least I felt better about keeping my name intact and on book covers.

But now and then I do think—what sort of name could I use as an alias? A name I would choose for myself instead of for my characters…

Something to consider for another book someday. But for now, I will continue to slowly spell out and distinctly pronounce my name for anyone who asks.

I’ll even laugh at the jokes and mispronunciations—all of which makes me very grateful for the others who get it right.

squad by rawpixel.jpg

Here is a list of writers who used pseudonyms for their own various reasons: https://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/8-famous-authors-who-used-secret-pseudonyms

Writing Wisdom:

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”—E.E.Cummings, American Poet, Novelist, Playwright, Essayist, Painter.

Cheers, Irene


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© 2019 by Irene Zabytko, all rights reserved.


poster by Claude Alleva.jpg

Collage Poster by Claude Alleva

One of my most cherished books is a 19th century edition of MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot. I bought it for $1.00 at the Chicago Public Library when I was a teen-ager and they were selling off their old books.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of George Eliot at all (I thought she was a male author), and no clue about what the novel was about.

I bought it for the simple reason that it was beautiful.

The cover was ornate and a bit battered, but the illustrations inside were amazing—a gorgeous illustration for each of the many chapters reflecting the scenes in the novel.

Most of the illustrations were black ink sketches, but highly detailed and refined, and covered beneath a page of lightweight tracing paper that was sewn into the binding.

But what sold me and urged me to buy the book was the frontispiece illustration opposite the title page—a pastel colored sketch of the main character Dorothea, distraught and perplexed, gazing and holding the hand of her dying husband.

It’s quite an arresting scene and one of the pivotal ones in the novel which of course compelled me to read it more than once.

It’s a great book with or without the illustrations. But I have to say, the pictures were also very captivating and heightened my experience of reading it.

George_Eliot_by_Samuel_Laurence c. 1860

Portrait of George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) by Samuel Laurence c. 1860

Nineteenth century novels were often printed with well-drawn illustrations (often from woodblocks) for adult novels.

However, over the years that practice became limited to children’s and young adult books.

The argument was that older readers preferred to imagine the characters and their situations in their minds rather than having the artists’ illustrations dictate the way in which everyone and everything appeared in the novel.

old painting malak78.jpg

Unknown Painting of Girls Reading c. 19th century.

Thanks to less expensive printing technology through lasers etc., there has been a major shift towards illustrated novels. However, instead of the pictures scattered inside various chapters of a book, the entire novel is in picture-form.

Actually, it looks more like a large comic book than a novel!

The trend in illustrated books is no doubt influenced by the immense popularity of Japanese manga (graphic novels—graphic referring to illustrations) and comic books in general.

comic-book by Emilie Farris.jpg

Photo: Emilie Farris

Comic book type novels are still geared for younger readers of course, often in fantasy/sci-fi, or coming-of-age stories, but adults also prefer them to the heavily texted, more traditional novels even with sporadic illustrations.

Perhaps the best of these is the series MAUS: A SURVIVOR’S TALE by Art Spiegelman about his father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor in which the Jews and Nazis are depicted as mice and cats.

MAUS A SURVIVOR'S TALE by Art Speigelman

Cover of MAUS: A SURVIVOR’S TALE (volume 1) by Art Spiegelman

Another terrific graphic novel is PERSEPOLIS: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD by Marjane Satrapi, about her growing up into adulthood in contemporary Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It later became an excellent animated movie.

These types of books remind me of the comic books I used to read as a kid based on the literary classics I was also reading then like ROBIN HOOD and THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER.

Even though I enjoyed those “classic comics,” the illustrations never compared to the novels themselves that were illustrated by a master like N.C. Wyeth (father of Andrew Wyeth).

Wyeth’s illustrations in TREASURE ISLAND and ROBINSON CRUSOE were lavish, textured masterpieces that enhanced the stories. They were as memorable and thrilling as the stories wherever they appeared in particular chapters.

robinson-crusoe-illustration.jpg!Large 1920

Illustration of Robinson Crusoe by N. C. Wyeth, 1920.

To this day, I have to yet to come across anything as brilliant as Wyeth’s illustrations—even in children’s books.

Again, I don’t dislike the contemporary graphic novels with prose in captions rather than as full chapters, but it seems to me the proliferation of these newer comic books is yet another illustration (pun!) of how reading traditional prose is declining.

More and more we are becoming an excessively visually oriented audience.

Rather than making an entire book filled with comic book type illustrations, I wonder if inserting gorgeous drawings here and there in a heavily texted novel would entice readers. Especially the ones who shy away from a book filled with—gasp—words!

If you are writing a novel, have you considered including illustrations? Even a lovely frontispiece scene might entice a new reader to well, read.

Here is a list of the 100 best graphic novels: https://www.npr.org/2017/07/12/533862948/lets-get-graphic-100-favorite-comics-and-graphic-novels

Here is the movie trailer link to Marjane Sartrapi’s 2007 animated film version of PERSEPOLIS: https://youtu.be/3PXHeKuBzPY

For the illustrative works of N.C. Wyeth, check out: http://collections.brandywine.org/ncwcr

Writing Wisdom:

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”—Graham Greene, English Novelist.

Cheers, Irene

P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?


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© 2019 by Irene Zabytko, all rights reserved.


Guy StockSnap

For many years, the notion of a writer self-publishing their works was considered taboo, a scourge, a shameful act that automatically rendered the work as trash.

In those pre-Internet days, so called “vanity presses” emerged as a paper mill (yes, on paper) for writers who could not get a traditional publisher to commit to publishing their books.

Actually, “vanity presses” was a good name for those types of publishing houses. Writers had to pay a lot of money up-front and although they may have been promised distribution and publicity, the books often ended up in the writer’s basement or closet.

BOOK STACKS by Gerhard Gellinger

Photo: Gerhard Gellinger

And yes, a lot of those books are pretty badly written too. No legitimate book reviewer would even consider glancing at it if it came from a vanity press.

The books did make nice holiday gifts for family and friends though.

Now of course that has changed thanks (perhaps) to technology. There are still traditional vanity presses (what an oxymoron!) around, but more writers are publishing online with legitimate brands like amazon.com, and some writers are actually doing very well by it.

After the invention and surprising popularity of e-books, it is incredibly easy to publish online, and also in other formats like print and audio.

The thing is: the writer is really responsible for all facets of not only writing, editing, designing, and publishing, but also for the publicity and marketing of their books.

chained to keyboard

Photo:  lechenie-narkomanii

A lot of work!

I have published with traditional publishing houses and I have self-published as well. Both have positives and negatives.

In my experience I found the following to be true:

Traditional Publishing Houses:

–Traditional publishing houses take a long time to get the work out into the world: usually eight months to a year, sometimes more.

–Traditional publishing houses control the cover and overall book design, the pub date (when it will be out), who gets to review it, which book stores will take it, and how much other publicity and marketing they will do on it–which could be great and less work for the writer overall.

Books by ClarissaBell

Photo: ClarissaBell

–Traditional publishers never charge the writer for the manuscript. If the book is accepted, an advance against royalties and editing by competent editors and copyeditors are part of the deal.

–Traditional publishers may send the writer out on a book tour, but again it depends on how much marketing they will budget for.

–Traditional publishers may or may not offer the book in different formats: paperback, e-book, audio. Also, they may want the film and translation rights so it’s a good idea to have an agent or entertainment lawyer check out the contract first.

–Unless the book is a best seller, traditional publishers will most likely let the book slowly die and then will remainder the book. The writer often ends up buying it at cost, and there it goes into the basement or closet for holiday presents.


–As I mentioned earlier, you, the writer, will act as the publisher which means you do the writing, editing, designing and marketing. However, you can hire outside people to do all those things for you as well which can be quite expensive.

–Once ready, your book will come out much quicker. Sometimes in a matter of days!

–Publishing itself is relatively easy, and if you go with platforms like amzon.com’s direct publishing options, you can publish your work for free (there are stipulations, so do your research).

–Royalties are far better with self-publishing. You can get all the royalties if you have a website and an online store (you will need to pay for “shopping cart” applications like E-Junkie or Shopify where customers buy directly from you). With amazon.com, royalties are better than traditional publishers, but you have to wait a few months and yes, amazon takes a small percentage.

RIch writer by Mohamed Hassan

–Getting reviews and publicity is very hard to do for self-published books unless you are social media savvy. The best option is to approach online book bloggers and via “blog tours” in which your book is reviewed by several bloggers. You will also need Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets to get the word out in a very crowded and competitive space.

–Book stores and libraries generally will not take hard copies of self-published books no matter how successful they are. They will also not sponsor live reading events for you.

–Your book never goes out of print. You can re-launch the book several times which is a good idea since sales may be slow initially.

It’s not easy in both publishing worlds because there are so many, many books (good and bad) that are being published. At least the stigma of self-publishing has lessened, and sometimes a traditional house will pick up a self-published book (very much like winning the lottery!).

But self-publishing is a great and liberating option if your book has been rejected or you are tired of the silence from agents and publishers who ignore or have abandoned your books.

Or you simply relish control, immediate sales, and the challenges of getting your book noticed and appreciated.

Whatever you decide, I recommend researching the traditional houses and the many self-publishing options before submitting your manuscript to either.

For example, study the books you love and that resemble the sort of story you have written. How did those authors publish their works?

woman reading by engin akyrut

Photo: engin akyurt

Reading reviews can also be helpful. Go to amazon.com, Goodreads (a website for readers’ reviews), Kirkus (short critiques) and also follow The New York Times best-selling lists and read their reviews too for more insights into the publishing world and the latest books making their marks.

There are also many articles written about going indie—or not. One of the best is by Jane Friedman who wrote a great blog post and provided a handy chart between the two publishing worlds: https://www.janefriedman.com/key-book-publishing-path/

While you’re there, explore her other great and very helpful posts for writers too.

Writing Wisdom:

“Our visions begin with our desires.”—Audre Lorde, American Poet, Writer, Activist.

Cheers, Irene

JPG of THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION (1)P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?


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woman-holding book

There are many great books on writing in general, and fiction writing in particular (ahem, if I may draw your attention to the one below for instance…). Those books are meant to offer the best advice—and motivation—on how to do that miraculous, remarkable thing.

And there are many books and blogs and articles for anyone who is in search of  physical and emotional self-healing.

Now and then, writers can find wisdom and solace in self-caring books that cater to them especially as artists such as THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron and IF YOU WANT TO WRITE by Brenda Ueland.

THE ARTITSTS WAY COVERI love those two books because it acts as cheerleaders to keep me writing without despairing of my progress and purpose as a writer.

And yes, I highly recommend those books for your virtual or real library shelf as go-to companions for those lonely, frustrating days when writing seems fruitless and pointless.

But it’s also important to have a daily self-care routine.

Writers often work in solitary situations and often without encouragement or feedback from surrounding individuals we interact with in different ways—a spouse, co-workers, friends.

Our cohorts are not always understanding of our creativity and the creative process which usually demands a lot of solitude and down-time.

if-you-want-to-write-a-book-about-art-independence-and-As Brenda Ueland said, “Imagination needs noodling–long inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” Not everyone understands this need!

I am not psychologist, but having been a writer since childhood so long ago, and witnessing hundreds of writing students as both a classmate and teacher, I can identify some behavioral patterns that call for immediate self-caring.

Here are some warning signs that writers should be aware of:

–Lack of sleep caused by worrying over the manuscript. Well, that happens, but sleep should be replenishing because your active brain needs to rest as well and allow the other parts—the dream-factory areas—to emerge and give you more ideas.

sleeping by Stocksnap

–Short temperedness/moodiness. Be careful. Not everyone will comprehend these reactions. Your mind is elsewhere and on your story, and so when you need to be part of society again, you have to return and be in the moment of your life with others whether it’s at home or work (the other work).

–Hygiene breakdowns. Oh, a bad sign. Unless you are lucky enough to work non-stop because your editor is demanding your manuscript for a publication deadline, then dishevelment is acceptable. Otherwise it’s not at all healthy and often a sign of…

–Depression. Creative people do go through this a lot especially when a rejection of our work annihilates our enthusiasm and hope and happiness too. The best solution is to get back to work on something new.


–Bingeing on anything (food, alchohol, drugs, Netflixback issues of The New Yorker, even reading loads of other writers’ fiction). This is really procrastination, which is a sign of fear, which also leads to guilt and depression because you are not writing.

tv watching by Jan Vašek

Photo: Jan Vašek

One solution is to take short breathers away from the writing. Physical movement is good. Julia Cameron recommends walking at least 20 minutes every day.

She also suggests morning pages (a three page journal writing when you wake up), and my favorite–an “artist’s date” in which you take yourself out for an outing with just you and your inner artist to do anything YOU want to do.

music lady-844869_1920

Writing demands mental and physical stamina. Writing takes energy and concentration. It also acts on rewards. Reward yourself every time you write—even if it’s a few kind supportive words.

You deserve it!

If you become physically ill from writing due to stress, or discouragement, then perhaps you are in need of a community that can help you get through those times when writing is harmful and not the liberating creative joy it should be.

If you can, join an online group or one in your area. Most writers are shy, so you shouldn’t feel deterred if you are also reticent.

Writing classes or a group to share work and advice even on a monthly basis are terrific motivators and will give us fresh perspectives and others to simply talk to about our stories.

group hand fist bump

Photo by rawpixel.com

We need community as much as solitude.  But it should be of like-minded, helpful people doing the same sort of thing—writing! In other words, we need a tribe to belong to.

Marketing guru Seth Godin stated that for “millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

Find your tribe and continue to write on your own. But whatever you do always check in with your needs before and after you write, and don’t forget to at least say something kind to yourself, even if it’s “I tried.”

Writing Wisdom:

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”—Lorraine Hansberry, American Playwright, Writer.

Cheers, Irene


JPG of THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION (1)P.S.  Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction? 


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lion by Alexas_Fotos

Photo: Alexas_Fotos

Every creative person who begins a new work, or tries to continue it to its end, needs first of all an inner belief that what they are doing is possible.

That their work, although new and about to be born and perhaps one day shared with the world, deserves a chance to emerge and exist.

That what is being created should not hinder the person creating the work with nay-saying critiques by insensitive, unfeeling, toxic people who sabotage the creation’s merits and the creator’s sense of purpose, and worth.

In other words, artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and anyone who works as an artist should have the unlimited creative freedom to simply create.

It takes tremendous insight, imagination, and innovateness to do art.

It also takes a lot of courage.

Writers in particular are susceptible to giving up on their work if they face criticism or discouragement by others.

girl by bruce lam

Photo: bruce lam

It’s probably because writing is a very solitary endeavor and often we make the choices in our work without any input or feedback while doing it.

And then whenever we show our early drafts, or the polished finish to the story, we are met with disapproval.

man pointing by SplitShire

Photo: SplitShire

Or we are simply told to give up our silly stories—nobody cares really. Be practical! Be realistic!  Go out and do something worthwhile…

Naturally, we want to give up. But this is precisely the time when you, as a writer who truly wants to write, have to rely on an inner core of courage.

One of the most fortifying books I read when I was beginning to write my fledging fiction was Brenda Ueleand’s 1938 classic IF YOU WANT TO WRITE: A BOOK ABOUT ART, INDEPENDENCE AND SPIRIT.

I have to admit it’s not the most nuts-and-bolts approach to writing fiction, or anything really, but what was so remarkable for me was her constant encouragement in not giving up on writing, and its importance to feeding one’s creative spirit.if-you-want-to-write-a-book-about-art-independence-and-

In it, she insists that everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.”

 This caught my attention and my skepticism, until I read on further to where she talks about criticism and how she hates it:

“Yes, I hate orthodox criticism. I don’t mean great criticism, like that of Matthew Arnold and others, but the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and self-consciousness, and weazening all vision and bravery…

brenda-ueland (1891-1986)

Brenda Ueland (1891-1986)

“…I hate it because of all the potentially shining, gentle, gifted people of all ages, that it snuffs out every year. It is a murderer of talent. And because the most modest and sensitive people are the most talented, having the most imagination and sympathy, these are the very first ones to get killed off. It is the brutal egotists that survive.”

That’s absolutely right! Of course helpful critiques by others who can point out on how a story can be improved because of the great potential that is already in the work are enormously important for us to develop as writers.

But the rancorous, mean-spirited comments pointed like darts at our work, and at our souls are often the responses by others who are suppressed and unsure of their own talents.

By shooting down your efforts and spirit, they are trying to ease their own frustrations, guilt, and jealousy.

depression-John Hain

Graphic: John Hain

Don’t listen to them.

Still, it takes courage to continue to write whether others like what we do or not—and that includes our nearest and dearest friends, relations, and lovers.

Brenda insists that when we write, we “must feel free–free and not anxious… I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten—happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another. ”

Give yourself permission as I did after reading Brenda’s book to be happy, playful.

Let your imagination soar and spirit sing. Let your creativity unleash itself without fear of displeasing, inconveniencing, or disappointing others because you are spending your precious free time alone writing your stories.

happy by Gerd Altmann

Photo: Gerd Altmann

That is your time to create.

Be brave and create your worlds. Shut the door, and leave the critics outside of it, including your own inner critic. No guilt!

“Be careless, reckless! Be a lion, be a pirate, when you write.”

believe in yourself w lion

If you are need of a cheerleader, buy and keep a copy of IF YOU WANT TO WRITE. Its words will sustain you especially when your creativity is attacked and held hostage.

Writing Wisdom:

“[W]riting is not a performance but a generosity.”—Brenda Ueland

Cheers, Irene

P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?


NEW! Now in paperback: https://amzn.to/2WwRXgE

E-Book: http://amzn.to/211kQhZ

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Irene’s WRITING WISDOM DAILY DIGITAL CALENDAR with great quotes by great writers is now coming to you every day in your email inbox (check your spam files if you are not receiving them).

Catch my new and public blog posts and AN AMERICAN WRITER IN UKRAINE BLOG SERIES at www.irenezabytko.com  and irenezabytko.wordpress



I love New Years. I welcome any and from all world calendars: our traditional January 1st ones, the Chinese and Tibetan New Years, the Jewish New Years (of which there are four!), and even my ancestors’ Ukrainian New Year on January 14th.

New Years are an official opportunity to start again. To plan goals with a renewed sense of hope and achievements.

And certainly, a few weeks after a New Year (usually around 4-6 weeks later), no matter how well we started out, how much we actually took steps for the goals, and how very enthusiastic we were in the beginning, by then our plans have stagnated, flattened, and disappeared.

We gave up.


Photo: RyanMcGuire 

And then we feel guilty. We promise ourselves we’ll try again. And again, and yet we keep failing at it.

This is common for the usual New Year’s resolutions we set for ourselves: I will lose weight, I will exercise more, I will be more productive, I will…


How many of us have tried to write because we have that intense yearning to do so, and try as we might, we start, but give up too soon.

Why is it so hard to stay motivated? Why is it so difficult to keep at it?


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Writing, like the other goals we have, needs constant and consistent motivation—that visceral, gut-churning desire to do it otherwise things are not right with us.

Without motivation, we will then toss it aside in hopes of starting another time. Later maybe. Next weekend. The first vacation time we have. When the muse visits someday…

But what actually happens is that we feel unhappy, depressed, along with a sense of failure. Our emotions may be masked, but they will come out in other ways.

We snap at loved ones or co-workers. We become cynical and pessimistic.

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And it becomes harder and harder to sit at our desks with our ideas and stories-in-progress because it is hard to overcome those negative emotions.

How do we stay motivated then? And if lost, how can we become motivated again?

I was listening to a TED talk by psychologist Emily Balcetis whose speech wasn’t about writing, but rather why some people find it harder to exercise over others.

And yet, it was highly relatable to writing.

In her talk, Balcetis said the main difference is that people who are able to start and continue a goal like exercising do so because they keep their eyes on the prize—meaning they envision how they will look if they keep up their routines.

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Photo: StockSnap 

They focused on the finish line!

This can work for writing as well.

First, define for yourself what is your goal. To begin a story? To continue with one you put away? To finish that story? Or is it to revise, edit, polish and/or send out the story to a publication?

The story itself could be a short story or novel, but whatever it is, take small steps and envision the endgame goal you have for those small first steps.


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It can be starting a story for one weekend. Then, writing it for one hour every Saturday. And then finishing it by (name a date).

Keep your eyes on the prize which could be simply writing every weekend.

You’re taking small steps but once you make these steps habitual and they are now easy to do, then progress to bigger goals: writing another story. Writing a collection of stories. Writing a novel.

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Graphic: manfredsteger 

One way to visualize your prize is to take a clean sheet of paper, write the title and your name and post it where you can see it every day.


Or take the first page of your story. Title it and your byline, and then at the end of that first page type in: THE END.

Hang it up where you see it every day.

If you are in the midst of a novel, design a cover for it. Go to canva.com (it’s a free and very easy to use software designing tool ) and print out the wonderful cover you envision for your novel. Hang it somewhere—maybe over your computer screen.

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Photo: geralt 

Keep envisioning the end game. The prize. The goal to be achieved. And it will  get you there faster than simply hoping, wishing, and then alas, abandoning.


To stay motivated, you have to remind yourself what you are working on and working for.

For more motivation, here is Emily Balcetis’ TED talk for more motivation: https://www.npr.org/2017/06/16/532839626/emily-balcetis-if-you-focus-on-the-finish-line-will-you-get-there-faster

Writing Wisdom:

“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.”— H.G. Wells, English Fiction and Non-fiction Writer.

Cheers, Irene


P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?


JPG of THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION (1)NEW! Now in paperback: https://amzn.to/2WwRXgE

E-Book: http://amzn.to/211kQhZ

PDF: www.irenezabytko.com

Irene’s WRITING WISDOM DAILY DIGITAL CALENDAR with great quotes by great writers is now coming to you every day in your email inbox (check your spam files if you are not receiving them).

Catch my new and public blog posts and AN AMERICAN WRITER IN UKRAINE BLOG SERIES at www.irenezabytko.com  and  irenezabytko.wordpress


Have you ever told anyone that you are a writer and the reactions you get are either one of bewilderment or pity?


Or do the people respond by being awe-struck, maybe reverent and then say to themselves: “Wow, I wish I could be a writer…”

Well, then as a public service to them (and maybe for yourself as well), hand them this list that may make them consider that they are attracted to writing.

This might also awaken and inspire them to finally acknowledge and liberate the writer within themselves.


You are a voracious reader and prefer reading to sports, or partying or doing just about anything else.


You take books with you everywhere you go—even to a party.


You read books and are either impressed and amazed by what you read, and so you think, “Gosh, I wish I could write like that…”

Or, you read a book that was so inferior, so annoying, and so often very popular and a best seller that you think, “I bet I could write something better than that!”

You read or hear something in the news or on social media or word of mouth that so enrages, perplexes, surprises, or is incredibly fascinating and maybe even absurd that you think to yourself, “I must write about this—someday.”
You have an inner nagging voice that is urging you to actually sit down and write about that thing you heard about.


You attend live readings by alive writers and no matter how badly they may read their stories in pubic, you are still smitten as though you were watching a movie star at the Academy Awards.

While watching them on stage, you are feeling oddly inspired to write so that you too may one day be published and see your name in print and maybe even read at that same café or book store your hero just read at.


You are reading your favorite short stories and novels more than once—first for entertainment, the latter to focus and study how the writers accomplished writing those  amazing passages that you were enamored by.


You begin to copy and even rewrite those same passages over and over, and dissect them like a code to better understand the secrets of how they did it in their stories.


You are seriously considering taking a writing class.

You actually do.

You are seriously considering joining a writing group.

You actually do.

You are actually seriously writing.


You are!

Cheers, Irene

P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?


NEW! Now in Paperback: https://amzn.to/2WwRXgE

E-Book: http://amzn.to/211kQhZ

PDF: www.irenezabytko.com

CALLING ALL FICTION WRITERS: Go to www.irenezabytko.com , sign-up and immediately receive my free weekly “Hi from I: Writing Wisdom” emails with advice on writing and publishing great fiction.

You’ll also receive my humorous and helpful booklet: 100 LITERARY CLICHES TO AVOID, SCORN, AND DELETE, my report: THE 7 DEADLY SINS OF ROOKIE FICTION WRITERS, and IRENE’S WRITING WISDOM DAILY DIGITAL CALENDAR with great quotes by great writers.

It’s all waiting for you at www.irenezabytko.com




THE MIDWIFE'S TALE jpg“…Except for icons or Renaissance paintings, and in unpopular non-canonical texts, the midwife at the Nativity is not depicted, never remembered or acknowledged, not even in a cheerful Christmas carol. Oh, there are plenty of mentions of cows and donkeys who are supposedly given the gift of speech on that night—maybe they alone talked about the midwife’s role among themselves, but no one else seems to…” From THE MIDWIFE’S  TALE: A CHRISTMAS STORY.

Unlike the narrator in my story, I am not a midwife. But after years of traditional Nativity stories and crèches and cards and carols, the emphasis has always been that Mary, Jesus’ Mother, was visited and surrounded by men—shepherds and Kings—after that miraculous birth occurred so long ago.

Where were the women during the birth?

Surely at least one woman was on the scene. Birthing children was and still is a exclusively female-oriented event in many cultures, and the midwife would have been the very first witness to Jesus’ appearance on earth.

Unless she was completely alone except for Joseph, her elderly husband to help her deliver the child, it seemed improbable that Mary would not have at least one or two women helping her with the birth.

Growing up, I used to wonder why the midwife never figured at all in any of the Nativity stories, but quickly dismissed her absence because of the prevalence of the other important male characters who were always mentioned and given the spotlight.

Recently, I received a postcard with a replica of an icon from Eastern Europe. I grew up with icons because of my Ukrainian heritage—and so was familiar with the depictions.

But this time, I did a double-take and felt compelled to seriously examine the postcard’s imagery.

On it were the familiar representations of several scenes of the Nativity with a large figure of Mary in the center, and near her, the swaddled baby Jesus in a manger.

Around the central figure of Mary are other smaller scenes indicating several related events: an angel appearing to the shepherds, the Three Kings with their gifts, and of Joseph being tempted by a shepherd (who is really the devil). All very typical in Eastern iconography depicting the Nativity.

But there was another scene painted on the icon. It was a replica of a woman—not Mary—about to wash the infant Jesus in a basin of water.

The midwife!


I never paid attention to her presence on an icon before and I  had to search for her identity and for any biblical sources about her.

Well, typically there wasn’t much at all. However, I did find an unlikely mention of a midwife in a non-canonical text (sources not condoned by traditional Christian churches) called the Gospel of James (Jesus’ brother most likely).

In it, Joseph hides Mary’s “disgrace” as he called it, by having her stay in the cave while he finds a midwife named Salome who does not believe that Mary is a virgin given her condition. That is, until Salome physically examines her.

Afterwards, a miracle of sorts occurs after Salome loses her hand, but it is later restored when holding the infant Jesus.

I didn’t care for this story at all. It’s inelegant, humiliating, and has no real feminine reality as to how women would act and interact in this type of scenario.

And so I made up my own version.

In my book, Joseph has a dream and is told to search for a midwife in the marketplace in Bethlehem. Eventually, he finds her although she is not Semitic, nor local, but rather is a migrant from one of the Slavic tribes and yes, probably from ancient Ukraine.

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She enlists her helpers in the midwife mission for Mary’s delivery, dismisses Joseph who is sent away during the birth, and aides Mary to birth  in the ways that child-bearing was done in those times, and all accomplished in that cave which is more historically accurate than a stable, and far more preferable as a setting for my story version.


I did however want to keep some type of miracle occurring for the midwife, but like any good fiction writer, I included one with a twist of my own.

Because my midwife was a pagan, with her own cultural rituals that she brought with her to Bethlehem from her homeland in the steppes, she had the opportunity to practice her particular skill of soothsaying and prophecy and of course she correctly predicted Jesus’ path.

But she was also given a miracle in return for helping Mary and Joseph and in that plot twist, I hoped to convey the message of universal compassion: the midwife’s sympathy towards the stranded Holy Family and eventually, Jesus’ towards the midwife.

For any writer, it’s always risky to take on a beloved story that is so ingrained in people’s lives and religions, but rather than changing the overall Nativity story, my aim was to enlarge it by one more person who was absolutely present that particular night.

THE MIDWIFE’S TALE: A CHRISTMAS STORY by Irene Zabytko is now available on amazon.com and http://www.irenezabytko.com/books

Watch the book trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpl35Va8MCE

Irene Zabytko is the author of the novel about Chornobyl, THE SKY UNWASHED, the short story collection, WHEN LUBA LEAVES HOME and the writing guidebook THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION.

For more information and contact:  http://www.irenezabytko.com, hello@irenezabytko.com


When you are ready to submit your manuscript to a traditional publisher, or if you are publishing on your own, that is the time when you have to switch your mindset from writer to editor.

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The story and characters are on the page and screen about to be placed in print and out into the world. What a wonderful accomplishment!

But is it really, really ready?

Artistically, yes. Technically, maybe not yet…

By that I mean the physical look of the manuscript itself that will relay and transmit the content (your story) in the best possible and polished ways.


Your manuscript must be dressed-up and presented in the most professional manner which means that the margins are all uniform (usually, an inch or a bit more on all four sides), the titles, subtitles, and chapters centered, and all words are spelled correctly (unless intentionally misspelled). Ditto with grammar and punctuation.

Sometimes, there are issues that pop up and become glaringly obvious to confront more so in the editing process than in the writing.

For instance, your characters are naming other sources like a play or movie they have seen. Do you place the titles they mention in quotes? Italics? Underlines?

When do you use dashes, and when do you use hyphens?

In fiction, do you write out the numbers or use actual numerals?

How do you write a quote within a quote? Sometimes, characters in dialogue will quote another character.


These type of small, but essential editing choices are vitally important for the end result—no writer wants a reader to stop in the middle of the story and mutter, “Huh—so confusing!”

Traditional publishing houses and other print media (like the almost archaic newspaper) rely on resources called stylebooks. If you are a journalist, or had to write an in-depth research paper for a class, then you may be familiar with these invaluable and very thick and detailed books.

There are three major stylebooks and each publisher uses and will always stick to one (and they expect their writers and editors to adhere to them as well):


Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2982644

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook—Mostly used by journalists. https://www.apstylebook.com/

The Chicago Manual of Style—Used by all writers; their rules will differ from the AP Stylebook. https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html


Photo: By University of Chicago Press -https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11574454

The Modern Language Association (MLA) Style—Used by academics, college students, and useful for fiction writers too. https://www.mla.org/MLA-Style

All are helpful, but can be overwhelming because of all the many, many ways to standardize texts. They are also updated at least annually because English usage evolves and changes.

I have an older version of The Chicago Manual of Style that I use and find very helpful for tangled things such as, how do I name a character from a play that my own character in my story will be acting as (see what I mean by tangled?).

Certainly, traditional and reliable writing resources like The Elements of Style by Strunk & White should still be consulted as needed, but these voluminous stylebooks are the sources for when you need specific, detailed, and professional answers to complicated or bewildering editing choices.

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

If stylebooks are far too overwhelming with all the various editing conditions they include, then go online and ask specifically for what you need to know. Usually, a good and useful link will appear.

For instance, here are the links to the editing questions above:

When to italicize and underline or quotes: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/italics.htm

When to use hyphens and dashes: https://www.ef.edu/english-resources/english-grammar/hyphens-and-dashes/

When to use numbers in fiction: https://theeditorsblog.net/2013/01/13/numbers-in-fiction/

When to use a single or double quote: https://www.scribendi.com/advice/when_to_use_double_or_single_quotation_marks.en.html


And when the editing is all done, and the manuscript sent, then return to your writer mindset and write another story.

Writing Wisdom:

“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”—T.S. Eliot, American/British Poet, Essayist, Playwright.

Cheers, Irene

 THE MIDWIFE'S TALE jpgNEW! THE MIDWIFE’S TALE: A CHRISTMAS STORY is now available on amazon.com https://amzn.to/2SayIq9

Irene’s WRITING WISDOM DAILY DIGITAL CALENDAR with great quotes by great writers is now coming to you every day in your email inbox (check your spam files if you are not receiving them).

Catch my new and public blog posts and AN AMERICAN WRITER IN UKRAINE BLOG SERIES at www.irenezabytko.com  and  irenezabytko.wordpress

Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?  Find both in my writing guidebook: THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION LIKE THE GREAT LITERARY MASTERS. Available at www.irenezabytko.com and http://amzn.to/211kQhZ