Tag Archives: writing tips

Finding Writing Inspiration through the Five Senses

I’m starting to think about a new book. It’s hazy now, like shapes in the fog, but it’s getting closer. I am not an outliner, so I have to feel my way through that fog, stumbling in a direction that I hope is right. I find that the more I can immerse myself in the world of the story, the quicker it comes. Here are some of the tricks I’ve used; I would love to hear yours.

tree trunk

  1. Sight

Like many writers, I gather images to inspire me. I’ve got a framed photo of a giant tree on my writing desk, a remnant of my first book. I have pictures of people who look like the people in my books saved in my Scrivener files, as well as pictures of the settings, animals, even particular pieces of furniture. Pinterest is great for this. For those on Twitter, the hashtag #novelaesthetics is really fun.

rufus wainwright

  1. Sound

I know that a book is coming closer when I start gathering songs for a new playlist. Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah instantly transports me to the world of my first book. I don’t listen to the playlist when I’m actually writing (too distracting), but when I’m thinking about the book, on a run or on a drive, it helps me get in the zone.

big red

  1. Smell

Much of my first book takes place in the woods, so when I was hiking, I would try to note and hold onto the smells—the pine, the earth, the dew. I also, though, am an inveterate gum chewer, and I have assigned a different type of gum to my different works in progress. I’m chewing a lot of Big Red these days. If I open a pack anywhere in the world, I immediately think about my work in progress.

biscuit dough

  1. Taste

The taste of the gum also helps me. The fiery, cinnamon taste of Big Red puts me in the right frame of mind for the quick and snappy soccer players I’m writing. The inspiration goes the other way, too. I remember writing one biscuit-baking scene and getting so hungry that I had to go bake some myself. The kids were thrilled to wake up to fresh biscuits on a school day.


  1. Touch

Going to the woods also helped me get into the tactile nature of the woods. I would feel the bumpy bark, shuffle through the pine needles, note the hot sun on the back of my neck. For the book that is coming, I recently brought an oyster shell home from a canoeing trip. Something about the sleek, iridescent ridges spoke to me. It feels right in my hands, though I don’t know yet how it fits in with my forming story. I can’t wait to find out.

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer. Her books are fueled by cherry blow pops, as well as Big Red. She had six cavities the first time she went to the dentist, but has since learned much better dental hygiene. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com or through her book blog, www.kidbooklist.com. On Twitter, she’s @SuperKate.



The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Gotten

Writing is hard. Fortunately, lots of people have done it before me, and many of them have given advice on how to do it. I keep a list of favorite quotes on writing, on perseverance, and on doubt. The following are the ones I have found the most helpful. The best writing advice I’ve ever gotten, if you will. In the comments, I would love to hear yours.


Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.
-E.L. Doctorow

This quote gave me such an epiphany. My goal isn’t merely to explain to the reader what the character is doing, but to bring out in the reader sympathy for what the character is experiencing. Ah ha! I find this so much more helpful than the axiom, “Show, don’t tell.”


Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very;” otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
-C.S. Lewis

I love the beauty and humility of Lewis’s writing, and this quote is so emblematic of that to me. I hear it in the back of my mind as I cut away easy hyperbole and lazy adjectives. Keep your language simple and clear, so that you can reach for the soaring language when you really need it.


I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.
–Ernest Hemingway

This one helps me remember that not everything has to be on the page. The backstory for your characters is important, but you don’t have to tell it to the reader. It’s enough for you to know it, and the reader will intuit it because it informs the choices you make for the character.

dancing girl

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that makes us more alive than the others.
-Martha Graham

This isn’t actually writing advice; Martha Graham was a dancer. It helps me so much with my writing, though. I turn to it again and again when the doubt creeps in. I love that Graham says we don’t have to decide if what we produce is good, and in fact we will never believe that our work is good. That isn’t our concern. Our concern is to be true to the voice inside us, because if we don’t, that voice will be lost forever.

Those are my favorites. What are yours?

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer, looking for inspiration wherever she can get it. She reviews books at Kid Book List, and tweets @SuperKate. 




Writing (& Teaching) Setting-specific Story Details

If you’re a writer and/or teacher, you may be feeling the MUF-love emanating from your screen right now. That’s because today’s post about writing using setting-specific details is in your honor. Yep, it’s all for you. And for your readers. And for your students. And maybe even for your labradoodle named Cocoa who was briefly abducted by aliens and now spends his days pawing at a MacBook, composing original similes.

As a writer and a teacher, I love to explore and teach about the gloriously complex world of writing. I’m always learning something new and trying to improve my own writing craft. That’s what made me decide it was time to revisit my teaching roots and share something I’ve been working on in my own writing. And I brought J. K. Rowling along to help!

(Well, okay, that J. K. Rowling thing may almost, maybe, kind of be a lie. But I use a brief excerpt from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And I allow my voice to climb toward falsetto as I do a very poor imitation of Professor McGonagall. So it’s pretty much like J. K. Rowling personally created this MUF post. Except she really didn’t. But I still couldn’t have done it without her.)

Anyway, enough parenthetical rambling! For today’s post you don’t need to do much reading. Instead, you can kick back with your Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (or other favorite beverage), click the video below, and spend 3 minutes learning how setting-specific details strengthen a story and make it more believable.

If you’re a writer, I hope the video will give you something to think about in your own writing. If you’re a teacher, maybe you can use the video as a springboard to a writing lesson with your students. And if you’re neither a writer nor a teacher? . . . Well, maybe Cocoa the labradoodle will enjoy the brief respite from composing all of those similes.

Writing & Creating Story Setting with Specific Details

Have any favorite books or series where the author brings the setting alive? Any great examples of rich, setting-specific details from a book you’ve read? Feel free to post in the comments below.

T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has a 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course available at Curious.com.