Tips on writing, revision, craft, and the writing life from Cleaver’s editors, workshop and masterclass teachers, literary contributors, and readers. Subscribe to our free newsletter to receive fresh tips in your mailbox each week. Want to find support and community for your writing? Check out our workshops, masterclasses, and one-on-one coaching. Got a writing tip to share? Contact Writing Tips and Newsletter editor Layla Murphy.

A Writing Tip from Isabel Legarda

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Write like an anesthesiologist.

By this I definitely do not mean intentionally (or unintentionally) put someone to sleep, but rather, approach your writing project as a living, breathing being you put active energy into protecting through dangerous territory.

“Dangerous territory” for writers includes:

  • daily challenges like time scarcity, procrastination, distraction, and interruption;
  • occupational hazards like exhaustion, multi-tasking, the need for research, and neglect of
    other important tasks or life relationships;
  • faults to ... Read more
Fiction Prompts, Writing Tips /

A Writing Tip from Micah Muldowney

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Before I was a writer, I was a musician. I’d only just begun when they let me in on their dirty little secret:

 Most songs are just three chords.

Some are just two. Even the harmonically ambitious ones are usually just Pachelbel’s Canon, reskinned. It’s a proverb, to the point that Ed Sheeran famously used it to get a copyright lawsuit thrown out.

Many aspiring musicians find this empowering—after all, with just a handful of fingerings, you too ... Read more

Poetry TIps, Writing Tips /

A Writing tip from Leonard Kress
Poetry as Meditation

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

For several years I have been working on a series of sestinas that embody certain important aspects of Buddhist mindfulness meditation. Each sestina—and I have written nearly 100 so far—is a timed and focused meditation, contingent upon time, place, and physical, mental and emotional states.

Duration, for example, translates to space—the 36 lines in each individual poem is the amount of time it takes to wander through those lines, just as a meditator might practice sitting or walking meditation ... Read more

A Writing tip from Moriah Hampton
Hair Splinters: Listen Before You Write

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Writing is about relationships—relationships we cultivate with ourselves, and our readers, subjects, and communities. To have good relationships, it’s important to listen. A conversation I had with my friend Gabby recently reminded me of the importance of listening for creative development.

“My boyfriend had to dig out one of my hair splinters,” Gabby said, looking at me in the mirror above her workstation at the salon.

“A wood splinter?” I asked, sure I'd misheard her.

... Read more
All Genre Prompts, Writing Tips /

A Writing Tip from Andrea Marcusa

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Do you ever have wacky ideas or thoughts that you scribble down, but then decide they're too awful to keep? If so, I have a suggestion for you. Put them in a file and label it something funny, like "Wacky Pantry." Then, come back to them a few months or years later.

Often, the thoughts or ideas that we feel compelled to write down are the ones that feel wrong, not "us," embarrassing, or poorly written. We might think that ... Read more

Craft Chats, Writing Tips /

Andrea Caswell Speaks with Brendan Stephens

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

In the story “Hell’s Mountain” by Brendan Stephens (Issue 42), readers are invited into the Underworld with a narrator who must scale a looming mountain to discover what awaits at the summit. Senior fiction editor Andrea Caswell asked the writer and Cleaver contributor to share his insights on titles and first sentences, and to describe how “Hell’s Mountain” changed during revision.

Andrea Caswell: Could you tell us “the story” of that first sentence? Long ago, after I ... Read more

All Genre Prompts, Writing Tips /

A Writing Tip from Jessica Klimesh

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

As writers, we’re often told that we should be writing every day (or, at least, regularly), that we shouldn’t just wait for the muse to strike.

But writing doesn’t have to mean just writing. Tasks related to writing also count as writing: editing, revising, submitting, thinking, and—an important one—reading.

So, if you find yourself staring at a blank screen (or notebook page), no ideas coming to you, pick up a book or go to your favorite lit journal, and ... Read more

Fiction Prompts, Writing Tips /

A Writing Prompt from Janet Burroway

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

There has been a disaster and you must leave your home. You may choose one object to take with you, and only one. What will you take?

You arrive at a border, where the guard tells you that you may not take your object across.

But if you discard the object here, you may pass and she will give you something to take to the other side. What is it?

What will you do?

Sit with ... Read more

Writing Tips /

Andrea Caswell

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Most of the work of writing is rewriting. No one wants to hear this! We thrive on that rush of creativity and sense of possibility inherent in a first draft. After our initial inspiration and abandon on the page, revision can feel like a fall back down to earth. I have to revise this? What a mess! The good news is, revision is some of the most “creative” writing you will ever do. Here are some tips for enjoying the process.

Thwack, Writing Tips /

Beth Kephart

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

I know. I know. So grotesquely obvious. Except for the essential sequitur: Be inspired by what?

The metronome flick of your puppy’s tail?

The mellifluous hum of the antique AC?

The letter m, lowercase, written, for the first time, by a child?

The problem is, the possible sources of inspiration can be measured by infinitudes, and to write we need some curb or cramp, a boundary or horizon, a wall against which to toss our nouns or a pocket into which ... Read more

Revising, Writing Tips /

Andrea Caswell

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Revision is an important but often-dreaded stage of the writing process. Having to revise can feel like facing a harsh reality after the freedom of free-writes, and of first drafts bursting with inspiration. But if you flip the lens and adjust your POV, you can see revision as an opportunity to engage with your work more deeply and creatively, as you practice critical writing and editing skills.

Here are my five favorite suggestions for a more positive revision process:

  1. Start from ... Read more

Tricia Park

Second in a 5-part series

Sometimes, the hardest part is getting started. We get overwhelmed by self-doubt and too many (or too few) ideas as we sit, staring at the blank page.

Often, we just need a prompt to fire up our writing engines. Here’s a free prompt for you to try out today:

Timeline of your life.

● Set a timer for 10 minutes.

● Draw a horizontal line across a page. This is the timeline of your life.

● Mark off the ... Read more

All Genre Prompts, Writing Tips /

Tricia Park
First in a 5-part series

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Sometimes, the hardest part is getting started. We get overwhelmed by self-doubt and too many (or too few) ideas as we sit, staring at the blank page.

What if I told you that you could write more quickly, with more fun and ease?

Writing is hard because we have a lofty idea of what writing is. We imagine people–fancy people–with degrees and credentials and quills and thick notebooks into which they spill their flawless thoughts ... Read more