Pen of Fire

Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-BarrettFull Title: Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within
Author: Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2004)
Number of Pages: 262
How long it took me to read: a week and a half
Where I bought this book: Bought it online from Barnes and Noble
ISBN: 978-1-15-602978-0

Like a Moth to a Flame

I have wanted to get back into writing and I happened upon this book by chance. I was searching Barnes and Noble for books on writing in general, and then in the “people who bought this also bought” section, I saw this book. The title is what ultimately drew me to look at its description. Once I read that it was geared towards busy women wanting to write, I was sold. I work full-time during the week and spend an hour commuting each way by car, which doesn’t leave me much time to myself. I was concerned with where I would find the time to write. I didn’t even think a book pertaining to my problem of finding time to write existed, and would offer advice on how to face such a challenge, but to my surprise, there it was!

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “Just as writing is a process of discovery, so is finding the best work space for you. You will find out how and when you work best by trying out different methods. Writers write everywhere, and some of the best writers write with the most meager of accoutrements.” (p.69)

4. “Our brains occasionally act like computers in freak-out mode. The only way to get them working again is to reboot. Sometimes you must even unplug the contraption and wait awhile. Then when you turn it back on, voila!” (p.73)

3. “But what you experience is important. The stories you write down, however fleetingly, are the beads that mark the time and one day may be strung together into a thing of beauty. A woman who writes learns to accept these gems.” (p.40)

2. “Yet, there’s a class you won’t find included in the curriculum of any writing program I know of. It’s on how you need compassion and empathy to become a great writer.” (p.160)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Feeling ‘other,’ the awareness and sensitivity that come from both belonging and not belonging, is a source of creativity. Without that awareness, would we be writers?” (p.102)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: carped (verb)

Definition (Source: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Ed): to find fault or complain querulously
Synonyms: nag, bother, complain, criticize, fuss, grumble, pick at
Origins: of Scandinavian origin; akin to ‘Icel karpa’ to dispute
As in: “Never use attributes like carped, retorted, whined, exclaimed, chortled, or vomited (unless you’re going for humor or writing a children’s book).” (p.167)

New Word: chortled (verb)

Definition (Source: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Ed): 1) to sing or chant exultantly; 2) to laugh or chuckle esp. in satisfaction or exultation
Synonyms: cackle, chuckle, crow, giggle, guffaw, sniggle, snort, titter
Origins: 1872; prob. a blend of chuckle and snort
As in: (see quote above)

New Word: inchoate (adjective)

Definition (Source: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Ed): 1) being only partly in existence or operation; 2) imperfectly formed or formulated
Synonyms: formless, incoherent
Origins: 1534; Latin ‘inchoatus’ to start work on, or ‘in- + cohum’ part of a yoke to which the beam of a plow is fitted
As in: “Celadon. Pusillanimous. Imbroglio. Ultramarine. Blackberry. Rubies. Vestige. Languishes. Crucible. Inchoate. Capitulate. Cloak. I love words. Most writers love words.” (p.31)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“A positive, upbeat tone, very much the cheerleader for the busy woman writer. DeMarco-Barrett makes me feel as if I really can become a writer. She is always using a positive tone of voice, and never once says anything negative about becoming a writer. There are no ‘it is tough out there’ attitude and she never says in any form that ‘there is a good chance you won’t make it.’ The book is all about trying and doing something that you love, whether it ends up becoming a career or just a hobby. Putting yourself out there, even if it ends in rejection, is a strong message resonating from the book.

“It includes many tales of authors who wrote over 10 novels, only to finally get one published. She describes the road she took to become a writer and how the process does not always start with instant gratification, even though me, and many other writers may put unrealistic expectations on ourselves to get it right the first time. In the end, she says it is about overcoming the fear that can hold you back, and I am the biggest example of how being fearful can lead to procrastination. I have always wanted to start writing, and even to start a blog, but I kept putting it off because I was afraid that it would not be well received. I was afraid to discover that I wasn’t really a writer after all. It is time for me to start taking the author’s advice.”

“A big advocate for free-writing, the author includes many activities in the book to get the creative juices flowing. DeMarco-Barrett provides prompts for the reader, asking you to set aside time yourself and just write whatever comes to mind based on that prompt. She categorizes them under a section titled, ‘Set Your Timer’ that is at the end of each chapter. These prompts all relate to the chapter they follow and are meant to be a way to practice writing without judgment from peers and yourself. The exercises are meant to be a stress-free, beneficial way to warm up to the process of writing.

“This is the first writing book I have read that contains writing exercises. I have not attempted any of the exercises as I feel it would be best to read the book in its entirety first, and then go back and do them. I am excited to see if they will help me expand my creativity and provide me with the confidence to start writing more. There’s also a great list of resources in the back of the book for further reading and study that I’m looking forward to exploring.”

“While the book is all about writing, DeMarco-Barrett makes sure to emphasize the importance of taking a time out from writing, if needed. Suggestions are also given on where to go to get away and work. I have found that no matter what type of writing I am doing, whether scholarly or personal, there comes a time when writer’s block and frustration usually occurs. It is during these times that I wish I had DeMarco-Barrett’s suggestions for taking the necessary time out, especially when she mentions taking a little weekend getaway by yourself so you can focus totally on writing and have a peaceful experience. As soon as I read this suggestion, all I could do was imagine myself in a little cottage at Big Sur sitting at a desk and writing. The author also suggests other ideas like going to a coffee shop or another place that you grow to associate as places just for writing. These suggestions are especially interesting to me since I live in a small condo with my significant other and a puppy and always seem to be distracted and without a space to call my own. I will start scouting out possible places close to where I live as soon as possible.”

“The book talks about all aspects of the writing process, including what to do about T.V. watching and even about the importance of housework as an outlet for creativity. Distractions seem to be my greatest downfall in the writing process. With my long workdays and home full of distractions, it is so easy to want to do something other than write in any spare time I do have. I am not a T.V. watcher, but I do like the occasional rerun of Sex and the City as well as movies, and being tired after a long day makes me think of writing as an even bigger chore. Before I know it, I am watching a Netflix movie and then the day is gone without a word written.

“The author makes some great suggestions about the importance of purposely setting time aside for writing. She suggests keeping T.V. watching to a minimum and at least committing to doing some writing beforehand. A dirty atmosphere to write in can also lead to distraction—clothes, books, and paper all over the place can make tapping into your creativity even more challenging—so it is better to keep up with housework in order to help clear the mind. These are aspects of the writing process that I had not even thought of, but once I cleaned my condo, I started to feel more inspired and actually got some writing done.”

Heather Rae Butler

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  1. […] The Uncustomary Book Review Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett […]

  2. Mariateresa Bombardieri says:

    I agree that a clear atmosphere around me helps to concentrate and/or relax

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