Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within

Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within

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by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

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In her fifteen years of teaching, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett has found that the biggest stumbling block for aspiring writers (especially women) is not fear of the blank page but frustration with the lack of time. What woman doesn't have too much to do and too little time? Finding an hour free of work, children, or obligations can seem impossible.

But anyone can


In her fifteen years of teaching, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett has found that the biggest stumbling block for aspiring writers (especially women) is not fear of the blank page but frustration with the lack of time. What woman doesn't have too much to do and too little time? Finding an hour free of work, children, or obligations can seem impossible.

But anyone can find fifteen minutes, whether you're sitting in traffic, waiting at a child's soccer practice, or watching the coffee drip. DeMarco-Barrett has created a practical, inspirational guide for fitting serious writing into those stolen moments. She offers writing exercises and techniques for generating ideas, as well as pragmatic advice from the well-known authors who appear on her radio show. With fifteen minutes a day, she can help you to ignite your pen and become the writer you have always wanted to be.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
DeMarco-Barrett knows the writerly type. Her book perfectly combines inspiration and practical advice.
Carolyn See
"Soars with inspiration and crackles with joy. It's a blessing for anyone going crazy trying to find time to write."
Ayelet Waldman

"Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's wonderful, practical guide teaches us to value our craft and, thus, ourselves."
Jodi Picoult
"PEN ON FIRE is a beginning writer's dream cocktail of fortitude: equal parts compassion, inspiration, and fabulous limbering exercises. "
T. Jefferson Parker
"PEN ON FIRE has got a wonderful mix of the practical and the inspirational."
Diane Leslie

"PEN ON FIRE is a fitness gym for writers with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, who teaches, coaxes, and cheers us on."
Jo-Ann Mapson

"The simple tips and easy lessons herein will provide inspiration to beginning and seasoned writers alike. I recommend it highly."

"With an encouraging attitude and inspirational approach…everything writer-wannabes want to know, from finding an agent to finding your voice."

"What a little gem! Gulp down this cocktail of compassion, inspiration, and wizard limbering-up exercises."
Pages Magazine

"A creative dynamo, a true writer's writer."
From the Publisher

"Pen on Fire is a gym for writers with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, who teaches, coaxes, and cheers us on." -Diane Leslie, author of Fleur de Leigh's Life of Crime

"A wonderful mix of the practical and the inspirational." -T. Jefferson Parker, author of Cold Pursuit

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt

For me, writing something down was the only road out.-Anne Tyler, in Janet Sternburg, ed.,


Writing Like There's No Tomorrow
It took a while for me to get going as a writer. It wasn't until the beginning of my junior year at a private Vermont college that I knew I wanted to write, that I was desperate, actually, to be a writer. Once that knowledge took hold, there was no reconsidering my choice. I blazed along the writing path, writing hard, reading hard, making up for lost time. My advisers encouraged me. It was all good, all promising-no matter that writing was the biggest intellectual challenge of my life.

But when I graduated, the fact that I still had not transformed into Virginia Woolf or become a New Yorker writer sent me into a writer's block as big as Grand Central Station. It lasted a year. Finally the truth sank in: Not writing wasn't bringing me any closer to being like the writers I admired or to being published, and I so missed writing. I dove back in. There was no choice. I was a writer: I was miserable when I didn't write, and I wanted to write more than I wanted to do anything else. I had to write, come what may.

The deep desire to write is all you need to begin. Its power over you is bigger than the fear of rejection. Once you accept that you are a writer, you can overcome fear. I had to.

In every aspect of life, it's easy to let fear influence our decisions. We stick with jobs we hate for fear of ending up in ones that are worse. We stay in emotionally or physically abusive relationships because we are afraid to leave. And we put off writing because there's no time, we're sure we're no good, and who are we kidding, anyway? What makes me think I'll ever make it? This way, the dream of being a writer remains just that-a dream.

Putting aside fears in love, in life, and in writing is the only way to have a shot at achieving any measure of success.

When crime novelist Andrew Vachss came on my show, he talked about never giving up. "Spectators don't win fights, and the one fighting technique I have not seen fail yet is to just keep getting up. People shouldn't be discouraged, because they can go from everybody saying that they would never be published and all of a sudden, it's done. You never know. You're punching a wall, punching a wall, your hands are bloody and broken, and then all of a sudden the wall's down, not from any one punch but from the accumulated weight of all the punches. This is not a business for people who give up easily."

Set Your Timer
Imagine a friend has come to you for help. She dreams of becoming a writer but is burdened by fears. She worries she has no talent and has nothing to say. Perhaps she worries she's taking precious time away from her family to pursue her selfish desire to write.

For fifteen minutes, write to that friend and give her hope. Dispel each of her fears, one by one, so that when she is through talking with you and revealing her heart, she will be willing to try giving the writing life her best effort. Your words need to inspire her and help her through this difficult time.

Now, can you comfort yourself this way?

Imagine you are this person. Set the timer for fifteen minutes and, using your newfound outlook, write a letter to yourself about your plans and projects as a writer.

Be as specific as possible. What sorts of projects are you interested in? What would you like to write today? What is your ultimate goal? What is your most extravagant dream? Let what you jot down run the gamut from the most realistic project to the most outrageous imaginings. It's okay to dream on paper. In fact, writing down your goals can be a vital step toward accomplishing them.

Copyright © 2004 by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Meet the Author

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett teaches creative writing at University of California-Irvine and hosts the weekly radio show, "Writers on Writing," on NPR affiliate KUCI. She is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times, The Writer, and Poets & Writers, among other publications, and is editor of The ASJA Monthly, the official publication of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She lives in Southern California.

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Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this book immensely - by far the best 'how to' on writing I've ever consumed. Barbara's 'you can do it' approach matched with her wit and enthusiasm put my pen to paper. I'd recommend 'Pen on Fire' to any aspiring writer as well as to the old pro who needs a fresh spark. Ridiculously readable!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
If there is a profession that requires ongoing motivation, mentoring, and lifelong learning, it is surely writing. Writers face a number of obstacles, including dealing with rejection letters, going through writer¿s block, and let¿s not forget, finding time to write. In ¿Pen of Fire,¿ author and University of California creative writing teacher Barbara DeMarco-Barrett serves as a catalyst in helping writers with achieve their goals through discipline and planning............... Although the book is geared towards women writers with busy lives, there¿s clearly enough useful information for everyone who is serious about the craft. Barrett draws on her own experiences (as well as the experiences of other professional writers who¿ve experienced trials and triumphs) when discussing a wide range of topics, including how to make time for writing on a daily basis, structuring plot and creating interesting character, and what to look for when searching for a literary agent or a publisher just to name a few. What makes the book unique is that every chapter is succeeded with Barrett¿s ¿Set the Timer¿ instructions, allowing the reader to take a more active approach while reading the book. The result is an incredibly motivating and informative book on the craft from a writer with experience, intelligence, and industry know-how.................... Though there are so many quotable passages that could be remembered for a lifetime, one of the best is when the author says ¿My own experience tells me that to succeed with your writing, you need a combination of patience, instinct, awareness, and timing. But mostly you need a belief in yourself and your project, and the willingness to do what it takes to work as long and hard as you must to get out there.¿............... ¿Pen on Fire¿ is just what the marketplace needed, a thoroughly researched, highly motivational, and instructional book that will cater to all writers who love to write. Keep this one on your bookshelf to refer to over and over again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being an aspiring writer, I have searched high and low for a book that is not only practical, but fun; Barbara DeMarco-Barrett absolutely delivered both in Pen on Fire. For so long, I have been through book after book of the same thing wondering if I was even a real writer and in fact had 'written off' books on writing; that is until I found DeMarco-Barrett's book! Her tips are fresh, realistic, encouraging and are in line with the times (see her chapter on the perils of e-mail!). This is a must have for any writer, but especially for those like me who have just been waiting patiently for a book that heard what we busy women have been asking for. Pen on Fire responds loud and clear.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pen on Fire is a must for anyone who has the yearn to write. The 'start your timer' exercises at the end of each chapter were well thought-out, engaging, simple and fun! I couldn't wait for the next exercise! It got me going. The inspiring text and personal anecdotes from Ms. DeMarco-Barrett's life are great motivators for any stalled creative endeavor - not just writing. This book is a winner!