Archives: truth

Ode to Marshall Fields’ Christmases Past – Chicago


Writing is about memory, personal truth and the never-ending river of change. A recent scan of Flipboard had the following headline: Christmas at Macy’s Walnut Room. To most, this is an innocent lede about an annual holiday celebration in Chicago. To me, it is a stain on Christmases past.

Childhood Christmases are redolent of my grandmother’s cherry, almond body cream, fresh pine, and the sweets served in Marshall Field’s Walnut Room. We had a special, annual date, just us, tea at the base of the storybook Christmas tree seemingly trimmed by elves. Our trays of dainty sandwiches, shimmering sweets, and warm scones were a personal fairy tale beyond my multicultural and blue-collar neighborhood. Each sip equaled the special love we shared, each cucumber sandwich harkened the possibility of future travel and the sweets spoke of creative aspirations. One Yellow cab ride took me to a magical kingdom that Disney could never replicate. 

Fields was the place to spend tips earned from my Kresge’s lunch counter job. I saved and saved to buy a special dress for a high school dance. Fields sold me my first pair of expensive shoes as a young career woman and it became the place for my special annual Christmas date with my children who found it old fashioned. Sadly, I failed at translating the magic it held and still holds for me today.

Marshall Fields is an echo of Chicago history, a Phoenix fertilized by the ashes of a historic fire, stately on its full city block, accessorized by giant verdigris clocks, stocked with wonders including the celestial Tiffany mosaic above the grand gallery, all impressive to my young self. It continued to be magical as I returned through all phases of my womanhood. 

For me, Macy’s is New York, malls and overstocked floors more jumble than art. I can hear New Yorkers protest and rightly so because Macy’s is their memory. Macy’s acquired Fields in 2005. For months they teased the city about whether they would keep the historic name or change it to Macy’s. Chicagoans held out a helium balloon of hope that suffered a massive coronary with the name change. Is it a coincidence that I left Chicago in 2006?

What does a name change have to do with writing? Everything. It is the human condition to hunger for reconstructed memory while society strives for change. It is the meat of an idea that a writer serves as the main course of personal truth. I write about the many memories I carry of the grand emporium in my creative arsenal. It is tied to my education, my accomplishments, my hopes, my dreams, and my losses. Perhaps the writing of my memory-truth will spark a memory in you or another reader. This is why I write.



I Can’t Afford an Editor

I Can’t Afford an Editor.”   

I hear this claim in every class I teach or writer’s group I attend. The complaint hides two fears: bloody red ink on your manuscript and the idea that a supposed, expert stranger will tell you what to write. The cost is a factor but it is not the factor. 


To allay your fears and minimize the cost know that editing is an iterative, not a one and done process. What do I mean?

  • Only you can write your 1st draft. Introducing an editor at this phase is a form of creative suicide;
  • Create a full draft, celebrate, and self-edit after you take the following steps:
    • Celebrate your accomplishment
    • Allow the text to marinate in a safe inaccessible place for 2-6 weeks
    • Read the full manuscript as a reader, not a writer
      • Understand that you can never be a fully objective reader
    • Return to the text to read as a self-editor
      • Is the point of view consistent?
      • Are there adequate transitions?
      • Have you used enough dialogue to move the action forward?
      • Is the pace and tone in keeping with the genre?
      • Did you use the five senses as tools to show not tell your story?
  • Use your self-edits to write a second draft.
    • Be amazed by how you have improved the text
  • Do a copyedit of the second draft, use online tools to help you
    • Spell & grammar checks
    • Search and replace tools
  • Ask other writers to act as beta readers:
    • Specify what you want from readers
    • Specify the desired turn around time
      • Be sure the anticipated return is reasonable for the length of the manuscript
      • Don’t resent a no response, timing is everything
      • Be willing to reciprocate
  • Read through the provided edits with care
    • Consider every comment and use those that resonate to complete your third draft

Presuming that you’ve made edits to the manuscript based on reader feedback, re-read the text with the above-bulleted self-edit questions in mind, performed a second tools scan, and made all changes you can identify you will have a completed third draft and you haven’t spent a cent. Congratulations!

Time to hire an editor.

How do you find the right editor?

See you next post. Happy writing.







What is True for Your Story?


Truth is a tricky word. It is especially tricky for writers. Some of you may think truth is only relevant to non-fiction. Some of you may argue truth is fact. Truth in writing is a kaleidoscope or crazy quilt. There as many truths in a book as there are characters. Our job is to write characters or memories (another tricky word) true for each personality, in keeping with the story told. Is it factual? Did a hurricane happen on June 12, 1956, at noon or at 6:00 p.m.? You can look up facts online but the said search will never relate how you felt during that storm or how your character reacted to immediate danger in an intense situation. The fact cannot convey the terror, the cruelty, and wonder of the act. It does not define a family’s reactions as their home is destroyed by a fickle wind while their neighbor’s house escapes damage. It cannot convey the grateful sense of survival when life is measured as greater than tangible goods.


Truth plays another role in writing. As we write we may decide to include topics that make us uncomfortable. We may worry about what others will think when they read the material or we fret that we are going too or not far enough. The concerns can be evidenced by our physical reactions: a headache, tightness in the chest or a queasy stomach as we write. Often we avoid topics that cause us to feel vulnerable.

Vulnerability is where truth in writing resides. When you have a physical reaction to your work, meditate on the reaction. What is at the root of the fear, the tension, the sense of dis-ease? When you write a section that challenges your intellectual ideas of truth, it doesn’t mean that the words are emotionally invalid. Truth in writing is more complex than facts. Truth in writing may not be equivalent to truth in your daily life, but it can be true for your character, the plot and the outcome of your writing.

Remember your draft is about creation. A draft is a free fall. The time to let go. The time to trust you, the writer. Ignore the voice that urges you to cut and refine as you go. Simultaneous edits have a vampiric effect. The corpse appears alive but it has no lifeblood.

Surprise yourself by reviewing a full draft. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and create your strongest work. This is your free pass to get all of the truths, feelings, and reactions of your story on the page without internal or external critics.


Make Your Own Rules

If you write and you want to learn more about your craft you’ve probably read dozens of articles that include the following:

The 3 rules of…

7 rules to…

If you want to be published follow the 10 rules…

Preface the word rule with a number between one and ten and you are well on your way to a silver bullet article or blog.  Why silver bullet? Like a diet that starts on New Year’s Day, our magical thinking likes to believe the last set of rules read will rock our writing world. We don’t like to accept that a successful diet requires less food and more exercise and successful writing requires, wait for it, writing. You become a better writer by writing. Bummer, huh?

As a writing instructor, I’ve seen eager faces wait for the silver-platter epiphany. I’ve also experienced the group reaction of eight students who become simultaneously crestfallen at the reality of writing as a practice.

If you need rules as a writer, make your own. Define your writing ritual. My writing ritual is of little value to you. I can’t tell you which space resonates with you. I can’t say whether you should sit or stand, use a keyboard, a number 2 pencil, or a quill, play music as you write or meditate before you begin. Writing is personal. Success is defined by you and the goals you set. Success is reached by the recipe you create to attain your goals. Stay true and practice, practice, practice until you become the writer you want to be.


Happy Writing.

The Memoirist’s Dilemma – December 6, 2017 6:00 pm



Every writer struggles with TRUTH. It is a particular battle for the memoir writer. The Memoirists Dilemma helps you navigate the sometimes murky waters of life to write your story. We pinpoint the relevant and relative scope, time frame and truth of your work. Whose truth? Your truth! You’ve lived an interesting life; let’s get it on the page. Limit 8


Write to Finish – A Road Map to Publication

Write to Finish is crafted for novelists and memoirists who struggle to overcome hurdles and blocks on the road to completion. We will work to enhance detail, character, and place for a solid draft and create a project plan to get to the finish line. The class includes but is not limited to the review process, editing, readers, and submission. Get the tools to bring your book to fruition.  The class is limited to 8

Write to Finish – A Road Map to Publication

Write to Finish is crafted for novelists and memoirists who struggle to overcome hurdles and blocks on the road to completion. We will work to enhance detail, character, and place for a solid draft and create a project plan to get to the finish line. The class includes but is not limited to the review process, editing, readers, and submission. Get the tools to bring your book to fruition.  The class is limited to 8

© 2024 Lee Heffner – Author