Category Archives: Essay Writing

The Book Whisperer Reflects on Journaling & Wordsmith Deck Prompts



For those who like to write journals but occasionally (or often) find themselves stuck for a topic, Wordsmith Deck from BestSelf Co,, offers a way to get out of a rut or to inspire thoughts.

The back of the box provides the following quotation from William Wordsworth: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

The Wordsmith Deck contains 100 prompt cards in six categories:

Life, Education & Career, Love & Relationships, Self-Reflection, Random, and World.

The best part about using the Wordsmith Deck? No rules! Writers can shuffle the cards and choose one as a starting point for a journal entry. Perhaps one day, writing about relationships is on the writer’s mind, so he/she selects a card from that category.

As the creators of Wordsmith Deck point out, the prompts are reusable! That is, a writer could write by following a given prompt one time and then still write about that same prompt another time in a different frame of mind.

Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP, wrote “The Health Benefits of Journaling” for, Purcell explains the benefits of journaling on a regular basis. She emphasizes that journaling can clarify thoughts and encourage creativity among other benefits.

Alan Henry wrote “Why You Should Keep a Journal (and How to Start Yours) for, Henry reiterates Purcell’s claims and cites university studies which promote the benefits of regular journaling habits. Henry explains that the “very act of keeping a journal can help you brainstorm.”

When I taught Comp I and II, I had a student who worked in construction while he was attending college. During one of our conversations, he told me he kept a journal. In the journal, he not only wrote about ideas that occurred to him, he also kept track of shipments of construction materials, including dates of delivery and contents as well as condition of the delivered items. The journal had saved his company money when disputes arose over delivered goods because he had a record.

Journaling should not depend upon the kind of notebook the writer uses. Often, would-be writers focus on the materials or getting the right place to write rather than simply getting to the business of writing itself. Use an inexpensive spiral notebook, a blank book from the Dollar Store, or write at the computer, but write.

Some of the prompts from Wordsmith Deck are listed below.

“Where would you most like to live? (And why aren’t you living there already?)”

“Where are you still carrying old pain? How can you let it go?”

“What conversation do you need to have today?”

“What’s the best career compliment you’ve ever received? Describe the situation.”

Try journaling for a week. Then assess the benefits you feel following that week of journaling. Don’t make the journaling a task or chore; make it a delight, something to enjoy. Don’t set the bar too high at first. Decide you will spend 10 minutes (or whatever suits your time limits) a day for a week.

Get busy journaling!



The Book Whisperer Enjoys Dreyer’s English


Praise for Benjamin Dreyer’s Dreyer’s English is easily found. Newsday says that “Dreyer can help you…with tips on punctuation and spelling…. Even better: He’ll entertain you while he’s at it.” Now, when has one, dear Reader, ever seen such a statement about an English handbook or style book? Publisher’s Weekly in its starred review calls Dreyer’s English “that rare writing handbook that writers might actually want to read straight through, rather than simply consult.”

Benjamin Dreyer is copy chief at Random House. He published Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style in 2019.

In Chapter 1, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Your Prose),” Dreyer challenges writers to refrain from using the following words in their writing for one week: very, rather, really, quite, and in fact.” However, he does not stop there. He continues with just meaning merely and so as an intensifier, pretty, of course, and surely among other widely and over-used words and expressions. I am reminded of Mark Twain’s advice: “Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” For those of us who are our own editors, we should remove damn in our revising.

As one tempted to use too many exclamation marks in informal, personal emails and personal letters, I enjoyed Dreyer’s discussion of exclamation marks covered in Chapter 3, “Assorted Things to Do (and Not to Do) with Punctuation.” Dreyer says to “go light on the exclamation points. When overused, they’re bossy, hectoring, and ultimately, wearying.” I remember a student in my Honors Comp I class who told me her third-grade son told her she needed to use more exclamation marks in her writing to jazz it up. She and I concluded that she would ignore that sage advice for purposes of writing essays in Comp I and II.

Dreyer also covers semicolons in Chapter 3. He begins that sub-heading with the sample sentence “I love semicolons like I love pizza; fried port dumplings; Venice, Italy; and the operas of Puccini.” Then he follows with an explanation of why he used semicolons in the sentence as well as giving several alternate versions of the sentence without the semicolons.

Chapter 8, “peeves and Crotchets” may well be my favorite chapter. That chapter begins with this sentence: “I’ve never met a writer or other word person who didn’t possess a pocketful of language peeves and crotchets — words or uses of words that drive a normally reasonable person into unreasonable fits of pique, if not paroxysms of rage—and I doubt I’d trust anyone who denied having a few of these bugaboos stashed away somewhere.” As an English prof, I had my share of peeves and crotchets and they remain with me even in retirement. Read Chapter 8 to discover Dreyer’s own peeves and crochets.

Another favorite chapter is number 10, “The Confusables.” Dreyer explains that spell check offers writers help, but it cannot detect the wrong word. The first words he tackles in Chapter 10 are a lot/allot, allotted, allotting. I spent countless hours reminding students how to use these words properly. I agree with his assessment of using alright rather than all right. Dreyer explains “I continue to crinkle my nose at the sight of it, perhaps because I can’t see that it has a worthwhile enough distinction from all right to justify its existence.” He does go on to report that others may differ with him.

Dreyer provides additional resources for the thoughtful writer. He likes “Theodore Bernstein’s Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins, one of the charmingest, smartest, most readable books on the subject of language I’ve ever seen.” He also recommends several Web sites:,,, and among others.

Borrow or buy a copy of Dreyer’s English. You will be charmed by this English handbook and learn from it as well.



The Book Whisperer Scored Books!


At the August Tulsa Community College Retirees’ meeting, the Book Whisperer scored books! Don Mathieson presented a quiz on Oklahoma trivia, and I won! The first prize was How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space? by William R. Pogue. As a bonus, Don also gave me a copy of Oklahomeland (Okla Home Land) by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, 2017-2018 Oklahoma Poet Laureate. Of course, the prizes came with strings: write reviews.


William R. Pogue was born in Okemah, OK. He earned his BS from Oklahoma Baptist University and an MS in mathematics from Oklahoma State University. He also received an honorary doctorate from Oklahoma Baptist University. He served in the Air Force and became an astronaut as well as a teacher, public speaker, and author.

As an astronaut, he was commander of the last crew of Skylab where the members set a record of 84 days which remained unbroken for twenty years. During their time in orbit, the crew completed a number of research experiments.

How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?  has an introduction by John Glenn. In that introduction, Glenn ends with “I urge all readers to develop an inquisitive approach to the world around you. That is the first step toward solving the challenging puzzles and intriguing mysteries of life.” That’s good advice for all.

Pogue begins the book with answers to questions about himself, airplanes, astronauts, the military, and sundry other topics related to serving in the Air Force and as an astronaut. The whole book is written in question and answer format. That format allows Pogue to cover a wide range of subjects related to his life. That format also allows readers to dip into and out of the book rather than reading it in one sitting.

The appendix covers psychological effects, information on space camps, and recommended readings and other references. For anyone interested in space exploration, the book provides useful first-hand information as well as resources for further study.

And now for something completely different (for you Monte Python fans), let’s turn to Oklahomeland (Okla Home Land) by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish. Mish is 2017 – 2018 Oklahoma Poet Laureate. She is an accomplished poet, writer, and scholar with an impressive resume. Find more about her including a schedule of events at this Web site:


Mish, obviously, is a poet; she is also an essayist, editor, speaker, and poetry workshop leader. In Oklahomeland, Mish introduces readers unfamiliar with Oklahoma to “compelling narratives and imagery [that] entice you into caring as much as she does.”

Mish has won a number of awards for her work as a poet and editor. She won the 2010 Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry, the 2010 Western Heritage Award for Poetry from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the 2010 WILLA Award for Poetry from Women Writing the West.

Oklahome includes essays on “Who/What? Oklahomans/Writing,” “A Review of Woody Guthrie’s House of Earth,” and “Looking for (Ralph) Ellison” among others.

Perhaps the most poignant is “The Oklahoma We Call Home.” In that essay, Mish writes about leaving Oklahoma at eighteen “to travel, to live in five other states and visit many others, to stay for extended periods in continental Europe, but I never felt at home in the landscape anywhere other than Oklahoma.”

She continues in “The Oklahoma We Call Home” to tell stories of time spent with her grandfather and of using the words he taught her. For example, she writes, “I call cicadas ‘locusts,’ because that’s what Grandpa called them.” Mish describes her grandfather’s voice as “musical…a soft baritone that felt more like velvet than cotton.”

When Mish goes on to say her grandfather and other men in the family did not talk much because “the women in our family didn’t leave much conversation for the men,” readers will feel as if they are sitting on the front porch at a family gathering. Perhaps a given reader’s own family is much the same.

Near the end of “The Oklahoma We Call Home,” Mish muses, “I’ve been gone from Oklahoma for a long time – most of 15 years. I needed to come home. The land calls me. I missed the trees, the abundant wildlife, the wind – and the smell.” Mish’s writing is evocative of the place of which she writes. She covers the warts in Oklahoma as well as the beauty and the talent.

Mish is contributing editor to Sugar Mule, “”a long-standing, world-converging website for general readers”:  Sugar Mule offers “fiction, essays, book reviews, all types of prose and poetry.” See Sugar Mule’s Facebook page: for the monthly flash fiction selection.




The Book Whisperer Learns About Gender-Neutral Pronouns


My friend Monte, a fellow retired English professor, gave me a copy of A Quick & Easy Guide to THEY/THEM PRONOUNS by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson. She suggested I read the book and pass it along to someone else to read and pass along and so it goes as Kurt Vonnegut would say. In fact, Bongiovanni and Jimerson provide much the same suggestion on page 6: “We want to keep this book short and affordable, so you can give it to friends, family, co-workers, or random people on the street.” Above, the top picture is Archie Bongiovanni and the lower picture is Tristan Jimerson.

The book itself is funny and engaging while making the point that pronouns matter. By reading A Quick & Easy Guide to THEY/THEM PRONOUNS, you will have knowledge about gender neutral pronouns yet not “have to do all the heavy lifting yourself.”


Archie identifies “as non-binary. This means I don’t really identify as male or female.” He uses they/them pronouns. Tristan identifies “as cisgender, which means I identify with the gender assigned to me at birth. In my case, male.”

A Quick & Easy Guide to THEY/THEM PRONOUNS written in graphic novel style continues with Archie and Tristan explaining gender-neutral pronouns and their uses. The two friends work well together in explaining why we should care about gender-neutral pronouns and which ones to use.


In fact, at the end of A Quick & Easy Guide to THEY/THEM PRONOUNS, Archie and Tristan provide “quick and easy scripts for when you don’t know what to say.” From the book:

How to ask about someone’s pronouns: “Hi, I’m ___________ and I use __________pronouns. What about you?”

“What pronouns do you all use?”

“Let’s all go around and say our names and pronouns.”

As one who grew up in Arkansas saying y’all, I am quite comfortable with the language of the second question above.

Tristan and Archie go on to give advice on times when a person “messes up someone’s pronouns”:

“Oops, I’m sorry. (Then carry on with whatever you were saying but with the correct pronouns.”

“Oh, shoot, Sorry, I’m still wrapping my head around all of this, but I’m boing to get better. Please correct me if I mess up again.” (Then carry on with whatever you were saying, but with the correct pronouns.)


At the end of the book, Tristan and Archie list extra resources found on the Web.

Archie Bongiovanni is a cartoonist. They also teach comic courses. One fact people should know about Archie is “they will always eat the entire bag of Doritos in one sitting.”

Tristan Jimerson is a freelance copywriter, having been published in Creativity magazine and The Egoist. He also has comedy spots on The Moth. He writes copy for “everything from exercise equipment to electronics.” A fact about Tristan is that he “grew up on the rolling plains of rural Iowa, and after deciding that wasn’t cold enough, moved to Minnesota.”


Guidelines for Writing About Literature


Guidelines for Writing About Literature

If you are required to write about literature for a composition course or literature survey course, you will find helpful tips here. This article focuses on writing about short stories, but the ideas here relate to other forms of literature a well. Start by reading the short story at least twice. Read the first time for the pleasure of reading and to see what happens. Then read again to help you identify the theme(s), symbols, foreshadowing, point of view and/or other literary devices. Once you have read the story twice, you have a better understanding of what happens as well as why the characters act as they do.

Give your essay a creative title, not the title of the short story alone. You may wish to write the essay and return to the title, but remember to add this vital element. The title, like a newspaper headline, functions to attract the readers’ attention and hint at the subject to follow. If you were writing about “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, you might consider a title like this one: The Mad Woman in “A Rose for Emily.” Another title for an essay on Faulkner’s story could be like this one: Emily’s Madness. In the actual title, omit the period. Do not put your own title in italics, all capital letters, bold, or underlining. If you do include the author’s title, put that title only in quotation marks.

When writing an essay about a short story, identify the story by author and title early in the introductory paragraph. Put the title in quotation marks. Give the author’s first and last names the first time you identify the author. Thereafter, refer to the author by the last name, never the first name alone. Be sure you spell the author’s and character’s names correctly. If we misspell a person’s or a character’s name, we no longer refer to the same person or character. For example, Michael Meyers is not the same as Michael Myers even though the difference is one “e.”

In your essay, give relevant details, but do not retell the story. If you were writing about Alice Munro’s “An Ounce of Cure,” you could identify the unnamed, teen narrator’s plight with a sentence somewhat like the following: Munro’s narrator suffers from her first heartbreak when Martin Collingwood tells her he is breaking up with her. The narrator follows this heartbreak by making bad choices which lead to long-term consequences. Then use the story itself to support your assertions. What bad decisions does the narrator make? What happens as a result of her poor choices? How does she resolve those problems? Or does she?

Other Technical Points

Write about the literature in the present tense. EX: The narrator follows, the narrator chooses, Alice Munro indicates….. Avoid the second person, you. Write in third person, using third person pronouns and any noun such as character, student, and author. Avoid contractions; write words out: do not, cannot, and will not, for example. Always weave quotations into your text; they should never sit by themselves. EX: In “An Ounce of Cure,” the narrator sees the alcohol Mr. Berryman has left on the counter. In retelling the incident, the narrator explains, “Now here is where my ignorance, my disastrous innocence, comes in” (Munro 18).

Use these guidelines to help you write the essay, but they can also help you in the proofreading of the final draft. Good luck!