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Taste Every Word has been waiting, lurking in my mind for many years. Finally it is here. I am so excited to let you know about this one day creative adventure in Florence.

Taste Every Word is my new Tuscan experience for those of you who love to write. Would you like to get together with me in Florence? Walk around Firenze together and work on your writing? Spend the day chatting about your blog or the travel articles you’d love to write? Let’s have breakfast, stroll my favourite ‘off the beaten track’ Florentine streets and have lunch together.

After breakfast and a one hour chat about your writing issues or queries, we’ll walk and talk through the San Lorenzo food markets.

Maybe you can’t make The Art of Writing in June. Perhaps you’re coming to Florence at another time over the next few years, but would still like help with how best to write your story.

Immerse yourself in deep observation, take notes and photos. Together we’ll go over how to add texture and colour through taste, smell and voice. Let’s experience Florence together, so that your readers will understand your words on a physical as well as intellectual level.

Then let’s have lunch together!

My goal is to fuel your imagination, resourcefulness and creativity when writing about every aspect of food and character.

Cooking and eating evokes powerful memories. Let’s trigger them! How can you use food in your story? Let’s examine your, or your character’s, emotional palette.

Find out more at my new website, www.tasteeveryword.com, and pass it along to your friends. Let’s meet in Florence!


The post Taste Every Word: A One Day Creative Adventure in Florence appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

What’s the optimum number of words for your novel? How many words should your book be? Does that word count change with genre? Do agents freak out when they see your 120,000 word MS submission?

This is the question that’s been buzzing around my writer’s world this week. My agents and publishers have always instructed me to keep to around 80,000 words. That advice made sense because two publishing contracts, The Promise and Death in the Mountains were for 80,000 words. So that seemed a sort of standard aspect of publishing contracts. I’ve signed contracts for less words, though. Naples, A Way of Love was for around 30,000 words. Walking Sydney was about 50,000 words.

But for writers who are in the middle of their first drafts, or culling their second drafts, the overall advice from agents is to keep it very tight.

Discussing storytelling techniques in one of our June retreats.

A writer this week old me that Lianne Moriarty’s books are around 130,000 words. Personally I wouldn’t dream of trying to write a 130,000 word book. I’m just not that confident. Even Lianne Moriarty’s first book was apparently 130,000 words. Not sure that we should take Lianne as a yardstick. Perhaps it’s best not to over-reach with your first book. Stay on point, stay tight and focused. Make sure you’re snaring your agent with those first five pages. That the story and themes in the body of your book don’t waver. I do know a writer who sent out a first MS submission of well over 200,000 words. Every agent sent her MS back saying her attachment was too long for them even to consider opening. Actually, I know several writers who have experienced this. Keep it tight!

To find out more I wrote to Folio Literary Management’s Jeff Kleinman. Jeff is also our special in-house agent at the Art of Writing in Florence this year. He will listen to pitches every morning and read 3,000 words from our writers. Jeff says:

Romances and women’s Fiction: 65-85K (women’s Fiction can be longer though)
Regular novels: 80-120K
Fantasy: 100-200K
Many publishing professionals don’t have a problem with longer works as long as EVERY single word is necessary. If you’re not sure every word is necessary, ask a good reader who’s a friend if s/he can cull any words from your opening page. Offer to pay her/him 1 euro for every word culled. There shouldn’t be any.

Matthew Ferrara teaching how to unlock creativity.

Know too, that if your word count feels as though it’s going over board, you can always talk to your agent, or publisher. They plan to make good money out of your fabulous words so they are keen to keep you on track too.

As writers, we work with words, not pages. A page can be muddling when you consider your font size and line spacing. So your work as a writer is always on word count. Try to become accustomed to that. As well as 12 Font and double spacing.

Finding new inspiration

First, am so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to experience something new. I was shutting my mind off to creative revelations by not attending. BAD! (As Trump so eloquently puts it). Fresh, imaginative and innovative workshops are something that we should seek. Second, just being around creative people helps unblock me. So because of content + creative people I wrote some beautiful prose in the dedicated writing pauses over the afternoon. Several jammed up scenes flowed from my mind onto the page. I was free and unclogged somehow, as I staggered about the room blindfolded, trusting in my partner to keep me safe.

Marisa Gareffa’s Performance Art Workshop

In other news, now hold onto your hats, I recently attended a Performance Art Workshop. I baulked, I have to say, at going to this workshop because I am a writer. I couldn’t see how a Performance Art Workshop would help my creativity. Oh, my ignorance! The arrogance! The lovely Marisa Gareffa soon set me straight. She said her work is aimed at ‘unlocking stories from my body.’ Well goodness, I thought, I’d best give this a go. Who knows what my body has to say?

What writer can resist this?

Bypass the mind, enter the body; to discover what memories, stories, images, and dreamings are contained within. Every time you enter the body it will tell you something new, and we learn how to listen to its language. When deep memory speaks, even stones awaken to listen. A series of exercises for writers, performers, artists, or anyone interested in hearing what their body might have to say. However you express yourself, this workshop will offer you another entry into inspiration, and new ways of withdrawing material from your inner world.

If you’re interested and live in Florence, check out Marisa’s next workshop.

Talk to you next week. Till then happy writing!

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence, Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together. Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post What is the ideal word count for your novel? appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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Phew, the wave of New Year’s resolution Blogs with 2019 writing goals are over. Though that avalanche of What are your New Year’s Resolutions? are well intended, I do get a bit irritated by the end of it all. That’s because I don’t believe writing and truly doing what you love is a resolution. Writing is a way of life. That’s the difference. A resolution is a decision we are resolutely duty-bound to uphold. It’s a resolve we often break. Or that breaks us. Whereas writing is a lasting habit that develops through the love of what you’re doing. A way of your life.

For those of us who truly love expressing ourselves through the written word, writing makes us feel serene, satisfied and happy. So, like meditation, yoga or music, writing is essential to our wellbeing.

It’s all about a little bit of writing every day. That Art of Writing mantra of I’ll just write for 30 minutes, then before you know it, you’ve written for two hours.

We have to believe in ourselves. Understand that we are writers. Whether we are published or not makes no difference. We write because we love/need to write and if publication follows – great! If not, it doesn’t matter because you’re producing and creating something that you love. You will be halfway to your dream of publication simply because you are writing. It’s your way of life.

A couple of news updates: We are now offering free Webinars for former Art of Writing writers.

We’ve found that when you’re with us in Florence you write your best prose. You leave Florence in tremendously high spirits. You’ve found your voice, your pace and you’ve set aside your daily time to write (as a way of life). But then life gets in the way and you find it harder and harder to sit down and be still.

So, to help our writers keep in touch with their creativity, on January 31st, all Art of Writing Alumni are invited to join our Webinar on How Dialogue Moves Plot Forward.

Am jumping out of my skin at the thought of seeing all our old friends together, once more! Let me know if you’d like to join us.

Our Literary Agent for 2019 is Jeff Kleinman from Folio Literary Management in New York.

Jeff is looking forward to your 3,000 word MS submission and chatting with you about your future. Here’s some news from one of Jeff’s writers, Elizabeth Letts. In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Elizabeth discussed the inspiration behind her upcoming novel, FINDING DOROTHY, explaining how a photograph of Maud Baum and Judy Garland on the set of The Wizard of Oz set the book in motion. Click here if you’d like to read the interview in full.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence, Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together. Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post Forget your New Year’s writing goals; here’s why. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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What is the perfect Christmas gift for a writer? TIME TO WRITE.

Now I feel very strongly about this. If your children or partner or parents ask you what you’d like for Christmas, tell them you need time.

I love preparing the Christmas lunch for my family. But I don’t like getting caught up with all of the holiday lunches and dinners. And you know what it’s like in Italy – every day has two full-on meals. Lunch and dinner are three course meals and someone has to cook them. ME! So for Christmas, I’d like guilt free writing time. Somebody else can do lunch every day. Am happy to cook dinner (hint, hint – does anyone in my family actually read my Blogs?)

What is your chore? The job that someone could take from you, so that you can spend the day writing?

Can you nip out to a café some mornings? Plot, dream, plan and write out of the house? Distraction free!

Take-away is looking good too.

Doesn’t anyone want to go to a movie? While you stay home and write?

Not to mention how much time the food shopping takes over the holidays. How about you pass that duty on to someone and you write?

As we say at The Art of Writing: I’ll just write for 30 minutes. Then before you know it, you’ve written for 2 hours – if you have TIME.

Good luck in grabbing, negotiating, being given time to write over the Silly Season. I wish you all good words.

PS: The above comes with a warning. Guilt-free asking for time can also be a psychological grapple for many of us writers.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence on June 2-6 2019? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post The perfect Christmas gift for a writer. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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The Art of Writing by Lisa Clifford - 3M ago

By Matthew Ferrara

As writers, we often approach our stories by thinking about our audience. What do we want our readers to feel, to see, to experience through our tales? We get excited about taking them on a journey where they laugh, cry, get a little scared and hopefully love the ending. So we write, write, write in the hopes that we’ll get everyone there. And sometimes, when we look back at what we wrote, we find that somehow it doesn’t work. Not only won’t readers get there, we didn’t even get there ourselves. So what happened?

Should we just write another draft, or a third? Chuck it all out and start from scratch? Change the vocabulary to hit readers over the head with our point? Actually, the answer is none of these. The solution is something altogether different: It’s to forget about readers, that mass-group that Steinbeck called “the nameless, faceless audience” and instead write to one single reader. One person. Someone you know well enough that you can see them reading your words in your mind’s eye, and reacting to your words the way only they can react.

To forget the everyone and write for someone.

I learned this lesson from my career as a speaker. When you walk out on stage to 5,000 people in a room, there’s no way to be sure your message will reach them all, delight them all, convince them all that your story is right for them. Try as you might, you can’t make eye contact, let alone word-contact, with everyone. And you’re a speaker: someone who writes with their voice in real time under bright lights. So what do I do?

I speak to one person the entire time. Someone I can see right in the front row. If I can’t see them because it’s dark, then I imagine my best friend in the front row, sitting there, listening to my story. I talk as if it’s just us in the room, and I make my point as comfortably as if I could see their reactions to my words. This is how I know how to start, how to select my words, how to manage the page, and most of all, how to keep going. I turn a speech in front of everyone into a conversation with someone.

When I write, I do the same thing.

Rather than writing for the masses, to an audience I’ll never see or meet or hug, I imagine the person I want most to love my story. I envision them fully: What they’re wearing, how they’re sitting, how their eyes are moving, and so on. It helps me visualize when to slow down or speed up. Whether my words are too complex, or easy. Their reactions tell me when it’s time to use an example, or move the scene, or close the chapter.

One person makes all the difference to my writing. It takes the pressure off. No more worrying about pleasing the whole universe of readers, just tell a story to someone I know will already like it. I find more energy to keep writing, because I want to continue the conversation, to tell the next part, to my friend sitting there. And I immediately discover my voice, because it’s just me, telling my story, without any need to imitate anyone else’s style.

So why not try it? Who do you know that would love to hear your tale, who would sit there all night as you told it, and would feel it the way you meant it to be felt? Who can you sit next to you every time you pick up your pen and encourage you to keep going? As a writer, sometimes less is more. So erase your vision of the great-big-audience and redraft one person to write along with you. Dante had his Virgil. Who will you have, as you go on your writer’s journey?

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence on June 2-6 2019? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post Write for One Person appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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I am beyond excited to announce that acclaimed novelist, writer and journalist Shelley Weiner will be our creative writing teacher for our June 2019 retreat in Florence. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have her expert guidance on how to unlock creativity and cultivate the novel within. In her own words, here is her goal for our June 2019 retreat. 

When I started out as a writer of fiction, I’d be infuriated by the throwaway comment, ‘Oh, everyone has a novel inside them.’ Holding back my irritation, I’d respond with icy calm: ‘A story maybe – we all have stories. But have you any idea of the midwifery – the skills – required to deliver that story? To nurture and refine it, and transform it into literature?’ That would stop them.

And it would stop me too. I was struck (and remain struck and intrigued to this day) by the complexity of the process of conception, construction and performance required in the creation of a robust novel. At the same time I was strangely reassured by the realisation – an ‘aha’ moment! – that yes, indeed, we’re all filled with stories, and that the creative spark can light on any single one. The fire that takes hold, the urgency of having something to say, is surprising and exciting – whether it’s on a high literary plane or no more lofty than a sense of bursting into a room with a piece of juicy gossip to impart.

It is this exhilaration, the sense of fullness from within, that I want to capture during my sessions at the Art of Writing. While teasing out the tales that we carry with us, I’ll offer the tools to shape them into the beginnings of a novel.

We’ll start with character – not only who, but why, and how. We’ll invent with freedom, with total disregard for what people may think (it’s a retreat, after all – the constraints of real life are distant and irrelevant here). We’ll allow our characters to talk, plausibly and pointedly. And, of course, being in glorious Florence, we’ll let them act and react within the setting – romantically? Murderously? In deepest mourning? It’s all possible – and liberating – and satisfying.

When writing students ask me whether I think they’ve ‘got it’ (talent – genius – the means to a multi-million publishing deal …?), I prevaricate, for the question is a difficult one and my answer can be impactful, one way or another. The ‘it’, I finally tell them, rests on curiosity about life, about human behaviour. Equally important is the tenacity, the grit, to see a project through, from start to finish. As for that publishing deal – since no one knows what the next big commercial flashpoint will be, it can be distracting and counterproductive to write for a perceived market.

The only way forward, then, is to embark on a piece of fiction from the inside out and to remain inside it for as long as possible. To invent, construct, and perform until that work is sufficiently realised and robust enough to survive outside your orbit.

The Art of Writing provides the perfect environment for this to begin to happen. Under my firm but sympathetic guidance and in the company of like- minded people who all care about literature, participants will discover what it is they want to say and be provided with the most effective tools with which to say it.

My aim – and what more fertile environment than Florence in June? – is to help nourish ideas that may have long been dormant so that they’re vigorous enough to survive. And to have the best kind of creative fun along the way.

Shelley Weiner, November 2018

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence on June 2-6 2019? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post Your novel from the inside out… appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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Talking to Martha Ashby, UK HarperCollins’ Editorial Director, about the first time she picked up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

How did Martha Ashby know? When she fished this year’s UK Number One Seller, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, from the slush pile? How did she know that out of dozens of manuscripts on her desk, this story would trump them all?

‘It was Gail’s sense of voice that spoke to me immediately. I felt as though a real woman had sat down next to me and started to tell me about her life,’ said Martha when I spoke to her at this year’s Art of Writing summer retreat.

‘Within a very short time, maybe the first page, I knew this book was going to reach people’s hearts.’ Martha Ashby is an unassuming woman in publishing. She’s young, fresh faced and easy going, and her job is to read, choose and bid for manuscripts that could potentially turn over millions for HarperCollins. She definitely hit the jackpot with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

(left to right) Martha Ashby, Lisa Clifford, Jane Corry, and Matthew Ferrara at The Art of Writing.

‘I know if I love a book very quickly. I always know very soon. People get quite concerned about the question of whether or not you like the protagonist. That question is often discussed. But Eleanor spoke to me. She was funny, full of quirks and faults but I loved her. And that’s really what it was all about. I simply fell in love with this lonely, problem-filled but funny woman. I knew that I would bid for the rights for this book and was so relieved when we secured Gail.’

‘We only take on about two to five new writers a year. Maybe in a really good year we would take on eight. Gail had never published anything before. We have a lot of established writers we have to take care of, so we are careful taking on new writers.’

I always feel honoured interviewing people like Martha Ashby. The people whose tastes and judgements dictate what we read. I recorded Martha’s comments on Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine during the 2017 and 2018 Art of Writing in Florence, when she was our guest in-house editor. In 2017 Martha was editing the book, getting it ready with her team for publication. In 2018 it was on sale. During the two years Martha was with The Art of Writing, she listened with patience and care to each of our writer’s pitches individually and privately.

With luck, and hard work, maybe one of our writers will be next on her bid list. Keep writing, keep working and keep hoping.

Read The Bookseller’s take on Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine:

Gail Honeyman’s standout debut Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins) has been named Book of the Year at The British Book Awards.

The judges praised both the writing and the publishing of Honeyman’s debut, and said the combination made it a clear winner. The novel was “absolutely hilarious”, “literary and commercial” and struck an “amazing balance between light and dark”, while the campaign to promote it was “beautifully done”, they said.

HarperFiction acquired Eleanor Oliphant on the eve of the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair in an eight-way auction and straight away decided that they would make 2017 “the year of the Oliphant”. Its retail strategy was focused on Waterstones, independents and also Scotland, where the author is based. The title went into the Sunday Times Top 10 before Christmas, with nearly 290,000 copies sold across all formats before paperback publication. The Marketing Strategy behind the book was also recognised at the awards, winning Marketing Strategy of the Year in the trade awards.

I cannot wait to have you at our 2019 June 2-6 Art of Writing retreat

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence on June 2-6 2019? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post When an acquisitions editor gets a gut feeling from a manuscript in her slush pile. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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Starting your book? How can you keep it going? How is your narrative and dialogue? Your sense of place? How much does your first line matter? How important are your first five pages? These are all questions I’ve been mulling over – for YOU! What are the most important writing classes to cover over five nights and four days during our Florence retreat next June?

I adore learning how to create real characters – they’re what pull your readers’ emotions – but I also love learning about building a voice. Nowadays every agent I talk to goes on about ‘voice.’ It seems to be the fashionable word for publishers and agents right now. I mean, voice has always been important, but it seems to me ‘voice’ is the go-to word now for those actually buying or selling your work.

The Art of Writing June 2018 with Jane Corry

So, when planning 2019’s Art of Writing, how important are writing classes on suspense? Engaging your reader, so thatthey simply must turn the page? Vital, of course! It’s all essential: they’re all intertwined. So I am setting that class up too. Plus advice on how to build your social media platform. As well as more on narrative pace and momentum, along with the arc of your story.

It’s impossible to choose one focus over another. It’s all too important. So nothing will be left out. Next June 2-7 will have everything, as much as possible. All of it. Including leading literary agent Jeff Kleinman flying over from New York for our writers to pitch their ideas, plots, or books. It’s imperative you have the opportunity to sell your work, as well as improve it.

Suffice to say, all these writing classes are in. Sorry. You’ll be so tired you’ll be dragging yourself to the local piazza for wine or an espresso. Your brain will be so full of writing information you won’t be able to choose between lasagne or spaghetti carbonara. But you’ll be so inspired, your fingers will sing on the keyboard. Your pen will dance on the page.

That’s my dream. That you’ll be brimming with confidence. That nothing will stop you from doing what you love. Writing.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence, Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together. Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post The writing classes we can’t do without in our 2019 writer’s retreat. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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There has to be a way to get some words down. Not more words, just some words.

It’s summer in Florence. August, the month when no one works. Though that’s no excuse. Still, all the Florentines have left for the beach or the mountains. Florence is full of hot tourists trying to find their way to the Duomo. Temperatures are up to 40 degrees. My kids are on school holidays. The days are long and lazy – every one of them blue. Along with 99% of Italians, my husband is also on vacation. Luring me to the beach with promises of spaghetti alle vongole or risotto al mare, under a striped awning with a glass of cold wine. How on earth can I write my 10,000 words this month with all these temptations?

Enter the 250 words per day rule. That’s it, as low as I can go and still move my bookforward. It has to be the way to maintain some sort of flow. While my discipline is out the window, emergency measures are necessary. JUST 250 WORDS A DAY!

The thought ‘I should be writing,’ burns in my brain and makes my summer life really difficult. Trying to shake the ‘I should be writing’ chant is impossible. So I am trying out this daily writing habit – just 250 words per day.

When I don’t write, I am anxious. When I do write, I am happy, self-assured and fulfilled.

Do you want to try the 250 a day word rule with me? And let us know how you go? Or do you have any secrets, tips, formulas that can help me get through this Italian August with something to show for it?

Seriously, let me know.

PS: This Blog is 295 words, does that count?

The post Start a daily writing habit. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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It’s all too easy to feel burned out from writing when we’re struggling with deadlines and battling with an incomplete manuscript. The love of writing can so easily transform into a daily effort to get words on paper, where we wrestle with our muse and our creativity. 

It’s not easy rekindling your love for creating when the very thought of writing exhausts you, and you dread going to your desk. So how do you fall back in love with writing?

As one of my favourite creative teachers, Julia Cameron, says: ‘Do something for yourself that you normally wouldn’t do. In order to have a real relationship with our creativity we must take the time and care to cultivate it.’

So nurture the artist within! It can be something as simple as an hour in a café, with a pen and paper, making a list of all the story ideas you want to write. Don’t worry about deadlines or time constraints, but do let your imagination wander and let yourself feel the throb and excitement of new ideas. Knowing that if you are a part of this Blog, you are a creative, here are some creative gift ideas to nurture your creativity and and help you fall back in love with writing:

Buy yourself a lovely new notebook, one that you always thought was too expensive for yourself.

Buy yourself some sweet little pot plants for your windowsill or garden.

Get those pots of rosemary, sage and basil – even if it’s just because they smell nice!

Buy some inexpensive water colours or sepia water colour pens and take the time to draw or paint some pages in your notebook, while you listen to your favourite music.

Get that special bottle of wine, special coffee or special tea – your favourite, not your child, mother or spouse’s favourite!

Buy a ticket to your favourite band, show, production or play.

Make or buy your favourite sauce, relish or jam.

Go for a walk to your favourite museum or art gallery, or browse your favourite shop.

Make a date with yourself to go to some different flea markets or foreign food shop.

Read this blog on how photography can help you improve your writing, and this one on knowing when you and your writing need oxygen.

Buy at least one novel from a local bookstore (and spend a morning, afternoon, or whole day browsing books!).

This summer, stay cultured, stay calm and stay happy on the inside. Take breaks, and don’t be afraid to step away from your writing. Remember, the only way to truly nurture your writing and your creativity is to first nurture yourself

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence, Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post How to fall back in love with writing. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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