Are you having difficulty getting words on the page? 

Is your Romeo struggling to find the words to woo Juliet?

Is your Ahab adrift at sea, floundering to find his white whale?

Are you a writer in search of your own Neverland?  Has that second star to the right faded in the morning sky?

If so, then you may be suffering from pen pox.

Don’t worry. There is help to be had.  Pen & Paper has the prescription for what is plaguing your prose.

You might need a dose of Once Upon a Time.

Or a measure of Happily Ever After.  Take, as needed, when symptoms of pen pox arise.

What are the symptoms of pen pox?

Music is the Metaphor

Music is a metaphor for many things here at Pen & Paper.  Just as writers use metaphors to reach their audience, I use metaphors to teach mine.

If you asked me today to go sit in a room, all by myself, and write a story – for hours and hours – then my eyes would light up with anticipation.


Because that sounds like fun to me.  It doesn’t sound like work…or worse.

Attend, while I tell a tale.

For most of my formative years I was heavily involved in music. At first, I just loved to listen to music – mostly classical. Then, as I grew up, I learned that I could make music – both as a musician and a composer.

My dream/goal/desire was to be a professional musician. I practiced daily, took private lessons, and was a part of several orchestras in and outside of high school. I was exposed to great musicians, great music, and great music teachers.  These experiences stoked the flames. My passion for music, already hot, grew hotter still when I was able to play alongside professionals. This was going to be my life.

There was a grand narrative that I had written in my mind. I would go to the university and then triumphantly emerge from my undergraduate studies with a degree in music performance.

In order to gain entrance to the university’s music program, I had to do an audition. It did not go well.  I flubbed it – a case of the nerves. Indeed, there was a lot riding on this audition – all of my dreams/goals/desires. It was a blow to my ego but I was undeterred. I enrolled in all of the music classes that I would have otherwise taken had and I been accepted into the program. I even took a class in music composition – if I couldn’t make the music, then I would write it. The revised plan was to study music, practice, and audition again after the first semester. It was not unusual to audition more than once before being accepted because it was one of the top programs in the nation.

Over the course of the school year, a realization dawned on me.

“I’m not like these people.  At all.  I don’t think like them.  I do not experience the world like them.  They are musicians.  I am not.”

Certainly, I could read music, discuss music theory, and perform music. I could do all of these things, but I did not think musically. There were no melodies or harmonies running through my head. I had no ear for music – not in the way that a true musician does.  It was impossible for me to hear something in my mind and then make that unheard sound a reality.

There was a second audition.  A second failure.   And a hard dose of reality.

There was a huge leap from being one of the top musicians in a large high school to playing at the collegiate level.  A more professional level.

And I was not there.

What was more, I hated sitting in a practice room for hours on end.  Not only was I supposed to practice my own instrument, but I had to learn the piano as well.  Certainly, in high school I had practiced regularly – daily, but only for about an hour or so. These people – these musicians – practiced for hours on end. Every single day. Sitting alone in a cramped practice room with not one, but two, instruments, was awful.

So what happened to that grand narrative that I had written in my mind?

It had to be scrapped and rewritten…from scratch.  Not an easy task.  But it was, and is, my work.  And I revel in it.  It is worth noting, that throughout this site and the courses offered herein, I will ask you to reflect upon your own thoughts about yourself as a writer.  This is your work.

So how did I rewrite this narrative?  I learned, over time, (and with help) that I am a storyteller.  I always have been.

And I learned that music was the background to the narratives that have always been running through my head. We all know that a movie without climactic music swelling at the perfect point is less of a movie. But this music is in the background. It enhances the story, but it is not the story. For me, music was the undercurrent to the stories in my head. It had always been thus, but I did not know it then. I do know it now.

Okay, so what?  What does this have to do with writing?  What does this tale have to do with this course?

I want you to know what I write and what I teach.  I am going to use the metaphor of music to explain this.  I want you to listen to two pieces of music.  Each one represents a literary style.  You will hear a clear difference between the two.

So, for the purpose of instruction, a question is in order.

Do you want to write this… (Note: This is your first assignment.  I want you to listen to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  Pay close attention to the first three minutes of the concerto as I will reference the opening measures of the music within the course materials.  Remember…there are no accidents in crime, writing, or teaching.  There is a reason I chose this concerto and this particular recording of the concerto.  It is only about 35 minutes long… and it is amazing.  So listen and enjoy.)


Or this? (Note: I only want you to listen to a few measures of Schoenberg – just enough to get the gist of his music.)

Commercial Versus Literary Fiction

There is a stark contrast between the two YouTube videos.  One video contains the music of Tchaikovsky and the other contains the music of Schoenberg.

Which do you prefer?

For the purposes of this course, Tchaikovsky represents commercial fiction and Schoenberg represents literary fiction. What is the difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction?  You can ask what is the difference between the two styles of music and you will have your answer.

Both Tchaikovsky and commercial fiction are read and enjoyed by a wide audience, while Schoenberg and literary fiction are read and enjoyed by very few.

This course is designed to help writers understand the craft of writing commercial fiction.

There are certain books, symphonies, and paintings that are considered greats.  What is it that makes them great?  Within each of these disciplines – writing, music, and painting – an artist must have an understanding of the components necessary to create something worthy of enjoyment by a wide audience.

From the basics of getting words on the page to plotting your tale, this course covers the essentials…and more.


“Literary gentlemen, editors, and critics think that they know how to write, because they have studied grammar and rhetoric; but they are egregiously mistaken. The art of composition is as simple as the discharge of a bullet from a rifle, and its masterpieces imply an infinitely greater force behind them.”

Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)

Thoreau is not wrong in his assessment of literati.  Good writing is not found in the study of grammar and rhetoric.  You will not find such lessons herein.

Instead, what you will find is wisdom gleaned from experience.  The lessons found in this course are not meant to be hard and fast rules.  They are not intended to be taken as the Ten Commandments for Writers.  Use them, or not, as you see fit.

Do you want to find out more specific information about Pen & Paper?  Click on the link below.


Do you want personalized instruction in the craft of writing fiction?

Pen & Paper Lessons are like private music lessons – only we are dealing with words, paragraphs, and pages instead of notes, clefs, and musical phrases.

To find out more, click on the link below.