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Writing Process

How to Think About Writing Prompts

I use several kinds of prompts. Most often, I use an entire poem. I see poems as secular prayer, a way of borrowing a bit of genius when I myself feel depleted. Reading a poem, or hearing it, puts me in a literary mind, a new state. I think of it as kindling; a little bit of torched wood tossed onto my log. Or the way, at a peace vigil, we hold candles and pass the flame to our neighbor.

Book Talk


Writing Process

How to Get Through Horrifying Process of Literary Agent Submissions

I have reached a critical point in the list of orderly steps in the long march to publication which I have been given by others and have dutifully written down. They are/were as follows:

1.     Write the shitty first draft
2.     Read it and make less shitty
3.     Send it to Kind & Wise Mentory Editor Who Has Read James Joyce
4.     Laugh and cry as you read her Kind & Wise suggestions; take 99% of them. Redraft.
5.     Send new draft to 28-Year-Old Editor Who Doesn’t Remember President Nixon But Is Much Smarter Than I
6.     Enjoy life with no novel to think about and write songs and poems while 28 y-o reads and edits draft.
7.     Receive edits from 28-y-o and cry for a month. Decide you are not a novelist. Pick yourself up off the carpet and have a Zoom call with her in which she tells you she had a very hard time editing your novel because it was practically perfect.
8.     Wonder if you are crazy.
9.     Take 69% of her suggestions and finish the draft.
10.  Write a synopsis which is harder than writing the novel
11.  Write the query letter which is harder than writing the synopsis
12.  Make a list of agents you’d love to work with by finding names in the acknowledgements pages of your favorite novels. Cross off the dead ones.

Book Talk

The Big Idea

Writing Process

On Point of View

Practically the first thing you need to decide when writing fiction is “who is telling this story?” Historically, we novelists have had many options. When novel-writing in English began in…

Book Talk


Writing Process

The Road and The Vaster Wilds: Anti-Odysseys (Part 3 in an ongoing series)

By happenstance, I read Cormac McCarthy’s 2007 apocalyptic novel The Road and followed it with Lauren Groff’s latest, The Vaster Wilds. It was September, technically still summer, but both of these novels take place in life-threateningly cold weather, and each author made me feel that cold, that terror of being consumed by the natural world, an awareness of the scarcity of essential resources, the distrust of other human beings–even our intimates. As I revisit these novels today, fittingly on Halloween, when the air in Massachusetts has grown chill and my body continues to fight against that novel corona virus, I find myself sharing some of these primal fears. When the terrain is unknown and the enemy invisible, who and what can we trust?




River Roads

Here’s the strange thing about me: I can completely forget I’m a musician until I arrive at the gig. It’s as though that part of me is a set of clothes for another season, kept in a moth-proof box in the attic, out of mind until the weather changes.

Writing it up in the garden graphic
Workshops and Retreats

About Nerissa Nields

Nerissa Nields with blurry background

Nerissa Nields has been devoted to the written (and spoken and sung) word for her entire life. Best known as primary songwriter for the beloved and lauded folk-rock band The Nields, she has written 21 CDs-worth of songs. As an undergrad at Yale University, she won the Steve Adams Prize––for community service and the performing arts to the senior who best exemplifies a love of life, an enthusiasm, and a concern for others––for founding Yale’s Premiere American Folk Singing group, “Tangled up in Blue,” which now, 35 years later, is one of Yale’s most popular groups. Upon graduation, she started her own folk rock band with her sister, Katryna Nields. The Nields went on to major label success, garnering a huge nationwide fan base and much critical acclaim. In 1997, at the height of touring, recording and performing, Nerissa decided to become a novelist, and began writing daily in the back seat of the 15-passenger van (with attached trailer).  By April of 2002, she got a call from Randi Reisfeld, Acquisitions for Trade Paperback at Scholastic. Randi’s college-age children, it turned out, were Nields fans, and they had made their mom a mix tape. 

Nerissa’s publications include a YA novel Plastic Angel (Scholastic 2005), and All Together Singing in the Kitchen: Creative Ways to Make and Listen to Music as a Family (Roost Books/Shambala, 2011,) as well as How to Be an Adult: A Creative Guide to Navigating Your Twenties (Mercy House, 2013). Her work has been published in Brevity, American SongwriterJ Journal: New Writing on Justice, Performing Songwriter, The Huffington Post, The Maine Review, and the Boston Globe. She received a BA cum laude with distinction in the major (English) from Yale University and an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is currently working on The Nields’ twenty-second album and the third novel in a trilogy about a family band.

View of the writer's studio from above - people sitting on sofas writing

As Nerissa worked on her first drafts, she began encouraging others to write in short, regular, timed bursts in a group setting. In 2003, Writing It Up in the Garden was born. Today, she teaches students from all over the country in person as well as via Zoom. Her students have gone on to be published by Big 5 houses. They have completed and produced full-length plays, novels, memoir, academic texts, self-help and countless poems and songs. 


These writing retreats are a gift to myself and to my writing. They allow me to focus in on my craft in a beautiful and supportive space. The energy of songwriters and writers of all genres coming together and creating is electric. It is place to discover new projects, shatter writer’s block, shape and develop existing work, and convene with amazing people. Also the food is yummy.

-Kate Cebik

Of all of the writing instructors I have had the pleasure of working with, including time spent in the west of Ireland at the Yeats Summer School program, Nerissa has a unique talent and expertise at detailed and authentic instructive feedback. I’ve sat in at Breadloaf, sat in at The New York State Writers Institute at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, sat in on the last sessions at the Frost Workshops in Bennington Vermont among others. Nerissa is a teacher not by trade but by calling. She is a natural teacher and teaches from the heart and I see a deep affinity between how well she listens to all of us as we make our way through our writing and the deep emotional resonance of her music. The teacher’s spirit, her inclination, her ethical compass, her ways of being alert, her ways of knowing are magnificently present in both. Both her music and her teaching are instructive.  At first, that phrase sounded stodgy to my ears, but, on second thought, instructive in the sense of orientation.  She orients us.  It’s soul instruction.

—Kimberly Hamilton Bobrow, English Professor, Manchester Community College

Weekly Writing Workshops

COST: $360.00