Don’t Lose Heart: Four Questions with Madeleine D’Arcy

Madeleine D’Arcy/Photo by Claire O’Rorke

Madeleine D’Arcy is a fiction writer based in Cork City, Ireland. Her second book, “Liberty Terrace,” a linked short story collection, was published in Oct. 2021. Her début short story collection, “Waiting for the Bullet” (Doire Press, 2014) won the Edge Hill Readers’ Choice Prize 2015 (UK).In 2010 she received the Hennessy Literary Award for First Fiction and the Hennessy New Irish Writer Award.Her work has been published in several anthologies and her short fiction has been listed in a variety of competitions, most recently the Craft International Short Story Award 2020 (US) and the An Post Irish Short Story of the Year 2021. She has also completed a novel. Since January 2017, she has co-curated Fiction at the Friary, a free monthly fiction event in Cork City, with fellow-writer Danielle McLaughlin.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a writer?

Talent is not enough. You also need patience and diligence. My advice to emerging writers is to take your time, learn your craft, read a lot, try to make your own work as good as it can possibly be – and don’t send it out until you’re sure it’s ready.

What has been the biggest surprise of your writing life?

In 2010, I won the Hennessy Award for Emerging Fiction and the Hennessy New Writer of the Year Award on the same night, with my first ever published short story. It was a surreal experience. I was absolutely shocked. To be honest, I was a bit drunk as well, because free cocktails were provided at the event and my reasoning was that I might as well enjoy the night and party on, since there was no way I was going to win.

Another big surprise was to win the Edge Hill Reader’s Choice Prize for my first short story collection, Waiting For The Bullet (Doire Press, 2014).

I never expect anything. It is probably best to have low expectations. A writer’s life will also involve fallow years, when life puts obstacles in your way. All you can do is persevere. The good times will always come around again if you don’t lose heart .

If you had to use a metaphor to describe yourself as a writer, what would it be?

I figure I might be a bee. I buzz quietly around my own little patch of the world, taking an interest in what’s happening and quietly going about my own business. I am small and hard-working. It would be easy to underestimate me or ignore me, and I have had to deal with all kinds of drones and several obnoxious queen bees in my time, but I’m learning not to be such a push-over. Most importantly, in the end, after a lot of hard work, I manage to produce some fine honey.

What’s the best piece of writing advice anyone ever gave you?

I once did a workshop with the late, great Canadian writer, Alastair MacLeod (1936-2014). His novel, “No Great Mischief,” won the 2001 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award). He was a truly wonderful man, both funny and wise. He said “The best writing is specific in its setting, but universal in its theme.” I think that sums up
good writing perfectly.

CRAFT LESSONS: Ten Favorites

Craft Lessons

More than two years ago, I began posting essays devoted to the craft of writing. To kick off 2022, I offer this tidy collection of craft lessons that I think best suit the needs of all writers, no matter the genre or length, or deadline. May your writing go well in the new year.

  1. Why I Write, and Why You Should, Too.
  2. Tune Out USuck FM and Free Yourself to Write.
  3. Do the Writing Only You Can Do.
  4. Eight Steps to Better Interviewing.
  5. Finding Any Story’s Heart with Five Questions and 70 seconds.
  6. Five Ways to Build Memorable Characters.
  7. Braiding Your Narrative to Tell a Complete Story.
  8. Writing with Your Nose
  9.  Best Writing Advice: A Roundup.
  10. Gulp. And Go.

Holiday wishes and holiday books



Happy New Year! May 2022 bring safety, good health, and lots of reading and writing.

After a week’s holiday, I’m looking forward to starting the New Year by sharing new Four Questions with… interviews, Craft Lessons, Readings to Savor, and much more. Tomorrow’s interview is with award-winning New Yorker staff writer and author Paige Williams who discovers the universal by tracking the granular.

I hope the holidays brought you the best writer’s gift: books.
For Christmas, I got Jonathan Franzen’s acclaimed novel “Crossroads.” I’m looking forward to diving in.

Please consider two writing advice books that I just published.  Both are available on Amazon in paperback and ebook editions through my author page or the direct links below.

Writers on Writing: Inside the lives of 55 distinguished writers and editors.  It’s an anthology of interviews drawn from two years of reaching out for Chip’s Writing Lessons to best-selling authors Susan Orlean and David Finkel, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Lane DeGregory, John Branch, Diana K. Sugg and Thomas French, acclaimed poet Patricia Smith, Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Bruce DeSilva, powerhouse narrative editor Jan Winburn and 46 others that you first met here. 55 writers. Hundreds of Writing Insights. 111 journal writing prompts make it an interactive writing workshop.

“By asking four questions to 55 of our finest writers and editors, Chip Scanlan has hosted one of the greatest writing conferences you will ever attend.” – Roy Peter Clark, author of “Writing Tools”, “The Glamour of Grammar,” “Murder your Darlings.” 

“A marvelous book for writers, people who have a passion for writing, or simply, who want to become writers. Yet what strikes me about this book is that it is not just for writers only.” – The Blogging Owl 

Writers on Writing: The Journal” is a companion or standalone volume with 55 coaching tips, 55 inspirational quotes, like the ones you find here in the “Writers Speak” feature, and the 111 writing prompts drawn from the first book, along with three blank pages after each chapter. Here’s the place to start your day with reactions, stories, dreams. 


In this piece for Poynter Online, Roy Peter Clark wrote a tribute to writers who write about their writing and included the foreword to my first book, along with his Four Questions interview. 

And ICYMI, here’s my story behind the self-publishing journey that produced these two books and also provides a wealth of information for anyone considering that route to bring their books before the public.

My New Year’s resolutions for 2022: Never a day without a line. Publish more. Visit my local independent bookstore, Tombolo Books, in St. Petersburg, Fl. Support the independent bookstore in your community.

What are yours?


Please spread the word to sign up for Chip’s Writing Lessons.

Interested in personal coaching? Reach out to me at

Browse the newsletter archive. To find earlier issues, scroll to the end of the archive page, where you will find arrows that help you toggle back and forth between them.

Question? Comment? Suggestion? Email me at or send a reply to this newsletter.

May the writing go well, and may you be well.

Nulla dies sine linea / Never a day without a line

Black Lives Matter

It’s never too late!


If like me, you forgot someone on your holiday gift list, yourself included, it’s not too late to give the writers and avid readers in your life the jolt of inspiration delivered by my new book, “Writers on Writing.”

It’s a collection of interviews with 55 distinguished writers and editors, including Susan Orlean, Pulitzer Prize winners Lane DeGregory, Tom French and David Finkel, acclaimed poet Patricia Smith and Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Bruce DeSilva.

Of the book, Roy Peter Clark, the king of writing advice books, said: “By asking four questions to 55 of our finest writers and editors, Chip Scanlan has hosted one of the greatest writing conferences you will ever attend.”

So I’m giving Amazon gift cards to those I left behind when ordering the book as a gift, or sending them directly the Kindle version. In the digital age, it’s never too late for procrastinators like you and me.

Happy Holidays,



Chip’s Writing Lessons newsletter #66


Last week’s issue is the last one before a holiday break.


Writers Speak | Marge Piercy on good work habits

Interview | 4 Questions with Mike Sager

Craft Lesson | 10 paradoxes of the writing life

Reading Matter | “From reporter to the corner office: A self-publisher’s maiden voyage,” by Chip Scanlan, Poynter Online

Tip of the Week | Accept critiques of your work

#writers #interview #writing #work

Status update on my new book


4 Questions. 55 writers and editors. Hundreds of writing insights. 111 journal writing prompts.

That’s the formula behind my new book, “Writers on Writing: Inside the lives of 55 distinguished writers” available for sale on in paperback and Kindle editions. It’s the ideal holiday gift to yourself or for the writers, editors, and readers in your life, and after the festivities end.

Great news! Right now, it’s the #1 New Release in the Journalism, Writing and Reference categories on Amazon.

Its collection of interviews with 55 of our finest practitioners working today in journalism, fiction, and poetry delivers a panoply of insight, inspiration, and advice, which makes it an evergreen book, always there to give you a jolt of inspiration.

Contributors include best-selling authors such as Susan Orlean and Dan Barry; multiple Pulitzer Prize winners Lane DeGregory, Tom Hallman Jr., and Thomas French; award-winning mystery writer Bruce DeSilva; editor Jan Winburn, who has shepherded a long list of award-winning narrative nonfiction, including a Pulitzer Prize; acclaimed poet Patricia Smith, and Becky Blanton, a global TED Talk speaker and prolific ghostwriter.

You’re probably familiar with some of those names as the book is drawn from the “Four Questions with… interview series that poses the same four questions to subjects:

  1. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a writer/editor?
  2. What has been the biggest surprise of your writing/editing life?
  3. If you had to use a metaphor to describe yourself as a writer/editor, what would it be and why?
  4. What’s the best piece of writing/editing advice anyone every gave you?

Their answers are as diverse as they are, inspiring, instructive, and entertaining.

By asking four questions to 55 of our finest writers and editors, Chip Scanlan has hosted one of the greatest writing conferences you will ever attend,” Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at The Poynter Institute and author of “Writing Tools,” wrote in the book’s foreword. “The answers from a rich variety reveal the complexity of the craft, with wide doors all of us can pass through on our way to growing as writers.”

And COMING THIS WEEK,” the second in the “Writers on Writing” series, “The Journal,” which includes 55 coaching tips, 55 inspirational quotes, 111 journal writing prompts, and blank pages to record your observations, thoughts, and feelings about your writing process.

I hope you’ll consider buying my books, which have been a labor of love and dedication to writers and their needs ever since I became director of writing programs and the National Writer’s Workshops at The Poynter Institute where I taught for 15 years.

Should you like to know more about the process behind the self-publishing adventure that produced these works, I point you to “Behind the Books,” a blog post on my website,, which features articles and two podcasts I appeared on.

I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays. Your support over the last two years, since I launched this blog, has been one of the best and most enriching experiences of my life. Thank you, dear readers.

May your writing and editing go well.

Warning: May Keep You Up All Night


A lot of great news and I’ve been remiss in not sharing it with you all. I’ve just published a new book, “Writers on Writing: Inside the lives of 55 distinguished writers and editors.” Available on as a paperback and Kindle version, it’s a collection drawn from the “Four Questions with… interviews that appeared in this online space over the past two years. The book also contains 111 writing prompts you can respond to in your journal. (Every writer should have one).

In a few days, that gap will be filled with “Writers on Writing: The Journal,” which comes with 55 inspirational quotes, 55 coaching tips and the 111 journal writing prompts, along with 3-4 blank pages you can use to record your thoughts, observations, story ideas, poems, stories; the sky’s the limit.

Having been dissatisfied with the marketing and promotion of my first three books, I decided to leap into the world of self-publishing with these books. And what a trip it’s been. You can read about my adventures—here and here— and walk away with a solid grasp of what self-publishing entails. 

In his foreword, Roy Peter Clark, author of “Writing Tools” and “Murder Your Darlings,” offered fulsome praise for “Writers on Writing”:  “By asking four questions to 55 of our finest writers and editors, Chip Scanlan has hosted one of the greatest writing conferences you will ever attend.” 

But as someone who stayed up late as a child, “sneak reading” with a flashlight under my bed covers, I was most heartened by a reader complaint on my Facebook page: “Chip, I got my book Monday and I’m a little bit mad at you because I stayed up way too late reading it! You did a great job.” Oh well, I’ll just have to take it on the chin.:)  

As a self-publisher, I have to wear many hats. So I’m going to don my publicist hat for a moment to suggest that the two books are ideal holiday gifts for you and the writers and readers in your family and among your friends. They’re instructive, entertaining and inspiring. Writing teachers, at all levels, will find them useful to engage their students in the process of writing. Writing groups would find grist for lively discussions. Amazon is shipping them at a rapid pace, sometimes the very next day, Perhaps they should come with a warning on the cover: May keep you up all night reading.                                  

Happy Holidays,


Craft Lesson: Keeping a Writing Workshop’s Spirit Alive

Craft Lessons

Over the years, I’ve attended dozens of writing workshops. I’ve taught at some, while at others, I sat in the audience, scribbling furiously as craft tips tumbled from the lips of accomplished writers and editors.

I’d come home, pockets crammed with business cards, piles of handouts, scraps of paper with jotted emails and reading lists, a notebook bulging with quotes and a contact high from a day or weekend surrounded by inspirational talk about my craft.

Invariably, however, the excitement would wither and I’d forget the great lessons I learned. 

The other day, I came across a column I wrote for Poynter Online after a National Writer’s Workshop in Hartford in 2003. Until the early aughts, Poynter teamed up with newspapers around the country to stage these weekend-long gatherings that brought writers and speakers together to share crucial lessons about writing and editing. Reading over the piece, I realized that keeping track of a speaker’s central message could keep alive the spirit of those heady two days. Here are ten lessons that stuck:

1. Identify an ambition. For Mark Bowden, author of “Black Hawk Down” and other best-selling narrative nonfiction, the secret of success lies in his habit of thinking big and doing stories that scare him. Try his method and pick a story “you’re not sure you can do.”

2. Figure out what your editor wants. “Editors are looking for ways to say yes,” said Debra Dickerson, who told the story of her rise from sharecropper’s daughter to best-selling writer. One easy way: ask your editor what she wants from you.

3. Put a snatch of dialogue in your next story. “Dialogue makes you feel like you’re actually there,” said literary journalist Walt Harrington. Start listening — and writing down — what people say to each other, whether it’s two council members battling over a proposal or two kids talking about their favorite Harry Potter “Bertie Bott” jelly beans. You can do the same with physical description, a scene, or any of the other elements of storytelling.

4. Dig out your copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Lynn Franklin advised writers to do what scientists do: “stand on the shoulders of giants.” Harper Lee’s classic tale of racism in a southern town is full of lessons about how to write about characters and place; John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” can teach you how to foreshadow and William Faulkner’s short story “The Barn Burning” is rich with lessons about symbolism, rhythm and pace.

5. Think like a storyteller. Ask the kinds of questions that Lisa Pollak, the former Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer for the Baltimore Sun, poses to herself:

• Who in this story has something at stake?

• Who is most affected?

• Who is nobody paying attention to?

• What about this story moves me? (Pollak’s favorite)

6. Get in the game. More than one writer this past weekend asked “How do I break in … on a magazine, writing creative nonfiction, the job market, writing a risky personal story?” There’s only one way, and that’s to take the first step — submit a story or a pitch — and not be deterred when you get rejected. Rejection is part of the writing life, and may not have anything to do with your story; your piece may really not meet a publication’s needs at this time. One Hartford speaker, small press publisher and novelist Ira Wood, counseled against heeding criticisms in rejection letters: consider rewriting only if you see a definite trend in editors’ responses. So write that pitch, finish that story even if you worry no one else will care or pick a subject that interests you and start reporting.

7. Become a document freak. That’s what helped Pulitzer Prize winner Louise Kiernan, who teaches at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, share the award for explanatory journalism with her colleagues while at the Chicago Tribune. Follow the paper trail–court records, police reports, transcripts–and then mine them for the details that are a storyteller’s gold.

8. Stop introducing the person with the camera as “my photographer.” R-E-S-P-E-C-T for your newsroom’s other craft disciplines, said Poynter’s visual journalism leader Kenny Irby, is the key to better collaboration and news storytelling.

9. Pick a perennial. Want to take a stab at the kind of riveting storytelling that Oregonian Pulitzer winner Tom Hallman Jr. talked about? Lower the risk by volunteering for one of those assignments journalists grudgingly have to write about every year (post-Thanksgiving shopping day, the day-after Christmas stampede to return presents, the circus comes to town, etc.) and use the occasion to try a narrative — a story that follows a store manager, or a bored husband, a circus first-timer. (Make sure you file a sidebar with the obligatory numbers, Chamber of Commerce quotes, etc.).

10. Before you write, ask The Washington Post’s David Von Drehle’s four focusing questions.

  • What’s the point?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Why is this story being told?
  • What does it say about life, the world, the times we live in?

Add one more: What is my story about in a single word? When you’re done, you’ll have a theme for your story and will likely have the first draft of a nut graf that sums it up for your reader.

The next time you have the good fortune to attend a writing workshop, take good notes. After the bloom fades, the lessons that captivated you but that you may have lost track of are there again for the picking.