Wizard World Program

Conventioneers

It’s no secret that Trevor and I are big fans of The Walking Dead, and of zombies in general. Well, not fans of zombies, but, of, like, getting prepared for the zombie apocalypse by watching as many zombie-preparedness specials (or “fictional” t.v. shows, as you might call them) as possible.

And since we moved to Camp Crystal Lake three years ago, we enjoy Sunday nights during The Walking Dead‘s regular season with viewing parties. Now, to be clear, “parties” is a relative term and in our context means that my friend Lisa comes over and we all hang out watching our favorite zombie-fighting crew on t.v. as we eat cookies and drink tea. ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE TEA! (no, it’s just regular tea.)

So last spring when Lisa heard that the Walker Stalker Convention would be in Chicago at the end of May, she and I knew that we had to go. And we went. And it was fantastic.

Lisa Laura and Zombie on a Bench

Lisa’s brother Jason joined us (Trevor decided to sit it out [he might have been a little scared that there would be real zombies there (that’s just my speculation but is probably 100% true)]) and we three headed to the convention without knowing what, exactly, to expect.

We figured we’d see some good Walking Dead cosplay, and we were not disappointed.

Comic Cosplay

We don’t know who those two scared young women are, but we took their picture anyway, because this group was the best group of costumed fans ever!

Karl Cosplay

This is one of the best teenage Carls we saw…

But we also saw a lot of amazing Mini-Karls, and this one was with the best Carol we saw all day.

But we also saw a lot of amazing Mini-Carls, and this one was with the best Carol we saw all day.

Once we realized just how fun the whole place was, Lisa, Jason, and I got a little bit in on the action by taking pictures with some stars:

J. and Cardboard Carl

J. and Cardboard Carl

Lisa Laura and Rick Grimes

Hey, Rick. Hi. What’s up?

But those two weren’t as lively as we wanted. So we got a little closer to the action and approached some of the photo-op and autograph tables, where people waited in line to get a snapshot and a 30-second chat with their favorite stars. We almost bit the bullet to meet Sonequa Martin-Green, but I was too intimidated by her face. Because her face is the most perfect face ever. I thought it’d be like looking into the sun, and I wasn’t prepared for that.

Prettiest Woman Alive

For real, guys. She’s, like, the prettiest.

But then, Lisa and I saw a table…and we knew who we needed to meet, whose hand we needed to shake, and whose handle-bar moustache we needed to be within breathing distance of:

Bisquit

“When you were pouring the Bisquick, were you tryin’ to make a pancake?”

Cudlitz!

Cudlitz!

And meeting Michael Cudlitz was absolutely worth waiting in line. I’ve love-hated him since he recited his awkward poem to John Cusack in a high school hallway in Grosse Pointe Blank:

Look at those chubby cheeks!

And just plain loved him since his role as Officer John Cooper in the gone-too-soon Southland, easily one of the best police dramas ever to air on television. Ever.

Oh, you canceled my show? I guess I’ll just go kill some zombies. Peace. OUT.

Meeting Cudlitz was a hot minute of super-duper fun in the form of a rushed handshake, some babbling from Lisa and me about what big fans we are, and a few selfies. And after our Abraham-encounter, we did some more wandering, bought some souvenirs, and wound down the afternoon with a newfound love of conventions in our hearts. And some special time in the VIP Lounge.

VIP Lounge

This is a very, VERY important lounge.

Lisa and I immediately Googled to see when there would be other conventions coming to the area, and we saw that August was bringing Wizard World to Chicago. Of course we made plans to go. Lisa roped her daughters to join us for a proper girls’ day out, and yesterday, in a perfect summer book-end, we hung out at one of the friendliest social events I’ve ever attended.

I mean that honestly; conventions are so friendly. People come together to celebrate in their shared love of all things nerd-culture: comic books, action figures, superheroes, video games, cartoons, zombies, creatures of all shapes and sizes…And everyone wants to celebrate together. People who dress up love to pose for pictures; their faces light up when you tell them how great their costumes are; no one pushes or gets testy about crowds; and everyone is just there to have fun. I love it!

And Harper and Violet loved it, too. They dressed up as Rey (Violet) and Princess Leia Organa (Harper), and got tons of compliments, and some photos with other cosplay folks.

The gals are ready for the convention.

The gals are ready to wow their fellow conventioneers.

Harper with Creatures

I’m too old and uncool to know who these creatures are, but Harper was very excited.

Harper and Sonic

Sonic!

Harper Violet and Cindarella

And they met Cindarella! KWHAT??!

Lisa and I get in on the picture taking: Violet spies someone suspicious.

Lisa and I get in on the picture taking: Violet spies someone suspicious.

And of course we did some shopping and I got some things for other people and some things for myself, my favorite being a set of bad-guy portraits from South Carolina-based Jellykoe Studio.

They're almost too cute to be bad.

They’re almost too cute to be bad. Almost…

Clearly, Kelly and J. Spencer of Jellykoe are the greatest duo to ever create adorable things. I had to seriously control myself from getting one of everything.

But, as with all good conventions, Wizard World eventually wore us out. We’d taken some breaks, but our feet were tired and not even chocolate-vanilla twist ice-cream cones could bring us up to full energy levels.

Violet's had it.

Violet’s had it.

So we hauled ourselves to the car and hit the road home, tired, and very happy.

Minivan Selfie

I’m so tired I’m fading into the ether. Goodbye, convention. Goodbye, world.

Now that Lisa and I are two-time conventioneers, we’re hooked. We’re already talking about the big fish of the Chicago comic scene, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, coming in April. But while at Wizard World, we also entered a raffle to win tickets to Comic-Con International, the biggest of the big. We’ll probably win. I’m sure our odds are good. Right? Right.

We’ll see you next summer, San Diego.

SuperBox

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Notebook & Pen

Sabbatical? Sabbati-CAN!

Today is Thursday, August 18, the third Thursday in August. I’m sitting here at my desk at home, feeling strange, because for the past ten third Thursdays in August, I have been at MCC’s Fall Faculty Development Day, which is the first official day of the semester for faculty members. And for six of those ten years, I didn’t just attend the day, but, as the chair of MCC’s Faculty Development Team, I planned the day with my FD teammates.

So, while a couple hundred of my faculty colleagues are sitting in workshops three miles away, why on earth aren’t I there with them? Because this semester, I’m on sabbatical. And I’m so excited about this that I can barely handle it.

Sabbatical

At my college, tenured faculty can apply to take an academic sabbatical after they’ve taught at the college for four years, and I thought that this year was finally my time.

I hadn’t applied before now for a couple of reasons. Because I was chair of faculty development, I always felt like I couldn’t take off for a semester and leave the team in the lurch. Yes, I could have left someone else in charge while I was gone, but I was never super comfortable with that kind of arrangement (I might have a problem with delegation…maybe).

The other reason, though, is the true reason: I’d never before had any idea what I would focus on for a sabbatical. At MCC, sabbatical must be proposed “for graduate study, research, or other professional development activity,” and I just hadn’t yet found a reason for an entire semester’s worth of leave for any of those things. For the past five years, after deciding that I wasn’t yet sold on getting a Ph.D., I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of second master’s degree to pursue. I looked at a lot of programs, some fully online, some face-to-face, some full time, some part time. And after five years of asking questions, doing research, and attending graduate school open houses (yes, I really am a Power), I finally decided to get a Master of Education in Instructional Leadership at University of Illinois Chicago.

Grad School Swag

Grad school swag

After I made my decision, I talked it over with my dean and then set to work on my sabbatical proposal, which was due last Fall, the year before I planned my leave of absence. Clearly, the focus of my sabbatical would be on graduate school classes, but I didn’t want to take more than two in one semester, even while on leave. And while two grad courses will surely be enough to keep me busy, I thought I could squeeze in a bit more to do, so I added some activities and turned in a three-part proposal:

  1. Enroll in MEd at UIC and pursue graduate courses toward that degree;
  2. Work on Creative Writing “2” course proposal; and
  3. Continue to work on my own analytical and creative writing and submit work for publication.

For years I’ve wanted to work on new curriculum to add to MCC’s creative writing offerings. Each time I’ve taught a section of creative writing, I’ve had students ask about a second class. In fact, the creative writing club I advise was born out of my students’ desire to keep working on their writing in a workshop environment. And because I knew that it will be reasonable for me to write a new course proposal this semester in addition to completing my grad work, I put it on my list.

And that third bit I just threw in for fun. Last year I contributed to the feminist film websites Bitch Flicks and Cinefilles, and I want to keep doing that this year (as well as submitting some of my new short fiction to lit magazines). So why not add it on? In fact, I recently started working on a new Bitch Flicks article for their August theme week about sisters. I’m going to write about sisters in horror films, so this is the “research” I get to delve into this week:

Research is hard.

The best research can be done while eating popcorn and sitting on your couch.

While I am so very excited (I AM SO EXCITED!) to be taking this semester to focus on my own professional development, it feels weird (weirdsoweird) that I won’t be teaching until January. Yes, I’ll be in a classroom, and yes, as usual, I stocked up on necessary supplies before this new semester begins:

Notebooks

I couldn’t decide which notebook will be better: the fancy one with a fancy tab and pen holder, or my old stand-by composition book? I have four days to decide. Wish me luck.

Folders

These are my new folders.

One of my two textbooks.

One of my two textbooks.

But there are some big changes, and the one in particular that is both upsetting as well as exhilarating is the fact that I won’t be wearing my First Day of Fall Semester Dress:

First Day Dress

Hello, friend.

I found this dress five years ago at Dovetail in our old West Town neighborhood. This dress —  handmade, cotton — hung on the rack next to another dress — sleeveless, blue, handmade, cotton — and both fit as though they’d been sewn just for me. They’d been brought in together and were clearly home-sewn. I got them both, and since then I’ve worn the red-and-white number every first day of class Fall semester. It’s the perfect First Day dress: light enough for the hot weather, very teacherly, and it covers up all of my upper body tattoos (which I hold back until the second day of class; it’s like a little surprise if students stick around after we’ve gone over the super exciting syllabus).

But I don’t know if I want to wear my First Day Dress to my first class next Tuesday. I mean, obviously I want to wear it, but I feel like I need to make a change in wardrobe for this huge change in my life. Last week I had dinner with a former student who’s now finishing up her bachelor’s degree with a final semester of student teaching (yes, clearly she is my favorite student because she’s going to be an English teacher and wants to eventually get her master’s degree and come teach at MCC). She and I talked about our first day of school outfits, and she recommended that I wear something different than my go-to dress. And I think she’s right. I’ll be in a different role next week than I usually am, and that means a different wardrobe. Thanks, Shaz, for being the best.

So, I still need to figure out what to wear for my first day as a student (OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO BE A STUDENT AGAIN!) and it will likely include a t-shirt and jeans. Because that’s what I wear when I’m not teaching (because that’s really what I love to wear), but that also means that all of my wonderful dresses and skirts will be lonely in my closet all semester. Maybe I’ll take them out when I go to the grocery store.

I made another change to my appearance in preparation for sabbatical: I got a hair-cut. Now, that’s not really any big news, but it’s kind of a drastic hair-cut, so I thought I’d mention it. I’ve had short hair for some time now (the longest it’s been since freshman year of college has been shoulder-length, and that’s never lasted for more than a few months), but this week when I went to visit the Amazing Audrey, she took almost all of it off.

Hair? What hair?

Two separate days, two different t-shirts, both white. When I’m not teaching, I am so boring.

If I were teaching next week, I don’t think I would have gone this short. But there’s something wonderful about knowing that while I’m in class, I won’t have all eyes in the room trained on me; I won’t have to look professional or teacherly; I won’t even have to wear make-up! (j.k. I will totally be wearing make-up since I can’t go out to walk the dog without mascara.) This idea is so liberating that I just needed to liberate almost all of the hairs from my head.

And now, I think I’m ready. My first class is Tuesday at 2 p.m., and I will probably not sleep very much on Monday night. But that sleeplessness will also be an effect of me binging sister-focused horror movies for a week and a half. Whatevs.

Wish me luck — I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Tube Dog

Pontooning Powers

At the start of the summer, we got a boat — a big deal for us — and we’ve tried to put it to as much use as possible these past few months. We’ve been doing a pretty darn good job, although we’ve done a bit of traveling and have had a little weird weather. Even Roo is getting in on the action, equipped with an pretty cool life jacket we got her (Trevor refused to get a pink one with little anchors all over it, citing “safety” and other blah blah blahs, so she’s got a super boring yellow one with a “high safety rating.” blah.)

And I don’t really have a lot to say about our pontooning adventures; they’re pretty low-key (although last weekend while hanging out with my friend Lisa and her family we went over a big wave and the front end dipped into the lake and we thought we were going to sink and possibly perish, but, of course, we did not). But here are some stories of the floatings we’ve had so far.

The Power family came out for the weekend in July, and we even got Rachel to come up from Florida. Florida! Along with the human Power family, we welcomed a new canine member of the family to the boat: Cheekah, a little gray Chihuahua who, unfortunately, didn’t get to meet Roo, but they probably would have been best friends and moved to New York together to get jobs as fashion magazine interns. Or as circus performers. Or pasta makers.

Fran and Cheekah

Fran and Cheekah, queens of the pontoon

During the Power Family Weekend, we also discovered that I’m no good at taking selfies. Now, this is something I’ve known, personally, for a long time. I really don’t take selfies unless I’m making a silly face to text to Trevor, and I pretty much look silly in 99% of the selfies I take. And sometimes, I’m not even present in the picture at all:

1/3 of my face made it into this one! Success!

1/3 of my face made it into this one! And everyone else looks fantastic! Success!

But being on our boat makes me take selfies. I don’t know what it is: the fresh lake air, the wind whipping through my hair, the afternoon boat beer…It’s a mystery. But I think I’m getting better at them.

Pretty good, right?

Pretty good, right?

I'm 100% happy with this one -- my entire head is in it, along with some of my neck!

I’m 100% happy with this one — my entire face is in it, along with some of my neck!

We had a great weekend all around, and it was so good to see Rachel. She left us on Monday to drive up to Door County to visit Grandma Madel, but we got to see her for dinner on her way back down and before she left for home. Hopefully Trevor and I will visit her in November for Thanksgiving like we did last year. Maybe this year we can convince her to help us steal a shuttle and take a quick trip to the moon. Or whatever; we can also just eat some space ice-cream. Or regular ice cream, I’m not picky.

Last weekend my friend Lisa, her husband James, and two of their three kids came over for some ‘toon time (yeah, I just used the phrase “‘toon time,” judge me if you will). We had a great time swimming around and eating snacks for a few hours.

Lisa Eli and Violet

Lisa and her two fish-monkeys

And Trevor might have asked for some help driving the boat.

Eli and TrevorViolet and Trevor

And he also made some a new friend (a friend who was wearing a matching outfit, so…destiny.):

Walking on Oak Street

Trevor and Eli: co-captains and new best friends

On Sunday, it was just Trevor, Roo, and me, and we tried out our new tube. Trevor got it primarily so Roo could take breaks while swimming, since Roo’s “swimming” technique involves a lot of water eating. Lifting her up into the tube is easier than lifting her up into the boat, and if she’s in the tube while we’re swimming, she’s a bit calmer than if she was watching us from the boat. A bit.

How cute are these two? CUTE!

She looks calm, right? Well. Trevor does, at least.

And those are our pontooning tales! Are they everything you’d hoped they would be? Even better?! Good.

Trevor will be doing a lot of traveling in late August and September for work; he’s going to Florida and then to China (China!? I know, right?!), and while he’s gone I’m hosting my amazing book club babes for a nautical book club adventure and some of my high school girlfriends for a Labor Day ladies’ pontooning party. So our adventures are not yet over, although, they will likely be just as “exciting” as these were. I’ll keep you up-to-date.

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Elmo Says

Summer 2016 Writing Group Wrapped Up!

This summer’s online writing group has officially finished up! We had a solid eight weeks, and although some of us didn’t always meet our weekly goals (me — primarily me), we kept each other accountable, wrote, and shared our progress.

Inspired by Anne H., I’m including a couple of new things for our wrap-up post. In addition to asking for each writer’s final progress report, I asked them all to contribute the first or last line of their work-in-progress, and a picture of their writing space. Anne suggested this, since we’d talked about writing spaces a couple of times over our session, and she’d recently contributed a guest post about writing and driving. I loved her idea, and now you all get to see our writing spaces!

Alena

I wrote and proofread a poem this week that I’m completely in love with. I feel it is publication-ready. I also went back and proofread the short story I finished last week. All in all, it has been a productive last week and a productive last eight weeks! I definitely wouldn’t have written as much as I did this summer if it weren’t for this group’s deadlines and advice. I’ll miss the extra nudge. Thank you, everyone!
 
I would have included a picture of my workspace, but I kind of write all over the place, always with a notebook or laptop in hand. Here are the first lines of the four things I’ve been working on this summer:
 
First line of “Two Bakas”:
Your grandmother has a Facebook.
 
First line of “Darkblooms”:
Warm blood trickled down my face.

First line of “Conscious”:
The happiness hurts.
 
First line of “Ékleipsis”:
She needs somewhere to sleep, something to eat.

Anne D.

This summer was once again too busy for me to accomplish much. I only recently got a car and was able to go to the library if needed. To make a long story short I may have a magazine decided on and will go from there.

Anne H.

These are the last two lines of my short something “Midnight Blindspot in a Rear View Mirror.”  That title comes from the musical composition composed in my honor on the occasion of my college graduation. A friend commissioned it from another friend who has since had quite a good career as a composer. My favorite part was always the title; I’ve never even heard the piece.

I find myself reflecting lately on middle age. That’s what the Prince short something was about, and that’s what this short something is about as well.

Last two lines:

The midnight blind spot is not a black hole which will engulf me;  it is in the rearview mirror
And I power forth

Final report:

I only wrote 1.5 short somethings and 1 guest blog post. But without the encouragement of this group, I doubt that I would have written anything whatever. So, thank you, Laura. I look forward to your next group.

Anne's Writing Space

Anne’s Writing Space

Bev

I have revised eleven of fifteen chapters of my memoir, so far cutting 50,104 words. I am 23,100 words short of my goal of getting the damned thing down to 90K, which an agent told me was the customary maximum for a memoir. And yes, I do have the word counts for each chapter on a spread sheet. I am a geek.

I really, really want to get this thing done before classes start, but it’s hard to find time when the harvest starts. I’ll keep trying, though. I can’t seem to sleep past 5:00 these days. I’ve been getting up and writing until the dew is off the grass. I did accomplish my goal of posting on my blog at least weekly and got one letter in the mail to my readers.

First line:

“I’m taking the job in North Dakota,” I announced while having lunch with the girls at a Thai restaurant in Greektown.

Below are photos of formal and casual work spaces. I have been working mostly in the casual space this summer. The formal space hasn’t gotten messed up since the cleaning ladies were here last week.

Bev's Writing Spaces

Bev’s Writing Spaces

Donna

I know what my dilemma is — I don’t check this email on weekends. I don’t have a designated writing space. My notebook is at home, so I can’t send a first line. Excuses aside, I did THINK about writing frequently over the past two weeks, and have thought of my main character’s name and a tentative outline.

Katherine

I made great progress this summer, and the weekly goals kept me on track and focused. I have currently what I would consider a finished draft of a memoir, almost 37,000 words.

I couldn’t just send the last line… so here are the last three:

Avery is my reason for doing all that I do and all that I should do. Being a mother makes me want to be a better person. I have reevaluated the way I have been living and the people I have surrounded myself with in an effort to make better choices for her and to set a better example for her.

Below is a picture of my work space. I am either writing on the couch near Elmo or some other kid toy or at the kitchen table.

Thanks, all, for a great writing summer.

Katherine's Writing Space

Katherine’s Writing Space

Laura

I didn’t get nearly what I’d hoped to accomplish this summer, but thanks to the group, I had to think about writing, write about writing, and actually do some writing, so thank you, group!

First line:

Mary and her dog, Bubs, walked past the white house with the pillars and the twice-a-week gardener, past what she thought of as the “party house” because it filled the block with the sound of children playing and splashing in the backyard pool from May until mid-September, and past Chico’s house, although Chico—a black Chihuahua who was in a constant state of near-fear at Bubs though still chased him into the street whenever he got the chance—didn’t seem to be home.

My Writing Space

My Writing Space

Lisa

Again, I’m so happy to have been a part of the group! It really does keep me on track. I definitely got more done than I would have otherwise. Thanks!!!

Opening:
This was finally one of those things; something Cal couldn’t have possibly had the foresight to tell her, couldn’t possibly have warned her about.

Ending:
“No, we just buried it in the yard.” He turned towards her and leaned up on his elbow. In the bit of light that filtered in from the kitchen, she saw him raise an eyebrow at her. “What kind of people do you think we are, Nay?”

Lisa's Writing Space

Lisa’s Writing Space

Matt

What can I say? I still haven’t quite made it through this last pass on my story. It’s been a hell of a busy week. But I have made progress, and overall, the work I’ve done since this group began has been pretty satisfying. This is the best it has ever been (which is a claim of dubious quality, since you don’t know what it was before.) Anyway, the changes are getting smaller, more pointed. I feel the story has attained more or less its final shape, which is a grand accomplishment that I am prepared to enjoy until I decide I was wrong in a couple of weeks.

This is the first line of The Liminal Man:

At least if you get your legs chopped off, you know for sure that your life is going to be different from now on.

Mike

I definitely didn’t accomplish what I expected over the eight weeks, but I’m happy with what I have gotten done. I didn’t touch the novel-in-progress, which was my original goal, but I’m pleased that I was able to objectively realize how much work my short story still needed.

My previous round of revisions cut away a lot of unnecessary pages that I’d left in for far too long. Reading the story without them these eight weeks reinforced those were the right cuts to make, but I did further tightening and wrote (from scratch in most cases) the story again with better connective material. There’s a flow now that was missing in some parts, and I’ve reconsidered a few large plot points and incorporated them into the latest version (which is still not finished, but I see a better finished product on the horizon).

The first lines of the story are:

The first time Tyler’s head hit up against the passenger window, it was an accident. But because he didn’t wake up, and we had a good twenty minutes to go till we reached the airport, it turned into a game. And I was a little pissed he’d been asleep since we left our driveway; he didn’t know yet that I was coming on the plane with him.

Below is a picture of my home office, where I’ve been doing 90% of my work (aside from when I find a spot to write a page or so in my actual work office or on my train commute). As much as I love our new house (as of March), the office is the best addition for me.

Mike's Writing Space

Mike’s Writing Space

Robert

Final report: 8,528 words written. Novel still incomplete.

First line:

He seemed, in a crowded room, a ship with a damaged rudder, or with torn sails.

Rosalie

My next project is to file all of the resources I used.

First line:

European countries are amazingly diverse despite the fact that they are bound by close geographic connections. This mosaic of cultures is reflected in the art and history of Europe.

Rosalie's Writing Space

Rosalie’s Writing Space

Thank you, participants, for sharing your time, efforts, work, and spaces with us!

I really enjoyed this summer’s group; it gave me a bit of structure and kept me from straight-binge-watching three seasons of Veronica Mars and then every single thing in my Netflix queue, even those dozen foreign films I’ve had in there for five years and always mean to watch but never get around to (You think I’m kidding. I’m not. Watching twelve hours of television every day is literally the only thing I would have done this summer if not for the group. I thank you. My husband thanks you. My dog thanks you.)

I’ll be running another four-week winter session in January, 2017, and I hope you’ll all consider joining. It’ll be a nice mental work-out for our post holiday-season brains.

And of course, please continue to read my regular blog posts, which will come less frequently when I don’t have twelve people to answer to, and which will 99% of the time feature my dog. So, clearly, you’ll be really excited about that.

Have a terrific last few weeks of the summer, all, and, as usual, write on!

Roo on a Tube

Who wouldn’t want to read about this dog? She’s in a tube! A tube!

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Anne's Writing Space

Driving

Anne Humphrey is a colleague of mine in MCC’s English Department who first joined in on our Winter 2016 writing group. I have a soft spot in my heart for Anne H., because, in addition to being a fellow grammar nerd, ardent defender of the Oxford comma, and my office neighbor, she is also a fellow alum of DePaul’s MA in Writing program.

And, like me (or like I used to be), Anne is used to commuting quite a distance to and from work. Here’s what Anne has to say about taking advantage of driving for her creative endeavors.

This is a guest post from Anne Humphrey, a member of this summer’s Online Writing Group:

This past week, I was on a road trip to Connecticut and back. I love driving. and I love road trips. On the way back on this trip, I was so excited to work on some of what was discussed at the conference, and from seeing old friends there, that I drove all night without getting tired.

But I love to drive in general. Driving for me is not mainly about the trip itself, or the act of driving, but the way driving makes me feel — I am DRIVING as in accomplishing, moving forward, going to a next step.

I commute over an hour, each way, during the school year. Sometimes, people express concern or pity. But I say “I don’t mind. I make phone calls. I listen to podcasts.” To people I know better, I say, “I rehearse for class; I think through various problems.” Some people who correspond with me frequently know that I even manage text and email communication while driving (don’t worry, just at stop signs).

But what I rarely have admitted to anyone is that driving is for me prime writing time. Admittedly, I’m usually working out carefully worded emails about delicate situations, but I’ve worked on my creative writing too, quite a bit, while driving.

We’ve been spending time in this group discussing our writing space, and I am working on a new space in my house. But my main writing space for about thirty years has been in the driver’s seat of my car.

There are things I’ve tried over the years: a pad fitted for the dashboard (people commented on that quite a bit, but it was not really that exotic — my mom got it for me at Walmart); carrying a camera (now can just use my phone for this); carrying a voice recorder (now I can use phone and even voice recognition the same way); and recording phone calls (legal in Illinois if the other party knows you are doing it) — I would use these to talk through writing ideas with my mother or one close friend who is also a writer.

Most of the driving-writing has been inadvertent; ideas just flow for me in that environment, so in thinking about my WIP, ideas would come. Or random new ideas would occur from the stimulation of the driving. However, some writing I have assigned myself as an objective for the road trip.

On one occasion about twenty years ago, I had a novel almost finished but could not work out a central chapter. I knew what needed to happen, and where I wanted it to happen, but I had skipped over the chapter when drafting because I felt intimidated by that piece somehow. So, I said “I will work on that during this trip.” I was driving from St. Charles, IL to Cincinnati. In northern Indiana, I had to stop to replace my voice recorder, which, under the heavy use of this project, chose the first half of that trip to die completely. I forged on. I wrote the chapter. I even thought it almost was good, or at least as good as the rest of the book (which was not very good, but still).

After that, I gave myself many purposeful assignments for during specific trips, both long road trips and my commute. This summer, I had the idea for the “Prince poem” and wrote about half of it on a road trip back from Lake Erie a few weeks ago. On the overnight trip last Sunday night (action photo above), I worked on a different short something and wrote the whole thing. It’s just a short something. I’m not going to say “poem” because in the past few weeks, at two early music conferences, I’ve sat in a few talks about poetry that made me realize that I was not making poems. So for now I am calling them short somethings. Anyway, the Prince short something is still only half done. But I finished the “Midnight Blindspot in a Rearview Mirror” short something, while driving, on an overnight road trip.

I did it using text messaging, texting single lines or couplets to myself. The technology changes, but my method only changes slightly.

MORAL OF THIS RAMBLING STORY: I’d say, when it comes to writing, we should simply do what works: “Just do it.” Get the equipment, be at least somewhat intentional, and do it. Also, the writing space is where you are/where I am. So we should just start writing.

Notwithstanding this strong pitch, I’ll try to finish and post about my in-house writing space for our end post. I’m pretty pleased with it so far. I want the space to be so perfect for my needs that it lures me in, to writing.

Anne (R) dressed as her alter-ego, Grammar Girl, helps me (L) and our colleague Starr (C) recruit students on MCC Night, 2014

Anne (R) dressed as her alter-ego, Grammar Girl, helps me (L) and our colleague Starr (C) recruit students on MCC Night, 2014

Thanks, Anne! Although I don’t promote texting in the car (Trevor can attest to this, since I harangue him if he even looks at his phone while he’s driving), I love these ideas and wholeheartedly agree that writers can capitalize on driving, both for quiet, alone time as well as for brainstorming. So next time you’re stuck on an idea, get in the car and drive!

Frenemies

Week Eight: Summer 2016 Online Writing Group

It’s week eight of our online writing group!

IT’S WEEK EIGHT! WEEK EIGHT!

It’s a busy time of the summer, so some of our writers are out of town, out of the country, and out of the writing zone, so check back later this week for possible new updates.

And now, our goals!

Week Eight Goals:

  • Alena: I already finished the new short story that I started. So, for the last week of the group, I’ll allow myself to circle back to an old work-in-progress or start a new one.
  • Aliena: Coming soon…
  • Anne D.: What I’m thinking of doing this week is revising a few pieces to be done before the Fall semester starts and submitting them to the literary magazine at Columbia.
  • Anne H.: Coming soon…
  • Bev: Blog about my vacation. Finish my vacation journal. Finish revisions on the next chapter of my memoir, which I dutifully took on vacation with me and consistently ignored for eight full days.
  • Emily: Coming soon…
  • Katherine: Last week, I finished entering my line edit revisions into the computer. It didn’t take me nearly as long as I had initially thought. I also wrote a “closing.”

    My week eight goal is to start researching and writing query letters. Writer’s Digest had a post about some agents looking for memoirs. Also, I want to go to the book store to see who publishes miscarriage and mommy books. HEY YOU MCC FULL TIMERS!!! I might be dropping by in August to see if one of you will look at my query letter(s). I have never ever written one before. (Katherine — Bev might be a great person to hook up with to talk query letters!)
  • Laura: I didn’t get as much done last week as I’d have liked, but I’m excited to continue working this week. I’m going to put my big project aside and get into this shorter piece that’s been lurking around me for years. And I will write the opening scene, at least one paragraph, for a new short story.
  • Lisa: This week I will try to finish and submit my story. Wish me luck! (Good luck!)
  • Matt: I accomplished my most important goal of week seven, which was printing and shipping the 523 pages of my manuscript to my old college thesis adviser, whom I haven’t seen in nineteen years.  That’s a load off my mind!

Meanwhile I have continued my most tedious and painstaking pass through the first story. Each scene seems to reveal a new problem that was invisible before. My goal for the final week is to complete this latest edit of The Liminal Man and finish the eighth week in a state of readiness to move ahead. I’d like to be able to embark on a new read-through of the remaining stories in the aftermath.

  • Matt the Second: Coming soon…
  • Mike: This week’s report and goal will look much like last week’s, but I did continue to make progress with the story. I revised another four pages but didn’t touch the blog post. The goal for this week will be to revise another five pages (which could potentially put me at the end of the story) and finish and publish the blog post.
  • Ray: As always, my writing seems to be going in fits and stops and starts. This week I completed four chapters. I was just in the zone I guess, and I am two chapters away from attaining my goal of having the story arc, completely laid out for a main character, for my third and final novel in the series I am writing. It has been a strange summer, weatherwise, workwise, and the strange world that we suddenly seem to be living in. Some escapism is in order, and I find myself more willing to spend time in storyland, than engaging in following the news. My main concern at this point is that the world will end, before my book comes out about the world ending. Irony huh?
  • Robert: Goal: 7000 words. (Robert, your consistency is my rock, and I am grateful.)
  • Rosalie: I will be making my edits this weekend and then I’m all done. This has been a very difficult project and I’m looking forward to pushing that send button.
  • Sarah: Coming soon…

For this final week, I wanted to give you all a bit of perspective on writing advice. Advice can be helpful, whether you’re a novice writer working on your first piece, or whether you’ve got a list of publications (and an even longer list of rejections, the writer’s best frenemy).

But advice can also be overwhelming, off-base, and just plain wrong, even when it’s coming from someone whose work you admire and who you’ve previously written about as being the Original Gangster of Dialogue.

So this week, please read this funny and on-base essay by Danielle Dutton about terrible writing advice from great writers. As Dutton writes, sometimes “there’s no right track at all” for your writing. Just have faith that what you’re doing is something that can be good, can be great (even if it’s not right now).

Now get writing!

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Fast and Furious Willpower

Week Seven: Summer 2016 Online Writing Group

It’s week seven of our online writing group!

Nick Dancing in Helmet

We’re almost finished! It sounds as though everyone has made solid progress on works-in-progress, and that makes me feel warm and gooey. I, myself, have gotten more done with this group than I would have without it, and that makes me feel grateful for all of you who are participating. Thank you!

This week, we welcome Donna, who’s going to pop into the group for our last two weeks. I’ve also got some tidbits about willpower from health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal, and later this week, we might have a surprise guest post. (yay! surprises!)

And now, let’s get to the goals.

Week Seven Goals:

  • Alena: I’m nearly finished with the short story I’ve been working on; however, I’m burnt out on it. I’ve started a new short story. It’s pretty experimental so I’m not sure it will eventually get published or anything. Nonetheless, it’s been a good writing exercise for me. My goals for week seven are to work on anything. Just write.
  • Aliena: Coming soon…
  • Anne D.: Coming soon…
  • Anne H.: Finish draft of Prince poem on long road trip this next week. I drafted the first half on a road trip a few weeks ago. If I get this done, perhaps I’ll make a guest post for the next writer’s group on writing while driving. I do quite a bit of work while driving, and I’ve learned a few tips which might be useful, especially for those with long commutes.
  • Bev: Gone fishin’.
  • Donna: My weekly goal is figuring out a name for my main character and what she desires most.
  • Emily: Coming soon…
  • Katherine: Last week I did a line edit of 110 pages and made some structure revisions to the end of the book.

    This week, I need to make my line edits on the computer. I have thirty pages edited on the computer so far. I am also not entirely happy with the final couple of chapters. I want to take a closer look at those next week.
  • Laura: This week I’m going to keep working on revisions to my short story. I’m not ready to start something new, and I’m happy just to keep working on it every day this week. If I need a break, I’m going to investigate the new horror magazine Belladonna Horror for submission guidelines, and then do a bit of brainstorming.
  • Lisa: My goal for this week is to revise a story. I need a break from the work I’ve been looking at, so I’m mixing things up this week.
  • Matt: This week my focus has gotten even smaller, as I find myself spending greater amounts of time on smaller passages. Sometimes completely restructuring sections for clarity, sometimes just cutting out all the synonyms and dialogue tags. It all feels like a natural pace. The next couple of weeks I have more fewer days away from work so I am just hoping to maintain my momentum.

Meanwhile, I was contacted by my thesis adviser from college, Maxine Scates, who oversaw the original creation of the exact story I’m chipping away on at the moment. Having previously given conditional assent to read a draft of my book, she has now requested that I send her a hard copy. So I am in the process of printing that copy now, and I’m pretty excited to get it into her hands as soon as possible. The version of this story that will be included is already out of date, of course, but there’s nothing to be done about that now. It’s a pretty current incarnation, different from what she read twenty years ago, and will be accompanied by hundreds of pages of stories following the same characters that she saw me develop in the mid-nineties. I feel that her participation in this process will be invaluable, whatever form it takes, and I am unbelievably relieved that she is willing to read this thing.

  • Matt the Second: Coming soon…
  • Mike: I managed to get through the next four pages of revisions on my short story (out of the five that was my goal) but I didn’t have a chance to publish the blog post as I hoped. For this week, I plan to revise the next five pages of the story and actually finish and publish the blog post.
  • Ray: Coming soon…
  • Robert: Goal is 7000 words.
  • Rosalie:  I have a very little bit of work and I will be finished with this project. We will be on vacation next week and I won’t be doing any work but I have set aside Sunday the 24th as my finish date. It has been fun and helpful to be in this group. (And it’s been great to have you!)
  • Sarah: Other than a rather organized guest bedroom closet I got nothing done this week. So I am carrying over my previous week’s goals. I am reading a book called Possession, which is inspiring a great deal of thought. Now to capture that in scripts and videos. To the batcave.

Sounds great, everyone!

This week I wanted to talk a bit about productivity. There are so many books and methods and systems out there aimed toward increasing productivity. If you Google the word, you’ll find not only definitions, but lists upon lists upon lists of “tips” from highly productive people. Some of them are pretty good, and some of them just rehash the same-ole, same-ole. Not that keeping to a writing schedule and being accountable are bad — these things are good, and they’re why we’re all here, aren’t they? But we all know that we need to make time for writing, that successful and prolific writers are those who make writing a priority during their day, no matter what. We know this.

But, how do we actually do it?

Like so much else in life, we need to practice: practice using our willpower and self-control in order to strengthen it for the important activities in life, like writing.

Last winter I read a book called The Willpower Instinct, by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, which was much more satisfying than other self-help and pop-science books I’ve read. McGonigal, a lecturer at Standford, used her ten-week willpower seminar as a model for this book, and she recommends looking at each of the ten chapters as a weekly lesson to be thought about and then practiced before moving on. She also uses gobs of psychological studies as the basis for her conclusions and her advice, which I appreciate. (And, yes, “gobs” is a very scientific term. Thank you very much.)

Now, the reason I mention this book is that McGonigal’s thesis resonated with me. Writing each week is not really about creating a tidy work space in your house (sorry, guys), but it is about having the willpower to turn off the t.v., get off your Facebook app, stand up from the couch, and tell your family you need twenty minutes of alone time to write. That. Is. Literally. All. It. Takes.

So why is it so fu@%ing hard?

Well, McGonigal, citing studies from psychologists Roy Baumeister and Matthew Gailliot, among others, writes that “willpower is a muscle you have to build” (McGonigal Ch. 4)*. She uses a “muscle model” of willpower, which likens your self-control to a literal muscle that can be strengthened with targeted practice and exercise. And like all of our other muscles, your “self-control drains throughout the day.” There’s only so much willpower we have to tap into, so if we’re using the same stash to navigate our family, hold productive meetings with work colleagues, eat fewer donuts, and to write more (or write consistently), we might find that there is less and less at the end of the day.

In her third chapter on strengthening our willpower muscle (the fourth chapter of the audiobook), McGonigal writes about Susan, who wanted to start her own business but had to contend with her hour long commute and a ten-hour work day at a demanding job. When Susan got home at the end of the day, she felt too tired to work on her own business plans. She’d been using her willpower up all day long, and it was spent by the time she pulled her car into the garage.

Susan realized, though, that instead of starting her morning at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee, checking her work emails, she would use that same time for her own project. That early morning kitchen table time and space was when she felt clear-headed and full of energy for the day, so why give it up for someone else? She could certainly wait until she got to work to check those emails; she needed to prioritize herself when her willpower was at its strongest.

Clearly, identifying when our willpower is strongest can help us choose when to schedule our own writing time. But that’s not all there is to it: we must also practice using our willpower for small things so that when the time comes and we are supposed to sit down at our writing space, we can actually do it.

This is where Baumeister and Gailliot come in. They aimed to answer the question “could willpower exhaustion simply be a result of the brain running out of energy” (McGonigal Ch. 4). Gailliot used sugar to boost participants’ energy levels, and then looked at how those participants were able to exert willpower. The study’s findings ultimately discovered more about the effects of blood sugar levels on willpower, and supported the scientists’ hypothesis that willpower could be strengthened with exercises in self-control (because mental exercises are a better idea than just eating some sugar every time you need a boost to get some writing done [I’m running an unscientific replication study using Twinkies in an effort to disprove this; I’ll let you know my findings.]).

If the body, and the brain, is out of energy, it may resist exerting extra energy for self-control. And you know that this is true: it’s almost impossible to get out of bed or off the couch if you’ve got a cold or if you’ve had an emotionally taxing day. So how do we strengthen our willpower to make sure we have it when we need it?

McGonigal looked at the Baumeister/Gailliot study, along with others, and found that small exercises can help. She writes that “committing to any small, consistent act of self-control — improving your posture, squeezing a hand-grip every day to exhaustion, cutting back on sweets, and keeping track of your spending — can increase overall willpower” (Ch. 4).

The reason these small acts work is that in order to get into the habit of doing something small, like saying “yes” instead of “yeah,” your brain has to be on alert and then pause before you make the decision. Training your brain for that kind of mindfulness will help you apply it to larger tasks and projects, like your writing.

So these are your jobs this week:

  1. Identify a time of day when your willpower is at its strongest, and then use that time of day for yourself, even if you’re accustomed to using it for someone/something else;
  2. And do something small to practice your willpower. You can focus on improving your posture throughout the day, drinking water instead of soda, or eliminating your own verbal tic (saying “um” a lot, consistently using a slang term…). Choose anything you like, just be aware of it and try to adjust it every day this week.

If nothing else, by the end of this week you’ll have some insight into when you’re most motivated to write, and how good your posture is. This information will be useful!

 

*my citations are for the audiobook, which labels the introduction as “Chapter 1”, so chapter labels in the hard copy will be different

Works Cited:

McGonigal, Kelly. How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Gildan Media, LLC, 4 Jan. 2012. Audiobook.

Further Reading:

Baumeister, Roy F., Matthew Gailliot, C. Nathan DeWall, and Megan Oaten. “Self-Regulation and Personality: How Interventions Increase Regulatory Success, and How Depletion Moderates the Effects of Traits on Behavior.” Journal of Personality 74:6 (Dec. 2006): 1774 – 1802. Web. 18 Jul. 2016.

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