Monthly Archives: June 2015


The other week Trevor and I took a trip to Maine for our friends’ wedding. These two stupendous humans, Juli and Matt, got married on the rock where they first met when they were working at the Maine Media Workshops almost ten years ago.

Photo Courtesy of Cristen Leifheit, Mainely Adventures!

Juli & Matt, Pre-Nuptial (Photo Courtesy of Cristen Leifheit, Mainely Adventures!)

We’ve known Juli and Matt since 2010, and it’s been an easy and terrific friendship. Trevor bonded with Juli while they worked together at Catherine Edelman Gallery, and I bonded with them both when I met them and learned that they’re funny, smart, and interesting, and while they are active people — biking, rock climbing, and camping people — they do not judge me for being a couch potato. And that’s pretty nice.

They also introduced us to the equally stupendous humans, Cristen and Jayson…

Cristen and Jayson are kind of into each other...

Cristen and Jayson are kind of into each other…

…and together the six of us have watched a lot of Manchester United games, drank a number of beers, and had a lot of laughs.

The heads of some pretty cool folks I know

The heads of some pretty cool folks I know

So it was an honor and a joy to be included in Juli and Matt’s wedding celebration. Trevor and I flew into Boston on Thursday and drove up to Northport, Maine where we’d be meeting up with the bride and groom, and their families and other friends for a four day marriage extravaganza!

We got on our flight…

A rare photo of me and T.

A rare photo of me and T.

…collected our luggage from Logan International Airport…

Baggage Claim

…and immediately got ourselves some chowder:

Because it is one of the most important things to do while in Boston.

Because it is one of the most important things to do while in Boston.

After eating, we hit the road to Maine. It’s a two hundred mile drive to Northport, but a really lovely one, through lots of trees, over many rivers, and on lovely, virtually pothole-free highways. And just as soon as we’d crossed into Maine and stopped to pay a toll, we were greeted by a friendly tollbooth operator. He identified us as newcomers, welcomed us to Maine, and gave us some reading material:

Visitor's Guide

We drove, enjoyed the scenery, and got to the house where everyone was waiting with a keg of delicious beer, a blueberry pie, and some cheese. And that’s a pretty amazing welcome.

It was dark when we arrived, but the next morning we woke up and noticed where we were.

Relaxation Station

This is where we were.

The wedding was Saturday afternoon, so we had all day Friday to fart around in some beautiful weather with some excellent people. We ate, jumped into the ocean, swam in a pond, ate some more, drank some beer, ate a third time, and then sat in front of a bonfire…while eating…again. Food is love, so it was appropriate that during a wedding celebration we got our fill of crab, lobster, clams, mussels, and s’mores. Are s’mores a Maine specialty? No. But they are delicious, so we ate them.







...and more eating.

…and more eating. (Photo courtesy of Jayson Bimber, Mainely Adventures!)

Friday’s dinner was at at Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast, and it was both scenic and delicious.

Young's Lobster Pound

Lobster Pound

Young's Lobster Pound

Juli and her nephew

Young's Lobster Pound

Nora and Ethan, picking out their dinners

Matt and Jayson

Matt and Jayson, getting ready for lobsters!

Rehearsal Dinner


Hello, dinner.

C and J, astounded by their bucket of treats

C and J, astounded by their bucket of treats

We all went to bed on Friday night with our bellies full and our faces tired from smiling. Next up: a wedding!

The ceremony was in the late afternoon, so Trevor and I took some time to wander through a couple of bookstores and eat some more food (surprise, surprise).

While not technically

While not technically “food,” a Bloody Mary comes with a pickle. So, food.

Laura Power

At Stone Soup used books in Camden

Then it was back to the house to get ready before the wedding ceremony. Wedding!

The ceremony was at Beauchamp Point, where we’d jumped off the rocks the day before. The sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, the ocean filled the air with brine and wave-sound, and everyone milled around in excitement.

Trevor, Jayson, and Ethan Waiting for the ceremony! Waiting for the weddingAnd then, we spotted the bride!

Here Comes the Bride

Juli and her dad, Steve, making their way down the rocks


Matt, Juli, and their officiant, Elizabeth (Photo Courtesy of Matt’s mom, Jennifer, Mainely Adventures!)

The ceremony was touching and made most of us cry. Weddings are emotional and Juli and Matt’s was no different. They were so happy and beautiful, and I say with certainty that I wasn’t the only one who shed some tears.

The first newlywed selfie! (Photo Courtesy of Juli Lowe, Mainely Adventures!)

The first newlywed selfie! (Photo Courtesy of Juli Lowe, Mainely Adventures!)

We all set back to the house for the reception. We ate some more (obviously!), laughed, chatted, and then danced the night away.

And now we’re home. Maine is a beautiful state. We have some great friends. And lobster is pretty tasty. Congratulations, Juli and Matt — here’s to years and years of love and happiness!

Week Five: Online Writing Group

It’s the fifth week of the Summer 2015 Online Writing Group!

We’re half-way through our eight week writing group. Don’t lose steam, and don’t forget to give yourself time every week (hopefully every day) to write. Remember: it doesn’t have to be a lot of time; and it doesn’t have to be on a computer. You might jot down notes in a notebook about your current project or a new idea. You might take fifteen minutes to work on one paragraph of your story or blog post. That’s enough! Just give yourself permission to spend that time and energy on your project, and don’t make excuses.

Here are Everyone’s Week Five Updates & New Goals:

  • Anne: This week I want to try something different because I have been very busy, so it’s been hard for me to find the time to write. I would like to revisit my Circus Man and other pieces that I have already written and do a rewrite of them in my journal. I hope to get a good chunk rewritten and maybe, between that and the journaling, it will help me get into the mode to write a manuscript!
  • Anuar: My goals for week five are to add three more chapters to my book. And my writing has been going great so far.
  • Bev: It was slack-dog week for me, although I made good progress weeding the garden…I did two blog posts and not much else. So this week I’m going to find at least four agents, and I mean it this time! Also, I’m going to work on my next letter and get the last letter in the mail.
  • Bonnie: Writing about Ireland, Bonnie?
  • Curt: Are you writing, Curt?
  • Donna: Made progress, Donna?
  • Laura: I didn’t meet my blog goal this week, but I worked on my short story. My goal for week five is the finish the short story and get at least one blog post up (aside from this one).
  • Lisa: I’m in the middle of Kentucky with no WiFi. I’ll have to take the week off. I’ll get lots of reading done this week. 🙂 (Writers need to read, so go to it, Lisa!)
  • Mary: I wrote another post! (I’m really good at writing them last minute, I guess.) So, week five’s goal is to update depending on the outcome of tomorrow’s test and then also, if I’m feeling adventurous, a catch up post of everything that happened before I started the blog. Because I’ve been meaning to do that…
  • Mary Margaret: What’s up, Mary Margaret?
  • Matthew: How you doing, Matthew?
  • Mike: So I didn’t do too bad with mildly ambitious goals this week. I completed (but have not yet posted) one out of the two blog posts I had planned, and I was able to formulate a draft version of the story that coherently combined the first two sections of the original story with the opening section of the second story.
    For this week, I plan to complete a second, longer blog post than what I’d planned for my second post for this past week, as well as complete the last sections of the short story outline and do sufficient research to finalize logistics around one of the bigger plot points in the overall story.
  • Robert: Still traveling, Robert?
  • Samantha: For week five I am not doing anyyything because I’ll have no time in between orientation for DePaul and legally playing with fireworks for a paycheck! (Point all fireworks away from your face, Samantha, and have fun!)
  • Steve: Where’s Mendelssohn at, Steve?

This week’s post is about exposition, and I’m attributing this idea to Trevor, who had to listen to me complain, kind of a lot, about the heavy handed exposition in the first episode of the new season of True Detective.

The Merriam-Webster defines exposition as “the act of explaining something,” and this is essential for a writer working on either fiction or non-fiction, academic or creative work. But the writer’s act of explanation must come after we answer the question, what needs to be explained? What information is essential to the reader’s understanding of the immediate context of the scene, the story? It is only that essential information that should be explained right then and there. Everything else should wait until it is essential to the forwarding of the conflict, the development of characters, or the resolution.

So, why do I bring up True Detective? Because the writer, Nic Pizzolatto, for his first season gave us a beautifully crafted eight-episode story that meted out exposition only when it was developing characters realistically or was contributing to the main action.

But if you’ve been watching the much anticipated second season of TD, like me and others, you might have been disappointed with the first episode, which aired June 21 on HBO. You might have found it dragging and dull, and that’s likely because of the way the new cast of characters are introduced. Unlike the first season’s opening episode — where we are thrown into the lives of two police detectives in Louisiana at the same time we are thrown into the case of a gruesome murder — the second season opens with fifty minutes of “get to know your new cast” bologna in the form of super clunky, exposition-heavy dialogue. The actual crime (of course, a murder) isn’t even discovered until the last five minutes of the show.

In that first fifty minutes (a lot of it in the first ten), we learn that Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) has a failed marriage and a contentious relationship with her new age spiritualist father; that her sister has a history of mental health issues, arrests, and drug abuse, and is now working for a web cam sex subscription collective; that her mother, an unsuccessful actress, committed suicide by drowning herself in a river. It’s the Bezzerides family history in about ten lines! And all of those lines are forced and unnatural because they’re spoken between family members who don’t need to say these things. And they contribute nothing to the main action.

And don’t think that we don’t also learn about the other characters, because we do. In the first few minutes, we learn that Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) has an adolescent son who is the product of a man raping his wife; Velcoro likely killed that man after making a deal with a shady real estate mogul (Vince Vaughn); Velcoro and his now ex-wife are going through a custody dispute. Seriously, that’s like, five minutes in.

Does any of this have to do with the crime? Nope. It’s all just back story. It’s all just Pizzolatto telling us that our detectives are…troubled, out of control, complicated.

You know how he showed us that Detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) was complicated in the first episode of season one? He gave Cohle one nugget to slowly reveal — that he had a daughter and that his daughter was dead. And almost as soon as he’s revealed this to his partner’s wife, Cohle changes the subject. Because Cohle’s not giving up that history tells us a lot about him as a man. And because his back story is not immediately relevant to the “big” story — the story of the crime — we don’t need it right away.

Sometimes, though, the audience does need information. So how do we get it across and still make it feel natural and useful to the action? Let’s take a tip from Pizzolatto’s earlier work: again, the first episode of TD‘s first season. We, the viewers, need to know that a man named Edwin Tuttle is the governor of Louisiana. Here’s how we get it: one Reverend Tuttle visits the police station and name drops “Eddie” when chatting with the detectives. Cohle doesn’t understand the name drop (he says, after the reverend is gone, “And who the fuck‘s ‘Eddie’?”) and the other detectives in the room are in disbelief at his missing this huge reference. To cover Cohle’s ignorance, Detective Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) explains it away by telling the other detectives that Cohle doesn’t have a t.v. and is from Texas, and then he tells Cohle that “Eddie” is the governor and the reverend’s first cousin.

Photo Credit and Video

Sure, Cohle needs to know that, but that bit of exposition is really for us, the audience. We need to know how the reverend and the governor are related, but we also need to know that Rust Cohle is the kind of guy who doesn’t have a television set. Because he doesn’t care about t.v., about politics, about anything other than his job and his own internal demons. Bingo! Character development by way of realistically delivered exposition!

So, writers, here’s your lesson for the week: start with the action. If you’re two pages, three pages, four pages into your story and nothing has happened, then rip those pages out and start with the action.

Remember our week two lesson from Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story? Cron writes that one of the first three questions the reader should be able to answer right away is “what’s happening here?” So cut out all of the unnecessary exposition — the character back story, the family drama — and get down to business. Homer called it in medias res, “in the midst of things”, and since Homer was, well, Homer, let’s follow his lead.

(and everyone watch True Detective because the second episode [which should have been the first] is much better. and then we can talk about it.)

Journaling Past Writer’s Block

Group member Anne, a former student of mine, is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Columbia College Chicago. I worked with her on an Undergraduate Research Scholar Program project about the popularity and tropes of genre fiction, and I even invited her into my class to give a mini-workshop on her findings (I do not invite just anyone to take over my class; in fact, it’s only happened twice in nine years).

Anne 3

Anne talks genre fiction mash-ups to my creative writing students

Anne is a great writer and talented young woman. Here, she talks about tapping into her own emotions to serve her writing process. Enjoy Anne’s post!

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

Writing has saved me hours of emotional turmoil, because for me that is a huge emotional release. It’s where nothing matters beyond the story I need to tell. When I’m feeling extreme emotions lately I’ve been reaching out to my manuscripts and journal. These raw emotions are the driving force behind my writing. I’m creating my own world, a world where the feeling of writer’s block is drowned out by the message I want to send. When I started at the fiction writing program at Columbia, I found myself in a massive writer’s block; but then when I would scroll through the Internet and came upon posts that evoked extreme emotions from me, I would turn to Microsoft Word or my journal and just write.

The students get to work with Anne's writing exerise

The students get to work with Anne’s writing exercise

Using my emotions and experiences, I am able to get in the zone until the story I need to tell is completed. Another thing that helps me is posing questions to myself, asking myself the what would I do if I were in that situation type of questions. Usually I have a long list of questions I ask myself. Sometimes I even write a letter to my characters. And when I feel passionate about that or am able to completely get into my character’s mind, the writer’s block is cleared up.

I am an avid lover of history, so for me looking up historical facts, reading history textbooks or historical fiction, and finding things no one has written about fuel me and induce me into writing a story that I feel needs to be told or there is a message that I need the world to hear. Lately I have been branching outside historical fiction and dipping my toe in the waters of other genres and I have found that my emotions and experiences allow me to let the story tell me what it wants, no matter the genre.

If I can’t really think of anything to write, I purposely turn to things that I know will evoke an extreme emotional reaction from me; then my mind clears from its writer’s block and I’m able to tell what I need to tell. Also, I love reading and asking questions about the novels. I’m excited because lately I have been branching into unknown territory for me, where I put my characters in situations I wouldn’t normally find myself in. That goes back to the what would I/my characters do in certain situations that are new to me/them? I find my writing process easier when I am doing something that I enjoy as well, but more often than not this distracts me and I need to feel that raw emotion put to paper to clear up any remaining traces of that pesky writer’s block.

Anne’s method of getting into her characters’ heads and using her own emotions and hypothetical responses to situations is a great way to write believable actions and reactions. What else do you do to realize your characters?

Week Four: Online Writing Group

It’s the fourth week of the Summer 2015 Online Writing Group!

We’re all in different spots, but we’re all continuing to think about and work on our projects, which is the ultimate goal. So keep it up, everyone!

Here are Everyone’s Week Four Updates & New Goals:

  • AnneThis week I want to continue my journal and see where that takes me. I’m hoping to record further research in my journal as well as looking at new and interesting words and their definitions, and hopefully that exercise will help me in finding material for my story ideas. I do have paragraphs of ideas written, and whether or not they will ever leave my journal is yet to be determined. I’m hoping to get something typed but I don’t want to set a specific page goal. I am just going with it this week and I will see what happens. 
  • Anuar: My goals for week four are to add two more chapters to my book; and my writing has been going well so far. 
  • BevThis week, I’m going to do a blog post, continue research on agents, and spend a couple pomodoros on the second letter in the queue. Oh, and finish the final draft of the first letter and get it ready for duplication and mailing.
  • Bonnie: Where you at, Bonnie?
  • Curt: What’s happening, Curt?
  • Donna: How you doing, Donna?
  • Laura: I didn’t get as far into my story as I’d wanted this week, but it’s still moving along. This week I’ll continue to work on it and write two blog posts (this one doesn’t count).
  • Lisa: I got through two pages and I’m trudging forward slowly. I’ll be away at a conference this week, so if I get anything written (two pages), I’d be really happy.  🙂
  • MaryI had a terrible couple of weeks in regards to this writing group but I did finally post something last week. I’ve decided to revamp my goals and just take them week by week. Since I have something in mind to write about, my goal for week four is to get a post written and published. I’m shooting for earlier in the week rather than later. That way I can get myself set up for another post in week five.
  • Mary Margaret: Are you blogging, Mary Margaret?
  • Matthew: Bust through any writer’s block, Matthew?
  • MikeFor this coming week, I plan to add more detail to the last third of the outline (which he made progress on!), write/rewrite draft versions of the story represented in the first two sections of the outline and write two new posts for my blog.
  • Robert: Robert is still traveling, so he’s got a pass and will pick up when he returns!
  • SamanthaThis week I’m going to start rewriting the second chunk of the story, fleshing it out and improving upon it.
  • Steve: How’s the Mendelssohn paper going, Steve?

Since many of us are working on blogs, I thought I’d focus on crafting a blog post. I started my first blog, Archipelago, in January of 2006. At my height I’d get about one hundred hits/views a day, which, compared to really successful bloggers getting daily hits in the thousands, isn’t a lot. But since I was primarily writing the blog for my family and friends, I felt good about my readership.

The longer I continued my blog and started reading other blogs, I got an understanding of how to craft something that would be easier to read and more popular than my usual blatherings about our dog, my affinity for sandwiches, or our Door County vacations. Now, I really like writing about our dog, sandwiches, and Door County vacations (which is probably why I’ll never really be a thousand-hits-per-day blogger), but now I can do it better.

If you want real readership for your blog, the first thing you need is a niche — a place in the blog-o-sphere where you can write about what you know and where people will want to come to you for your expertise (and, of course, for your good writing). My friend Jeanette at Tiny Rotten Peanuts organizes her site around arts and crafts projects to do with your kids (or just for you, because art is cool). She has a wide reader base of moms: she gets them in with unique and interesting art project tutorials and keeps them reading with her smart and silly writing style. And when she deviates from posts on arts & crafts to write about her kids, husband, or booze, it doesn’t matter because she’s still focused on her story of being a mom, doing art with her kids, and drinking a lot of iced tea.

If you’re not a parent or artist, maybe you’re a foodie, a fashion plate, or a female Canadian academic. Whatever your niche and your audience, find them and write to them.

Once you’re focused, keep your posts frequent, easy to read, and visually interesting.

Keep Posts Frequent

A good rule of thumb for bloggers is to post something new every few days. This means that you’ll need a lot of ideas and you’ll need to keep yourself on a schedule. Luckily, that’s what this online writing group is supposed to help with! Since writing a new post every few days is quite a bit of work, you can compromise by writing one short post and one long post each week. Your short post can include an image and short anecdote or update; your longer post can be something meatier, thoughtful, and something you work on a bit each day.

Keep Posts Easy to Read

In this world of BuzzFeed lists, clickbait, and Reddit, readers are looking for something easy to read and digest. That usually means short and easily scan-able. Write in short paragraphs (nothing is easier to avoid than a big block of text) and make sure your post is organized logically. Sometimes that means making a list-style post, giving directions or instructions, or telling a story in chronological order.

Keep Posts Visually Interesting

Readers want images. Period. This means you should start taking pictures to use in your blog posts, or find appropriate images using Flickr Creative Commons or a similar site. Your images should reflect your post’s content, though it can be straight or sarcastic. Remember Matthew’s post about busting writer’s block? His image of “matches,” a bottle of “gin” and “Taylor Swift” wasn’t exactly…accurate. But it was funny and worked with his tone.

Images aren’t the only way to keep posts visually interesting; you can also use headings, numbered or bulleted lists, or italics or bold font. Don’t overuse any of these, though. If you have a bunch of different lists with a bunch of bold-face words, no reader will understand what’s really important.

Read other blogs to see what works well and what doesn’t. Remember that blog posts don’t have to be long, but following the above mentioned tips will at least ensure good organization and audience appeal. And share your blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to promote your work and to find interested readers.

What else do you think about when writing for your blog? Share in the Comments below to keep the conversation going!

One Writer’s Process

When I was recruiting members for the Lake Projects Online Writing Group, I asked for volunteers to contribute guest posts for the blog. The posts could include details about the writer’s eight-week project, their writing process, or something else.

The first guest post was by Matthew Wasik, and it explained, in excellent detail, how to combat writer’s block. This post, by Anuar Escutia Ponce de León, discusses one writer’s process for putting together his motivational book, Looking for Stars in the Middle of the Darkness. Enjoy Anuar’s post!

This is a guest post from Anuar Escutia Ponce de León, a member of this summer’s Online Writing Group:

So far my writing progress has been going great. I have six chapters and the prologue of my book done. These chapters are some of the previous blogs I have posted on my blog, Wheelchairs Rock. I pretty just copy and paste them into my book. It was simple, but I did have to edit the posts into a book version.

My book idea is to share those moments full of tears and full of brightness that have taught me something valuable. I figure that readers could possible learn something valuable from the things that I’ve experienced in my life. Everyone has their own situation in life and each of us learn different important lessons. So I believe it’s always good to make the best out the lessons life gives us by sharing those lessons with others.

I have many posts written that I haven’t had the chance to put on my blog yet. So I’m going to add those posts to my book throughout these next weeks. Sometimes I feel like I have enough material to publish this book, but I believe I still have many more lessons to obtain. Those lessons could perhaps be very useful for this book.

Feel free to check out my blog and give me some feedback. It’s highly appreciated since my blogs will be chapters of my book in the future.

Thanks for post, Anuar! Writing a blog is a great way to test material, gain readers, and build a buzz about your story and your book. Good luck! (check out more from Anuar on his blog, Wheelchairs Rock)

Week Three: Online Writing Group

It’s the third week of the Summer 2015 Online Writing Group!

Unfortunately, my slack-doggedness rubbed off on some of you, and this wasn’t as productive of a week as our first. But that’s okay, writers! After you read our goals list, check out some of the links I’ve provided for life-work balance, and make sure to carve out some time for yourself this week, even if it’s just thirty minutes. You’re worth it!

Here are Everyone’s Week Three Updates & New Goals:

  • Anne: My second week is going okay, but not as I wanted. So this week’s goal is going to be a bit different. Week three goal: This week I’m going to focus on my journaling. It helps me get organized to write a manuscript and I want to get better at keeping up with journaling on a regular basis as I have fallen out of the rhythm I had during the Spring semester. Of course I’m going to continue my research goal from week two; however, I do feel I need to put the breaks on writing a manuscript without the daily journaling to get me back in sync. I want to try to journal for twenty minutes every day this week. (use a twenty-minute pomodoro, Anne!)
  • Anuar: My goals for week three are to add two more chapters to my book; my writing has been going good so far. I’m really excited with the way my book is going. (Anuar also wrote a guest post for this week–check back tomorrow to see it!)
  • BevMy second week also went well, mostly because the rain kept me out of the garden. The weeds are doing well also! I have just finished the revisions on my 18-page letter. I have also cut even more out of the intro to Seven Bridges and feel pretty good about my opening line, which satisfies the three questions posed in last week’s blog — “I’m taking the job in North Dakota.”
    For week three, I have to stop doing fun writing and spend at least three hours on my nascent instructor guide to the lab manual. I’ll feel better when it’s done, and it won’t get done if I don’t work on it. (Bev, who said writing lab manual guides can’t be fun — just add a margarita to your process!)
  • Bonnie: Goals TBA
  • Curt: Goals TBA
  • Donna: Weeks two through eight: re-research information for Glimmer Train and research three other magazines; incorporate edits to story. *
  • Laura: Week two went better than the first week for me. I spent some time doing minor revisions on my short story and added a few new pages. I also wrote a short blog post. For the third week, I’m going to try to get through the second of three scenes for the short story.
  • Lisa: AGAH! I got nothing accomplished this week. I’m determined to catch up, so I say ten pages for me this week. Wish me luck! (You can do it, Lisa, you amazing woman!)
  • Mary: Goals TBA
  • Mary Margaret: My one week objective is to write a blog post on my site to get the cobwebs out and get creating again. **
  • Matthew: Goals TBA
  • Mike: Week Two was a step backwards, but nothing we can’t overcome in Week Three. I had a weird week at work, where I was rarely in front of my desk (to actually set aside some writing time), and then we were up in Madison all weekend. Anyway, we’ll just re-up the Week Two goal to be our Week Three goal and move on. (That worked for me last week!)
  • Robert: Robert is traveling, so he’s got a pass and will pick up when he returns!
  • Samantha: I’m basically THE WOOOORST and my week three goals are the same as week two: rewrite the first part of my story since it’s terrible and it needs to be purged forever. (You’re not the worst! You’re an amazing starfish! Now write, starfish, write!)
  • Steve: Confession — I completed the bibliography and the first page of my Mendelssohn paper — will finish the draft by end of week three — really! (Everyone gets a few set-backs, Steve! Now get writing!)

*Donna is a new addition to the Lake Projects writing group. Her big picture goals are to edit and then submit her short story, “The Baby,” to literary magazines by September. Welcome, Donna!

**Mary Margaret is another new addition to the group. Her big picture goal is to compete a short story to be submitted for publication. Welcome, Mary Margaret!

Although this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education is supposed to address an academic’s life-work balance, much of it applies to a non-academic’s life, so everyone should give it a read. The biggest takeaway is that we as writers need to set boundaries to protect our writing time. Because most of us are writing at home and have distractions. Mine is an adorable but demanding  who is so fussy about getting in enough play time.


can we play? huh? huh? let’s go out? okay? okay? let’s play? now? now?? come ON!

This article published more recently on the Writer’s Digest website, claims that writing is important. And guess what? It is! Is it more important than, say, making sure your children are fed and clothed, or making sure that your electricity bill is paid, or that your dog is walked? Maybe not more important than those things, but it’s still important. So give it a higher priority this week, even if you can only afford to do so for a short amount of time.

Finally, here’s a (hopefully) inspirational anecdote. Last night I stayed up until 1 a.m. to finish the thriller, Dark Tide, I’d started on Friday. The book, the second novel by a British author named Elizabeth Haynes, was a real page turner, due in large part to the narrative structure. When I finished it, I read the acknowledgements at the end, curious about the research Haynes had done to get into the world of houseboats and strip clubs (read the book).

Haynes mentioned that the first draft of this book was a product of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Contest in 2010. And about two years later — with the help of editors at HarperCollins, so, okay, we don’t all have that… — she’d published the 394-page thriller. Now, it’s not as good as the other two books I’ve read by Haynes, but it got me to stay up way past my bedtime to finish it, and I’d say that’s something.

The reason I mention this is because Haynes is a working writer. She’s a police intelligence analyst in England, and she has one son. And between her job and her family, she carved out enough time over the four weeks of November to put down 90,000 words of a novel. So that means that over our remaining five weeks, we can do just as well.

Now, everyone, write. Write today, even for a few minutes. And then write tomorrow. And Wednesday. And, why not — Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, too.

And if you didn’t get me your goals for this week, post them in the Comments section below.

Check back here on Tuesday for Anuar’s guest post, and good writing!

Screen and Stage

On Tuesday, June 2, Trevor and I went to Midwest Independent Film Festival “First Tuesday” show at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema in Lincoln Park.

This month’s showing was a celebration of female filmmakers, and our friend Cristen Leifheit was featured in the program. Of course we had to go to support Cristen, cheer on her amazing animated short film, Power(less), and check out what some other female filmmakers in the Midwest are up to.

Turns out, they’re up to a lot of good stuff:


Cristen’s film was the only animated short on the agenda (and can I say it was the best one on the agenda? [oh, guess what? It was the best one on the agenda. BAM! I just said it]) and it was terribly exciting to see it on the big screen.

Here are some of the gang during the pre-show cocktail hour:

Cristen and her mom, Laura

Cristen and her mom, Laura

The disembodied heads of female filmmakers!

The disembodied heads of female filmmakers!

All of you should check out Cristen’s website for more of her work — she’s pretty much the best.

The weirdest part of the evening happened as we were walking into the theater. I ran into these adorable faces greeting the festival-goers:

Those two cuties are Emily and Matthew, students at MCC! (kwhat?! I know, weird, right??) They’d volunteered to be ushers for the event, and I loved seeing them, randomly and fifty miles out of my usual school context.

Emily and Matthew segue nicely into the stage portion of this post, because the two young actors appeared in MCC’s Spring 2015 production of columbinus. Some of you might remember that I helped out with the props for this show, and I was proud to be a part of such an interesting and thoughtful production.

And next month, I’ll be a part of another school production, the first summer show in MCC’s history (someone fact check that; I don’t know if it’s accurate…): God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza.

God of Carnage at MCC

My character, Annette, has previously been played by Hope Davis (in the Tony Award-winning 2009 production) and Kate Winslet (in the Roman Polanski film version). So that’s freaking me out. And it’s actually scarier than filling Liza Minnelli’s shoes when I did Cabaret last year. I don’t know how this is possibly scarier than Cabaret, but it is.

We’ve been rehearsing for almost four weeks now, and all is going well. It’s a terrific play with a lightening fast pace, which makes memorizing lines a little tricky, but the four of us are doing well. Kellee Stall of Inhabit Theater is directing this show, and the crew — many familiar people from Cabaret — are kicking ass in the creativity and helpfulness departments.

God of Carnage Table Reading

Pre-rehearsal chats

Pre-rehearsal chats

Getting into character with Crazy Helium Booth

Getting into character with Crazy Helium Booth

Jay gets comfy on the set during break

Jay gets comfy on the set during break

I’ll have more about the show as we get a bit closer, but mark your calendars for the second and third weekends in July — and you’re all welcome to spend the night at Camp Crystal Lake (maybe not all of you…).

Come back on Monday for a new post about our Lake Projects Summer Writing Group. Until then, have a lovely weekend!

Getting Rid of Writer’s Block

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

Is writer’s block getting you down? Tired of staring at the screen, hoping Gunshija, Goddess of writers, will send you divine inspiration? Well, look no further! I, Matthew Wasik, am going to enlighten you on how I smash through writer’s block like the Hulk smashes through walls!


1:   Obtain the following items: a matchbox, the biggest bottle of gin you can find, and a picture of renowned pop star Taylor Swift. Set them on the table and croon softly to them.

2:   Light a match, stare at it until it burns down, and consider all the terrible choices you’ve made in life. Rinse and repeat until the matchbox is empty. Eat the empty matchbox.

3:   Smash the photograph while screaming “WHY DID YOU BETRAY ME, TAYLOR!? WHY?! I THOUGHT YOU WERE MY SOUL MATE!!!”

4:   Ignore the fact that you’ve never met Taylor Swift.

5:   Chug the bottle of gin.

6:   Curl into a ball and cry for several hours.

The tools you need to banish writer's block

The tools you need to banish writer’s block

Congratulations! You are now ready to write an award winning novel or build a robot! The world is your gin-soaked oyster! Go forth and CREATE!!!

…In all seriousness, my way of breaking through writer’s block is, oddly enough, to slide around it. If I get stuck on one project, I’ll switch to another one. Then I’ll return to the original project once my brain is reset. I don’t know if this would work for you, since I have a strange brain-mind, but feel free to try it!


Thanks for the tips, Matthew! Your brain-mind is amazing. (check out more from Matthew on his blog) Readers, now that you have some great writer’s block-busters, get writing!

Week Two: Online Writing Group

It’s the second week of the Summer 2015 Online Writing Group!

It sounds like most everyone is on track and that makes me so happy! But I’m going to be the outlier and admit that I didn’t meet my goals for week one. I could tell you that I’ve been busy rehearsing for a play (I have!) or that I’m useless if I don’t go into the office where my little pomodoro picture is hanging on the wall (I am!), but you all know that all excuses are bullshit. This week I was just a slack-dog.

Yes, the person running this group is a slack-dog. What’s a slack-dog, you ask? Here you go:

Slack-dog \ˈslak ˈdȯg, ˈdäg\ : one who does not do her weekly writing

Pictured Right–Slack-dog \ˈslak ˈdȯg, ˈdäg\ : one who does not do her weekly writing   Pictured Left–Regular-dog \ˈre-gyə-lər, ˈre-g(ə-)lər also ˈrā- ˈdȯg, ˈdäg\ : one who does do her weekly writing (if writing =  eating, sleeping, running, and pooping)

So now you know what you’ll turn into if you miss your weekly goals! It’s not really that bad; but I do hope to look like a normal human again next week once I’ve done some writing.

Here are Everyone’s Week Two Updates & New Goals:

  • Anne: This week I plan on continuing my writing at a slow pace and to FIND time for myself to write this week come hell or high water. I will begin some research for another novel in stories that has been rattling around in my brain for the past month or so. I don’t want to give too much away (in case it doesn’t work the way I planned) but it will be about a local historic hotel in my area that has been closed for some years now. This hotel is important to many people in the area and I want to show the history of this place and why it was so important. I want to at least have a rough draft of this going by the end of the eight weeks, but maybe get around five pages written, or at least get an outline written for this week. It’s mainly going to be a research week but I will try to get something written. I have decided that the novel in story format will work perfectly for this project as well. This novel in stories is going to focus more on the place and the lasting impact this hotel has had on the area residents. As for Circus Man, it’s still going along, slowly and I will be doing more research for this as well this week. *
  • Anuar: So far my writing has been going pretty good and I was able to finish all my goals. My goals for this upcoming week are the following: add at least two chapters to the book I’m writing; and write a guest post. (Anuar’s guest post will be featured next week!)
  • Bev: Continue work on spring break letter (minimum 3 pomodoros), which is taking longer than I thought it would; continue researching agents (minimum 2 pomodoros); and re-read intro to 7 Bridges and cut even more spurious content (minimum 2 pomodoros). (I’m so glad the pomodoros are working for you, Bev!)
  • Bonnie: (Bonnie is out of the country, so we’ll assume she’s met her goals and is processing her Ireland experiences for the project she’ll start when she returns.)
  • Curt: Baby steps : Write every day. Aim for 1500 words at the end of the week.**
  • Laura: Since I came woefully short of my first week goal, my second week goal is to open the story, and just start working. I’m going to analyze the first page to see if I’ve clearly answered Lisa Cron’s three questions (see below), and if not, I’ll start my work there.
  • Lisa: I will be trying to get through another five pages this week. So far, so good. 🙂
  • Mary: Week two goal is to edit my blog post. (After I finish writing it because we all know I didn’t finish. [thank you, Mary, for being an amazing slack-dog, too! I feel better])
  • Matthew: (Matthew contributed this week’s guest post [it’s going up tomorrow, so check back!], and he has met his goal for this week.)
  • Mike: Week two goal is to complete an outline of the new story, consolidating the existing drafts of the two previous stories, and the notes from the earlier workshop on one of the two stories.
  • Robert: I’m at 40,700 words, so I wrote maybe 700 – 1000 words. We are busy prepping for our vacation, so I didn’t expect to get much done. Once the vacation starts, well, I don’t think much writing will occur. That’s how it goes. When I return, then I’ll get back to the project. But I’ll be reading this blog! Keep on writing, fellow writers! (Thanks, and safe travels, Robert!)
  • Samantha: My week two goals are to begin to rewrite the first chunk of the story, as I have reread it and hate it to bits. (I told Samantha she has to hate it so that she can rewrite it and make it amazing.)
  • Steve: Draft of Mendelssohn paper by June 10.

*Anne, this sounds amazing! I have two books to recommend for you: 1. Hotel World by Ali Smith–it’s not a collection of short stories, but a collection of narratives/voices centered around a hotel. Smith is a terrific writer and it’s an interesting book. And 2. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. Although I am confident that this is not the genre or style you’re working towards, I’m going to recommend you read Haunted for an example of a novel through short stories as well as first person [sort of] narration. Be warned, though, that Palahniuk is at his graphic best (worst?) in this book, especially with the story “Guts.” (writers, what other stories-as-novel do you recommend?)

**Curt is new to the group. His eight-week objectives are to complete at least three chapters of Book 2 (of his Legacy of the Guardians series); maybe finish one of several short stories that have been stuck in limbo for so long; send another round of query letters to agents for Book 1. Welcome to the group, Curt!

All right, so everyone (besides me) seems to be on track and getting it done–good work, writers!

This week, as part of my slack-doggedness, I started reading Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. This book, by Lisa Cron, is a marriage of the two things I love: books on writing and books on brains.

Cron’s first chapter begins the explanation of why humans crave story and what we writers can do to create a compelling first page and first line. In large part, writers must make sure to answer the following three questions (and quick!) in order to keep the reader engaged:

  1. Whose story is it?
  2. What’s happening here?
  3. What is at stake? (Cron 19)

As readers, Cron says, “we are looking for a reason to care.” So when we write, we must make sure to begin our story with a “ball already in play” (13).

I give you, then, a job this week, writers: re-read your first line and your first page. Will your reader be able to answer Cron’s three questions? If not, revise.

And to inspire you, here are some great first lines (because after reading Cron’s first chapter, I immediately started pulling books off my library shelves to read the first lines. [this, then, led to me rereading, in its entirety, my favorite book Franny and Zooey, thus further procrastinating my writing]):

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen)

“I still get nightmares.” (House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski)

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” (Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides)

“Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up.” (Under the Skin, Michel Faber)

“Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” (The Trial, Franz Kafka)

“Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.” (The Shining, Stephen King)

“The circus arrives without warning.” (The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern)

“Gerard Maines lived across the hall from a woman named Benna, who four minutes into any conversation always managed to say the word penis.” (Anagrams, Lorrie Moore)

“This was supposed to be a writers’ retreat.” (Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk)

“Never never tell, Maddy-Monkey, they warned me, it’s Death if you tell any of Them but now after so many years I am going to tell, for who’s to stop me?” (Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, Joyce Carol Oates)

“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of Communism.” (The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx)

“When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.” (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami)

“Though brilliantly sunny, Saturday morning was overcoat weather again, not just topcoat weather, as it had been all week and as everyone had hoped it would stay for the big weekend–the weekend of the Yale game.” (Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger)

“Who’s there?” (Hamlet, William Shakespeare)

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” (White Teeth, Zadie Smith)

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson)

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.” (Chapter 1, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien)

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy)

“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.” (A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole)

“The person to whom this book is dedicated, Phoebe Hurty, is no longer among the living, as they say.” (Breakfast of Champions [Or, Goodbye Blue Monday!], Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

“I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.” (Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace)

“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital/Columbus, Ohio,/USA — /a country caught/between Black and White.” (Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson)

Now, writers, go on and write, reflect, revise, and let us know how it goes. Check back tomorrow for Matthew’s amazing guest post. Good luck, and good writing!

Cron, Lisa. Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2012. Print.