Week One: Summer 2016 Online Writing Group

Welcome to the first week of the Summer 2016 Online Writing Group!

This is week one of our second summer online writing group (you can read about our first summer group here). We’ve got a terrific group of people participating this summer: some veterans of the group, some new participants, some of my MCC colleagues, some former students, some friends, some people I’ve never even met (I’m so excited about this in particular), and…wait for itmy mom! (I’m most excited about this one!) So welcome, everyone, to the group!

Just a heads-up: you’ll notice that I have four women beginning our list (which is organized alphabetically by first name) whose names look/sound/are alike. There is Alena, a former student of mine who just graduated from MCC and will be transferring to a four-year college in the fall to study creative writing; and there is Aliena, a former student of mine who, after leaving MCC, went on to get her bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois at Springfield, graduated a couple of years ago, and is now planning to go back to graduate school to become an English professor (so, they’re obviously both dream students who are amazing young women and I want to give them one million high fives every second of every day).

Then, there are my Annes. Yes: there are two women named Anne in this group! Anne D. is a former student of mine who is finishing up her bachelor’s degree in creative writing at Columbia College, Chicago (another round of one million high fives!); and Anne H. is my English Department colleague at MCC who is getting back into writing for herself after many years of writing just for work. She’s also a fellow DePaul University MA in Writing alum, so she, too, gets one million high fives from me. I’m going to have a super sore palm from all of these high fives but I DO NOT CARE BECAUSE I LOVE HIGH FIVES FOR WRITING! HIGH FIVES FOR EVERYONE!

Okay, now let’s get into it. Below, you’ll see two lists of goals that each participant has submitted:

  1. A list of big picture goals–what everyone hopes to achieve by the end of our eight week session
  2. A list of first step goals–what everyone hopes to achieve by the end of our first week

As we continue on each week, I’ll only include everyone’s weekly goal, but please come back here for a refresher on each writer’s big project goals.

Big Picture Goals:

  • Alena: My eight-week objective is to write a minimum of 60 pages. They can be from different stories or poems. School and work assignments do not count.
  • Aliena: EIGHT-WEEK GOAL: Begin plot work on weird Americana novel about a doppelganger town; begin work on script for sci-fi podcast (and make a demo first episode, but that’s unrelated to writing, sort of); write something every day, aiming toward a complete scene each day.
  • Anne D.: My big objective is to get something published this summer. I’m looking into various magazines and looking over older work and what will work. By the end of the eight weeks I will have a magazine picked out a solid draft of something to send in and a query letter. The query letter will be later weekly objective.
  • Anne H.: BIG PICTURE: I want to set the habit of writing every day, and, like our fearless leader Laura, I also feel that time or amount is not the key objective, but rather the EVERY DAY piece. (fearless? HA! but thanks, Anne!)
    SIDE BIG PICTURE: I have been working this spring on setting up my writing area, and I need to get that completed so that the space actually tempts me! It already tempts me, actually, but I have a few more steps to make.
    SIDE SIDE BIG PICTURE: I’m also wanting to continue my project from the winter writing session of going through books and magazines I have related to writing, especially fiction and poetry, since I have never done much of that. I’m making my own set of notes from what I read. I want to continue that. I also have gazoodles of podcasts about writing that I have downloaded. I’ve got back to listening to them on a few road trips the past few weeks, so over the summer I will continue with that and occasionally add to my notes.
  • Bev: My long term goal is to finish revising my memoir. I have eight chapters left, which works out to a tidy short term goal of one per week. I also want to write a post on my blog each week, but this is sort of a cheat goal because I do that anyway. (nothing is a “cheat” goal; it all counts, Bev!)
  • Emily: I am not teaching this summer, so I have a lot of writing goals for June and July. I hope joining this group keeps me on task! My big picture objectives are to: 1) draft three questions/week for eight weeks (twenty-four questions) for a book I’m writing called “100 Questions (And Answers) About Research Ethics”; 2) revise and submit a draft of a paper (on breast cancer screening) — I have a good draft but it needs some reworking; and 3) (once I’m done with #2) write a decent first draft of a paper on paying people to participate in research.
  • Katherine: My current project is a memoir that is essentially about the process of grieving a miscarriage. I currently have about eighty-three pages written. My eight-week lofty goal is to have a polished novel-length draft that could be sent of to publishers, agents, or editors. This is not an easy task considering I have a 9-month-old at home.
  • Laura: My eight-week objectives are to write every day (no word count or page goal, just writing every single day); to rework and finish a short story I’ve been working on for a loooooong time; to work on some Bitch Flicks articles; and to start working on the detective novel I got an idea for this past winter.
  • LisaDraft one chapter [of the children’s chapter book I’m working on] per week.
  • Matt: During the Winter Writing Group I completed the rough draft of my book, which consists of several stories and comics that tell a whole story. The first story in the book is both the oldest (at two decades) and the longest (at 150 pages). Now that I have made it to the “end,” I am in a better position to understand the aspects of the first story that properly pay off in the long run, so my main goal centers on that story, which needs the most work. I intend to identify places where this story can be made shorter, sharper, and more entertaining, to find what can be removed or replaced. As the first story in the collection, it needs to pull a reader in more successfully so that they don’t need to slog through two hundred pages before things get rewarding.
  • Ray: My big picture goal for the next eight weeks is to complete the story arc for at least one main character in the third book [Ray recently got a publishing deal for his first two books, so he is continuing with those characters], outline, plot, and written rough draft, for at least one main character. I have found that it is easier to write a whole book if you just focus on one character at a time. It lets me focus on that one character, get into their mindset, their goals, their ambitions and motivations for doing what they do; by thinking of one person at a time, you can write a series of small stories set against the backdrop of the “big” story that you are writing. So, one character complete, start to finish in the next eight weeks, I think that is a reasonable goal.
  • Robert: My 8 week objective: finish first draft of my novel. I currently have 65,000 words and I’d like about 85,000.
  • Rosalie: My goal is to finish the three tours that I am supposed to turn in to the Art Institute by July 15. I’ve already sort of given myself permission to be a few weeks late, but it would be so much better if I could finish on time. That would mean that I would have to create twenty-four lesson plans and three rather extensive tour outlines. So far I’ve done five lesson plans.
  • Sarah: During this eight weeks I have some writing to do for graduate school. I will be writing for the next two weeks on papers for my last two classes. For the following six weeks I will be writing my thesis and scripts for Non-Western Art History lecture videos.

First Step Goals:

  • Alena: My one-week objective is to proofread my novel excerpt for the Art on the Fox reading and to write a minimum of four pages of the short story idea I got from a nightmare.
  • Aliena: ONE-WEEK GOAL: Clear off a writing space in my apartment, acquire notebook for this group, write each day. (I LOVE THAT ALIENA HAS INCLUDED BUYING WRITING MATERIALS AS PART OF HER GOALS AND I’M GOING TO STEAL YOUR IDEA, ALIENA!)
  • Anne D.: This week I started a new job so I will try to get something done, but my goal this week is going to be figuring out a schedule. My computer is on the fritz and I work five days of the week so I need to give myself a week or so to figure out a routine to write with working. 
  • Anne H.: FIRST STEP: I’d like to take a shot at the “Prince” poem during the first week. I’ve almost never tried any poetry, but I have this inspiration from the night Prince died, a poem about being a child of the 80s, growing up from that, and not growing up from that — in my case, mostly not growing up from it — meaning not growing out of it — and how to be okay with that stuck-in-the-80s as a life choice — not stuck at all.
  • Bev: Work on one chapter of my memoir and write a blog post.
  • Emily: My goals for Week 1 include: 1) (not on my big picture goals but needs to get done) writing a post on my recent service trip to Belize for the Dept. of Medical Education blog (Steve [Emily’s husband] and I helped build a house with a group of medical students); 2) write three questions for the book; and 3) read through my breast cancer paper draft and make a plan for finalizing it.
  • Katherine: My Week 1 goal is to write the three topics that are sitting at the end of my draft as a to-do list: still holding on to my sympathy cards; why I don’t feel it’s necessary to name the child we lost (not naming the child doesn’t make my grief any less real or the child any less loved); and feeling like it’s my responsibility to shield others from the grief of a miscarriage.
  • Laura: My week-one objectives are to write our first online writing group blog post, to query BF about an article idea I have, and to read and start to evaluate what needs to be done to my story-in-progress.
  • Lisa: My goal is to write a draft of chapter one of the children’s chapter book I’m working on.
  • Matt: For the first week, I am focusing on one sequence. There is a scene close to the beginning that is not functioning as strongly as it should, and I’ve figured out some ways to make it work better. My goal is to scrape out all the connective tissue between this scene and the rest of the story, and replace it with something that actually matters in a way that its current iteration does not.
  • Ray: My week one goal will be to map out where I want that character to go, and what I want them to do.
  • Robert: My 1st week objective: 1,000 words a day for a total of 7,000 words.
  • Rosalie: My goal for next week is to finish my first tour, which means writing three or four more lesson plans and finish the first tour outline.
  • Sarah: By the end of the first week I will complete a mock grant proposal (four pages) as well as wall text (another four pages) that would accompany a show on American Art from 1800 – 1900.

As you can see, we have a terrific mix of creative and academic work represented here, which I find really exciting. I’m looking forward to hearing about everyone’s progress over the summer.

Since there’s so much good stuff going on in our lists, I didn’t want to give anyone too much more to read; however, I have an article to recommend for all of you writers (and readers) to read and think about: “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate,” by Adam Grant, writing for The New York Times.

I’m definitely one to procrastinate, so I was happy to read Grant’s article. I wholeheartedly agree with his thesis — putting off projects for a bit to allow yourself to think, brainstorm, and plan can be tremendously useful in getting the best results — and, were I not sure that my students would use this idea as an excuse for late assignments, I would promote it more in my classes (although making my students go through a quick game of Solitaire immediately after giving them an essay assignment might give them some interesting topic ideas…).

But I’m confident that all of you will understand that it’s often at times we’re not working that our best ideas pop into our heads. I know that I get great ideas when I’m thinking about a work-in-progress while Roo and I are on a walk through the neighborhood, or when I’m driving home from the grocery store, or when I’m washing my hair. So if you’re starting a new project, give yourself a little room to just think. Do something mindless, like watering your plants.

ProcrastinationsAnd be okay with the fact that if you don’t get any writing done, it doesn’t mean you’re not thinking about your project; in fact, giving yourself some space and time to think about different ways of approaching it might mean you’re going to end up with something that’s not only more thoughtful, but also more creative or efficient (or both).

Later this week, we’ll have our first guest post from Bev; and next week, in addition to everyone’s week two goals, we’ll get some new project management tips.

Until then, good writing, everyone!

Pear Carrot

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4 thoughts on “Week One: Summer 2016 Online Writing Group

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