Week One: Winter 2017 Online Writing Group

Welcome to the first week of the Winter 2017 Online Writing Group!

This is week one of the Winter 2017 edition of the Lake Projects Online Writing Group. Welcome readers, and welcome writers, to what I hope will be a fun and productive month.

This is our second winter session (check out last year’s) and our fourth overall session (we’ve done Summer 2015 and Summer 2016), and I’m excited to welcome two new members to our group.

Our first new member is Kate, a wonderful woman who Trevor met first when they were students at Columbia College about fifteen years ago. As soon as I met her, I claimed her as my friend, too, and I still appreciate her for her excellent, pun-tastic, and sometimes (almost always) dirty jokes, and for our shared adoration of Paul Rudd.

Image Credit: Pop Sugar

Kate, this is for you. And for the rest of America. You’re welcome. (Image Credit: Pop Sugar)

Our next new member is Rachel, who I met during a weird and wonderful experience during the summer of 2007: we were extras in The Dark Knight. A literacy organization I was volunteering for at the time, 826CHI, had an opportunity for their volunteers to work as extras for the movie and donate our pay (about $35/day) to the organization. I didn’t have much to do that summer during the weeks they were shooting, and I figured, why not? I met Rachel the first day I was there, and since so much of being an extra is hanging around doing nothing, we chatted, played cards, became friends, and eventually ended up “on” camera in the funeral parade scenes.

There we are, Rachel! (Original Photo Credit: Loop/Chicago)

There we are, Rachel! (Original Image Credit: Loop/Chicago)

Welcome, new writers, and welcome back to the rest of you! Now, let’s get down to business.

Below is a list of everyone’s goals for the next four weeks. I’ve included our big picture and first week goals together for this first post, and then each Monday through the month, I’ll include everyone’s weekly goals. Here we go!

Winter Writing Goals:


Four-Week goal: There are two short pieces that I want to work on over the break. The first is a short story that I will refer to by its working title, “A Simple Murder.” I want it to be almost ready to submit for publication by the end of the winter break so I can submit it to a workshop class come February. The other piece I’ll be working on is a short biography of my grandparents’ early lives and all the crazy things that happened to them during the war in Croatia.

First week goal: My goal for week one is to work on either of these (whichever one is calling my name). I already have an outline and a page drafted for my grandparents’ biography. Now I need to finish the first draft. For “A Simple Murder,” I’m on the sixth or seventh draft but it needs more revisions. This will probably require me to do some journaling and brainstorming to further develop the main character.

Anne D.:

Okay, so my four-week goal is to write and see where it takes me. I have a few things that I am working on right now.

Anne H.:

Four-Week goal: Finish and make notes on four more books about writing; continue to compile novel and screenplay worksheets.

This week’s goal: Finish reading and making notes on “Save the Cat.”

Update: Since our summer group, I’ve continued to perfect my writing space in my house. I’ve made good progress and may even get it “just right” during this writing group in January. I also participated in NaNoWriMo and worked on a few projects, writing at least a paragraph on 27 of 30 days. I even gave about 20 printed pages from one of those projects to a colleague at the start of December, just to make that project more “real.” I’ve been discussing works in progress with my another colleague during our morning walks, and I shared a piece of another project on one of those walks. But all of this activity made me want to get some expert advice on a few issues, to study up on some things I was having problems with right off the bat as I started practicing scenes and characters during November. So, I started in December reading and re-reading some books and my notes on books about writing and compiling what I am calling “worksheets.” These are planning sheets for screenplays and novels. My writing software (Scrivener) came with basic planning sheets; but I’m compiling my own along with other notes. The last time I did a study project on writing books was 2001. I found the notes. Wow. I guess it is about time to get back to this. Thanks to the group for the motivation!


I don’t have a storyline that I’ve been brewing. I just want to get back to writing. Anything.
So my plan is to do writing exercises. First week: wordstreams. [Kate, I’m so glad you joined the group — check out the exercise at the end of this post for another idea to get you started.]


My four-week goal is to finish a short story I started last week and to send it out for publication. I’d also like to work on the Creative Writing Part 2 course curriculum for school; I didn’t get much work done for it while on my sabbatical Fall semester, so I’m going to see what I can get done in the next month. My week one goal is to revise my short story and submit it to The Missouri Review for publication and to the Kenyon Review’s 2017 Short Fiction contest.


With a slightly heavy heart I find myself with much the same goal as this time a year ago. While my stated intent at that time was to create “a readable first draft by the end of January”, and I am no longer on the first draft, a convincing argument could be made that ‘readable’ is a quality that has yet to be achieved, in the broadly accepted sense.

While the various stories that make up my book are working pretty well, they are still not hanging together in the way I want. Over the summer I was able to share a draft (version two and a halfish?) with my college thesis adviser, Maxine Scates. She oversaw the writing of the central story twenty years ago, and it was emotionally important to me that she be involved in this process. Since Max is a human person with things to do, she did not provide a detailed analysis of the project, but she did confirm for me some misgivings I had, and helped me to focus my next round of efforts.

My book has a framing device. I know, that’s terrible, it’s like telling instead of showing, or not having a proper climax, or ending your book with “and then he woke up. It was all a dream!”  Well, bugger off, this book needs a framing device, and I know how much everyone hates framing devices, which is why I’m working so hard on it. [Matt, you will get no judgment from me; Geek Love, House of Leaves, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Taming of the Shrew — all amazing stories and all with frames!]

I’ve begun the process of scrapping a lot of the interstitial material, redistributing information and, most importantly, turning the author of the framing device into a character instead of just a voice. She was always meant to be a character, it was just the last thing I got around to doing. My goal for the four weeks is to completely reorganize the framing structure to allow for more active participation, to more fully involve the (rather disembodied) character in the framing device with the overall story. The process has a cascade effect throughout the book, and I don’t yet know how much work will be created by this task, but I guess you could say that I’m hoping to have a first readable draft by the end of January.


So I have lots of ideas for essays floating around on various bits of paper, and also in my head. My goal by the end of the month is to get one of them written. My week one goal is to compile and organize all of the ideas on paper, and to choose the one that I’ll write up.


My goal is to finish my novel, which has stalled since the last time we did this in January. I have only the ending scene to write. My goal is to finish it before the 16th.


My four-week goal is to complete my thesis! [Yahoo, Sarah!] My goal for week one is 5 more pages on communitas between military actors and viewers. I also have some editing to do on the first 20 pages.


Everyone’s goals sound excellent and I’m excited to get started!

But before you leave, I have a quick exercise to get you going this week if you’re at all hesitant or if you don’t know where to start: write someone else’s story.

What am I talking about? Last week, Trevor and I visited his grandma, who lives in Door County, Wisconsin. We love to visit her because she folds us easily into her daily routine of breakfast, reading, lunch, reading, napping, reading, and t.v. watching. When we visit, Grandma adds “chatting” to her daily routine, and the three of us sit around her dining table and talk about…well, about anything. Her memory is remarkable and she tells stories from her childhood, from when she and Trevor’s grandfather met and married, from when she was an art teacher in Gary, Indiana, and from when Trevor’s mother’s was growing up. It’s a joy to listen to her, and while I was listening last week, I got an idea for a story.

Courtesy of Madel Family Photo Album

Here is the woman who inspired me last week (Image Courtesy of Madel Family Photo Album)

Writing the story was fast and easy, primarily because it wasn’t mine. It was neither my own personal story, nor was it a story about any of my own fictional characters. Grandma already had characters and an anecdote with a narrative arc; I just needed to fill in some gaps.

Using another person’s story can be a good starter exercise if you’re not quite sure about what story you, yourself, want to tell. At the least, it can just get you writing; and if you’re lucky, it will keep you writing.

So, if you don’t have a Grandma Madel sitting around, waiting to tell you a great story of her life as a child in Depression Era Iowa, then here’s what you can do. Listen to anyone else in your life and pick something out that has potential. Did your husband get into any hijinks working that part-time job when he was in high school? Does your mom have a weirdo in her bridge club who cheats at every single rubber? (that’s a bridge term, right?) Does your friend go into verbal battle with her cubicle neighbor every morning at work over the perfume she’s wearing? Poach these stories to use as a quick exercise! Write the story in a couple of pages, and use their voice (first or third person). Embellish any details you like, and don’t tell them you’ve stolen it. It’s just practice, after all. (If it gets published, then you might have to tell them what you’ve done; but dedicate the story to them and then buy them a drink or a cupcake. Or both.)

If your project is academic, like Sarah’s, then all of the stories you’re writing — the history, the research — are other people’s. But you can still use the idea: remember that the people and relationships you’re researching are real. Use that to humanize them and write about them as though they’re still around; bring them out of academics and back to life. It will make for much more interesting writing and reading.

And if you’re embroiled in a project and don’t need help, then keep doing what you’re doing! But you can also take a minor character and tell her/his story if you need a break from your main narrative.

Come back next week, readers, for new goals, new tips, and (hopefully) a guest post or two. We might have a couple new members as well. Until then, everyone, write on!










2 thoughts on “Week One: Winter 2017 Online Writing Group

  1. Pingback: Addendum | lakeprojects

  2. Pingback: On Writing: A Love Story | lakeprojects

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