Monthly Archives: July 2018

Stop Doing What You’re Doing and Write

This week’s guest post is from group member Anne, a former student of mine. Anne has previously posted on the jerkiness of writer’s block and using journaling to get past it. This week she’s talking about procrastination, which is something I’m sure we’re all very, very (very) familiar with. In fact, I’m so familiar with it that this blog is devoted to writing about the things I do to procrastinate. (Oh, you mean the dog needs walking and then she needs a partner while she watches Fast and Furious and takes a nap? Sure, sure, I can do that. I’ll grade those papers/write that email/pay attention to my to-do list tomorrow.)

And since I bet you’re all also familiar with procrastination, I think you’ll all really enjoy Anne’s post.

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


“Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.”

—Don Marquis

This quote describes my writing process at the moment. I have been stuck in the procrastination department for a while now. It seems the methods in the past that have worked are no longer working so I’m in the ever-changing process of tweaking my writing process.

Sometimes reading helps me but most often I tend to get stuck on the reading instead of the writing. I often check out a small pile of books from the library, determined to read all of them, work on my writing, and go to work all at the same time. That’s when I end up procrastinating and get down on myself for not making my writing goal.

So I have been trying to balance myself (I’m a work in progress). I will start testing the “reward” system on myself. I’ve heard it’s worked for other writers. That is when I complete my daily or weekly writing goals I will reward myself. After the said goal is done I’ll use my next day off of work and spend the day reading (with YouTube playing in the background).

Recently, I took Twitter and Facebook apps off my phone and tablet to filter out distractions from my writing. Taking these distractions out of my life — a life already filled with distractions — has helped free up some time. I guess in the long run it all comes down to balance and keeping myself on track so I’m not distracted and procrastinating.

Yes, I will still have days where I spend the day on YouTube watching talk shows and movie clips. But I’m hoping that the hours I would spend checking my Twitter and Facebook, the main source of my procrastination will allow me to get more writing done.


Anne, you’re going to do it! We’re all going to do it!

Week Six: Summer 2018 Online Writing Group

It’s week six of this summer’s writing group, and you may notice that we’re missing a lot of goals. DON’T WORRY. BREATHE. Our writers have not been abducted by aliens or rogue government agents intent on squashing cool cats everywhere. They have been leading busy, busy lives and maybe, if they’re like me, doing a little bit of the ole summertime hangaround, which includes lounging about in the warm sun and not doing anything. No, no, I haven’t done a lot of it. Just, like, almost a lot of it.

Next week we’ll be back in full force. Full. Force.


And Full Force is so cute! (Image Via Giphy)


Aliena (goals coming soon!)



This week I am going to go back to the 2-hours-of-writing goal.


Amy (goals coming soon!)


Anne D. (goals coming soon!)


Anne H. (goals coming soon!)


Bev (Bev is out of town this week, so she’ll write twice as much next week [sorry, Bev, that’s the rule].)


Connor (goals coming soon!)


Joe (goals coming soon!)



I got a little bit of writing done last week: 3 pomodoros. It wasn’t good stuff at all, but it felt good to do it, so I’m aiming for another 3 this week, too.


Lisa (goals coming soon!)


Mike (goals coming soon!)


Rachel (goals coming soon!)



I was out of town this last week, so I didn’t do any writing. This week, finally, I will be here, so I will plan on my usual 7,000 words.



I have to edit two completed lessons, meh. Then I have to set the other authors on their task and write one more lesson. I really like the process of writing what the students will read but it’s really hard to then write a lecture and materials without being redundant. (Sarah, I feel that “meh” in my toes. My toes.)


Last month I read a Chronicle of Higher Education advice post called “6 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block.” The author, Rachel Toor, listed “work up a sweat” as her first strategy, and this is great advice, even if you aren’t really working up a sweat, but just walking at a leisurely pace around your neighborhood.

This is what I used to do all the time, and my dog, Roo, was a perfect excuse for me to leave the house and take a walk. She literally needs to go outside a number of times throughout the day to do her private business, and, because she is a Roo-natic, she needs to go outside to burn off some of her Roo-ish energy. She has a lot of Roo-ish energy.

Walk Me

But Trevor has been taking Roo with him to work, and this means that my excuse for a mid-day walk and an after-work walk is gone. And yes, I know that I can still walk around my neighborhood, but it’s easier to sit on the couch and not do that.

But it really helps: to clear your head and be present in the moment so that when you’re back at your desk, at your computer, you’re fresh and your perspective is different.

I never listen to music or podcasts or audiobooks when Roo and I go on our walks. I sometimes problem-solve about something that has happened that day; I sometimes strategize about a project. And sometimes I just walk. I look at the houses on our regular route and make up lives of the people who live inside. I notice who got a new flower pot or a new car. I watch Roo hop up the street and stick her nose into every god-damned piece of grass she possibly can. I smell the air. I don’t let myself worry about anything other than that walk. It’s the closest I get to Zen.

I highly recommend it, for clearing your head and getting some perspective, and for just checking out who in your neighborhood has the best Halloween decorations and who is probably just going to give out small boxes of raisins.

Is taking a walk or doing some other kind of exercise sometimes difficult? Yes. Will it require that you change your clothes? Sometimes, but not always. (but a bra. You’ll need to put on a bra for sure [unless it’s winter! winter walks are done under the cover of many, many layers but zero bras!]) And will it help your writing? Yes, definitely.

So go take a walk and then do some writing .

Reading for Writing

This is the third guest post for Rachel Kwon: she appeared during the Winter 2017 session with an excellent first guest post in January; and she contributed her wonderful second guest post for the Summer 2017 session. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I do!

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


“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
—Stephen King

(Note: I’ve never read a Stephen King book.)

Stephen King Books

Kwonita is the Kween of Books

When I was a kid, our local public library had a checkout limit of 30 books. I would hit that limit almost every time, mostly with young adult series like The Baby-Sitters Club, The Boxcar Children, and Goosebumps. (Judge me not!)

I tend to think it’s a red flag if I’m considering having somebody in my life (for friendship, a relationship, or any other ‘ship) and they say they don’t read or that they don’t like reading. I firmly believe it’s true that if you say you don’t like reading, you just haven’t found the right book.

In January of this year, I started a book club. I’ll be honest—mainly I just wanted a reason to drink a reasonable amount of wine with my friends while talking about books (and not having to be in a bar). It’s evolved into a book exchange, where each of us brings a book (or book recommendation, for the library-goers) and gives a brief synopsis and personal thoughts on the book.

Reading, and talking about reading, has been invaluable to my writing. Hearing people’s perspectives on other writers’ writing in person has really been illuminating.

At our last meeting, one of our book clubbers brought a book called Hey Ladies!, a fictional collection of emails and group text message exchanges among a group of women. She seemed kind of embarrassed to bring it, since most of the others had brought novels or serious nonfiction pieces. We did poke a little fun at her for bringing such a “popcorn” book, but ultimately I ended up taking that book home, because I wanted a fun, easy read.

I wonder if some of these people who say they don’t like reading had some experience when they were younger reading something they liked, and somebody else made fun of them, thus discouraging them from reading. That makes me sad.

My writing has evolved as my reading has. I used to read mostly fiction, and mostly things that were assigned to me, written invariably by dead white men. (Well, they weren’t dead when they wrote them, but you know what I mean.)

I also used to write mostly when I had to, for school or work, though I usually enjoyed it. In my old life, as an intern in surgical training, I had to write all the patients’ progress notes every day, often for up to 30 patients. I was probably the only resident ever who enjoyed writing those notes as much as I liked operating. As I got more senior, I would often read other progress notes and wonder what the real story was, because they were so hastily written, obviously penned by some overworked intern who could barely grasp the full picture of the patient’s journey.

Now, in my current life, I do a fair bit of editing others’ work, which is actually a pretty fun combination of reading and writing. I don’t have to face the terror of a blank page, and I can also contribute a bit of my writer’s eye and help supplement the narrative when necessary.

From reading books about kids with more interesting lives than mine, to reading frivolous books with friends, documenting the clinical stories of sick patients, editing other people’s writing, and doing some writing and reading of my own, the common threads have been the push and pull of reading and writing, and I think any writer would agree that their reading has had an impact on their writing.

Weeks Four & Five: Summer 2018 Online Writing Group

For this post we’re collapsing the fourth and fifth weeks of this summer’s online writing group to accommodate the Fourth of July holiday and a few Patriot Passes! The holiday meant out-of-towning and lounging and maybe, just maybe, not doing as much writing as usual.

So, we’re giving some Patriot Passes and combining some goals, and next week we’ll be back on track!



Week Four: This week my goals are to flesh out some high-level plot ideas that I picked from my brainstorming. I finished two yesterday, and I’ve got two or three more to get done.


Alissa (Patriot Pass!)


Amy (Patriot Pass!)


Anne D.

Week 5 goal (if I can still get in) is to write 5 pages.

Anne H.

Week Four: I admit not moving forward. This week is just a smidge less hectic, so perhaps I will at last finish my overall content list.

The list is no minor undertaking. It’s organized by general topic (like “writing process”) then by topics within the topics, and those will become individual short lessons.

Then of course I want to get each of the lessons built. Ha HA! (good laugh, Anne.) But actually the list seems to take longer than the build. I’m afraid of leaving anything out. So I’ve been revising it for years.



Week Four: I’m pleased to report that I did three blog posts last week. I’m not so happy to report that I did so many because we had a second flood. Bah! I did some work on my letter, but for some reason it is just painful. Don’t know when I’ve had such a block! I also did several entries in my gratitude journal, which was a little hard because the second flood made my quite grumpy. This week I will continue my letter. It is nearing completion. And another blog post, of course.

Week Five: Internet was still down yesterday, so I’m late. (YOU AND ME BOTH, BEV!) Anyway, I did nothing last week but pull weeds. My goal for this week is to finish my letter before vacation and get the blog updated. Not sure when that is going to happen. And I’ll be off the grid next week and thus will not be sending any goals on Sunday.


Connor (Patriot Pass!)



Week Five: I’m doing more tabletop writing.
It has its advantages. Writing for an audience that responds in real time gives writers clues as to what types of situations and characters they respond to, what plot hooks and twists they see coming and which ones they miss, and how their preconceived notions and genre savvy informs their reading. Information must be presented in a way that’s succinct so that it stands out above all the external stimuli the writer has no control over, and it must be bold enough to capture their attention and remain in their consciousness. Players can also ask questions about setting and scenery, cluing in the writer as to what sorts of details a reader is looking for.

Unfortunately, it also has its downsides. As players carry the impetus to drive the plot forward, a writer doesn’t get much of a chance to practice pacing. Players feel cheated when they can’t immediately resolve a conflict when it’s presented, meaning plots must often be linear and episodic. And, naturally, the introduction of multiple human elements means the best written story will often fall apart when faced with the creativity, whimsy, or boredom of the players.



Week Four: I did two pomodoros this week, which felt good! I didn’t get a lot written, but I got started, and that’s important to me. Next week I’d like to keep it up and do a couple (twotree) more.

Week Five: Nothing was done. Patriot Pass! Next week, get back on track.


Lisa (Patriot Pass!)



Weeks Three and Four — made very slow progress on the first story that I dissected out of the original draft I was revising — only wrote about two pages in two weeks.

Week Five goal — finish the initial draft of that first new story.



Week Four: Oof. I haven’t touched my story draft since last week. So my week four goal is identical to my week three goal (plus the added goal of not beating myself up for failing to meet my week three goal, as I am wont to do!). Writing is hard! (yes. yes, it is. see this week’s post below for a pep talk.)



Week Four: This week I was in Florida and did not write at all. Next week I hope to write at least 5000 words.

Week Five: This week: 1,008 words. Next week I’ll be on the road again, so who knows! I’m on chapter 24 of the novel, and it will end soon! Before fall semester begins! (you will do it, Robert!)



Week Four: My week four goals are to complete an essay on critical thinking and draft the assignment components. Also, my tan. (yaaaaaasssss.)

Week Five: Write the draft for a lesson on effective communication and narrow down the expert voices for the unit of study.

The blog post inspired me! So I’m going to test the lesson in rigor with some willing students. (yahoo!)



Via Giphy

This week we’re talking about first drafts, specifically, shitty first drafts. So, like, yeah, we’re talking about all first drafts.

Part of what’s been keeping me from starting a new project is something that always keeps me from starting, and that’s a fear of not knowing where to start, not doing a good job once I get started, and then finishing up with a garbage draft.

And that fear of the garbage draft makes me sit around and think about it and imagine it, and think that maybe it will be okay, but then no, it’s probably just going to be garbage. So I don’t write, like a noodle-spined coward.

And usually, instead of writing (because I’m a noodle-spined coward) I watch television; and last weekend I watched a couple of rom-coms (four), trying to find a good female-directed and/or female written one.

And I did — I did!

It’s called Set It Up and it stars the adorable Zoey Deutch whose character is Harper, a young woman working as an assistant to a sports writer (played by Lucy Liu [yes.]) in The Big Apple. Our young Harper wants to be a sports writer herself, and while she is navigating her writerly identity, she befriends, charms, and falls in love with a goofy, comely young man named somethingitdoesn’tmatter. OF COURSE THAT’S THE PLOT IT’S A ROM-COM.

And Harper has an almost equally adorable best friend, Becca, played by Meredith Hagner (who I first saw in the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie [loose use of the word “movie”] A Gift Wrapped Christmas, and Hagner was the best damn thing about that 87-minute assemblage of shenanigans).

Becca gives Harper an excellent pep-talk about the draft that Harper is so scared to start. Harper has been camping out in her apartment, having recently lost her job and having all the time in the world to write: but she can’t write. She can’t write because she’s scared that her first draft will be shitty. And this is how best-friend-Becca responds:

“Of course your first draft’s gonna be bad; it’s gonna be terrible. And you know what you do, Harper? You go back and you make it better. But you can’t make it better until you actually do it! You’re not a bad writer…yet. You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and just write something bad. So get off your bony little ass and just do it!”

“Okay! I’m going to write the shittiest article ever written!”

“Yes! It’s gonna suck ass! I can’t wait to read it!”

And it was such a lovely and honest moment. There was no fronting about how good the draft would be because Harper was born to be a writer and that’s all she ever wanted to do and blahbiddyblahbiddyblah. Nope. NO. Because that’s bologna. Writing is not some gift from the heavens. Writing takes so much work to do (so. much. work.) and so much more work to get right.

(But writers really are the unshowered, ramen-noodle-eating blanket blobs you see pictured above. That’s for real.)

So this week, I am Becca; you are Harper; and this is what I have to say: Stop feeling sorry for yourself and just do it; just write something bad. It’s gonna be bad. Let it be bad.

I can’t wait to read it.



(And also, go watch Set It Up. It’s streaming on Netflix. It’s written by a woman and it’s directed by a totally different woman. It’s cute and funny and a great summer treat for your sun-soaked brain.)

Week Three: Summer 2018 Online Writing Group

It’s the third week of this summer’s online writing group — and I’m already behind! We’re about to get a blog pile-up. (like when you’ve been waiting 17 minutes for the #65 Grand Avenue bus and then three show up all at once? it’s like that.)

And when we start writing, nothing will stop us!


Via Giphy



Week Three goals are a little different. I hope to spend a few minutes each day this week brainstorming very high level plot ideas for a story. I’ve been struggling to get anything written, so perhaps if I change strategies and first try to figure out what to write, that will help.


Alissa (goals coming soon!)


Amy (goals coming soon!)


Anne D.

My goal this week is to work some more on a piece that I started in my bachelor’s program.


Anne H.

As predicted, I didn’t get anything done this week on my course project, though I did go to two intense conferences.

Next week’s goal is a comprehensive list of lessons.



Week Two accomplishments: I wrote TWO blog posts, mailed my letters, and organized some notes for the new letter I’m working on. The garden and chicken run were flooded Monday night. The chickens are fine. Jury is still out on the garden. So I’ve been dealing with the various muddy messes, moping, and worrying about our poor tomatoes.

Week Three goals: continue work on the letter; do another blog post, stop feeling sorry for myself. I will start a gratitude journal!


Connor (goals coming soon!)



Joe Goals: I didn’t do the thing I said I’d do! I’m going to work up to it, instead. I’m having a game night with some friends soon, so I’m going to try and write a decent scenario for them. I’ll also play around with some exercises. (Joe, 97% of the time I don’t do the thing I said I’d do. Welcome to the party.)



I continue to be a terrible group leader, posting our updates late and not getting myself into a pattern or schedule of any kind. I’ve been working ten hour workdays because our campus is closed on Fridays; and since I don’t like to do personal writing at work, and since I’m wiped out after a ten hour workday, I collapse into the couch and stare at the t.v. or a book instead of writing.

This is just an excuse — and not a good one — and I will get my shit together this week to write.



I did not do so well this week. Too much summer happening over here!

My goal for week three is to finish the poem I started this week. (Lisa, I love that you’re working on poetry!)



So my second week goal was going to be finish the middle few pages of the story I was revising. Going into this group, I just made my third switch of narrator in this damn story but realized I picked the right narrator finally, I just had to do a lot of rewrites to get the events I’d already written properly in her perspective. I made slow progress all week — a few hundred words a day — but was starting to doubt the plot. This afternoon, on a long minivan ride down to Oak Brook with my kids, I realized I don’t have one story with two plot threads — I have two totally different stories. I wrote (in my head) the first hundred or so words of a completely new version of one of those two stories and then ignored my kids for ten minutes while I frantically typed the new draft into a note on my phone once we got where we were going.

Goal for week three? Finish a first draft of one of these two new splinter stories.



I hit my (very minimally ambitious) goal to “start writing” my short story. It is kind of a stream-of-consciousness handwritten mess but it’s better than the blank page that was there before!

This week, I plan to work further on this draft and get closer to my target word count.



Report: wrote 3,456 words this week. The goal was 7,000, so I did about half. This next week I‘ll be in Florida for the rocket launch, with my daughter’s experiment (sending bees to the International Space Station!), so I don’t expect to get much written, maybe one or two thousand words. I‘m getting close to finishing the first draft of the novel. Exciting!


Sarah (goals coming soon!)


This week I wanted to focus on academic writing. We have a couple of writers this summer who are doing academic writing projects, and other writers in this group and past groups have done research-based academic writing during earlier sessions. And while the ideas about project management, writing schedules and routines, and sticktoitiveness (not a word) apply across all writing forms and styles, there are myriad differences between creative and academic projects.

For any of you doing or thinking about doing academic writing, I recommend listening to the Research in Action podcast produced by Oregon State University.


The most recent episode (#118) featured an interview with Dr. Nancy Segal, a psychology professor at California State University Fullerton. Segal studies twins and has written extensively, publishing her own books as well as contributing chapters and articles to other publications.

Dr. Katie Linder, the host of the RIA podcast, asked Dr. Segal how she approaches the different audiences she write for: the academic, expert audiences she writes for when contributing to peer reviewed journals, and the general audience she writes for when composing her own books or giving lectures at a non-academic conference. Segal had this to say about how she makes the adjustment:

So what I tend to do is I imagine myself having a conversation with people and I talk about the same findings, the same concepts as I would in a more scientific setting, but I just try to make the concepts more understandable, much clearer, really trying to explain to somebody who is hearing it for the first time—giving examples. (Segal, RIA Episode #118 Transcript)

She also mentions that giving talks to mothers of twins groups helped her figure out the best ways to explain her concepts and findings to non-expert audiences. She gave a number of talks to groups like this, and it allowed her to “polish up” her explanations to make them the clearest and easiest to understand for the general audience.

And that, writers, is your task for this week: find a person or small group of people who are not experts in the field, who don’t know the jargon, and who will not immediately get the context or intent of what you’re writing. Let them read your writing and be open to their feedback. It’s likely they’ll ask you to define or clarify terms, or to include more detail for a step you may have glossed over because you’ve thought about it and done it hundreds (thousands) of times. Listen to what they have to say, and then revise.

Good luck, and write on!