Category Archives: Writing

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!


Week Two: Summer 2018 Online Writing Group

It’s the second week of this summer’s online writing group — and I have been writing up a storm. A storm, son!

Via Giphy

And what about the rest of the group? Well, let’s find out…


I didn’t actually meet my goal. I have the same goal this week: just write a thing. (it’s okay if you didn’t meet your first goal, Aliena — you thought about writing and that is a good place to start!)


I am shooting for the same goal of 2 hours this week. I came very close last week! 😀


Amy (new to the group!)

My goal is to write one essay a week for the next eight weeks. At the end of those eight weeks, I might decide to do something with these essays, like publish them on a blog. We shall see!


Anne D.

My week two goal is to keep writing. I’m setting a realistic and more relaxed goal this week.


Anne H.

I did have one good session of organizing my overall content … which is the first step in my project.

I want to finish this next week, although I’ll be at a conference, so it might not be a very productive week for me.



Week 1 accomplishments: 1) Duplicated letter that I finished a long time ago. 2) Tried to print envelopes. Envelopes came out blank, Learned how to clean print head. Printer fixed! Envelopes printed! 3) Spent half an hour trying to locate letter in progress on various storage devices. Finally found it on laptop. Did a little writing. 4) Finished weeding the onions. Not one of my stated goals for last week, but not trivial either.

Week 2 Goals: Stuff envelopes and mail letter. Write blog post for the week. Work more on letter in progress. Weed corn.


Connor (goals coming soon!)



I have a finished short story that I’d like to get to a point where it’s worthy of publication. I’m an old old man now and I think it’s probably about time I get a piece in a publication that I haven’t edited at some point or another. It’ll only be ten years behind my initial goal of getting published by 18.



I did oodles of writing the first week, although all of it was for work. But it still felt great to do and it got me in the groove of just writing, so I am counting all of it.

My week two goal is to do three writing pomodoros-worth of writing for myself.



Week two goal = 1 poem


Mike (goals coming soon!)



My week 1 goal was to choose a topic, scope, audience, and word count for a creative nonfiction short story, which I’ve done (more or less; scope and audience are a little slippery).

Week 2 goal: start writing! I’m going to try something radical and very un-Kwon-like, which is to not plan it out any more specifically than that, because I’ve been in major overthinking mode lately about my writing and I think if I just get something on a page to jump-start myself, that will be an accomplishment. (Stop thinking, Kwon!)



I was out of town this week and did not write. Next week I plan to write 7,000 words.


Sarah (goals coming soon!)


This week I wanted to write a little bit about externalizing the internal. I’ve been prepping for a four-day creative writing workshop I’m doing with a group of high school students, and in addition to giving them the advice of “show, don’t tell,” I’m going to talk about the importance of bringing the internal out when it comes to writing drama and thinking about character development across genres.

And it’s not easy.

Lippman Pencil

Laura Lippman Knows

The best way to do this is by adding action that reveals (and sometimes betrays) what your characters are thinking. If they’re nervous, your character might tug on the ends of her hair, touch her neck, or avoid eye contact; if your character is excited he might start smiling and not be able to stop, or shuffle his feet, or talk a couple of volume degrees louder than usual (or, hell — he might outright shout).

In dialogue, if your character is untrustworthy (or you want the reader to think he might be), he can lie or be evasive, always changing the subject when asked a direct question. The narrator/protagonist/main character might not realize what’s going on, but the reader will, and that’s the important bit.

So this week, try to make the internal — thoughts, feelings, conflicts — external by giving them action and writing dialogue with some subtext. And for my academic writers, for whom this advice might not be on target for your projects, try to externalize learning objectives. If a course or assignment objective is to work on critical thinking or professionalism, ask yourself how that will look when demonstrated. Then, try to imagine a couple of models you could give your students to help show them what you’re looking for and how they might approach it.

Good luck everyone, and write on!

The Band is Back Together!

Oh, hi there. Remember me? That person who used to blog and run a writers’ group and be semi-productive sometimes? Well guess what? I’m back!

Due to circumstances I will explain later in greater detail, I let my blog dry up into a sad little raisin and then I dropped it behind the couch. But it’s not unsalvageable. I am going to take that raisin, wash it off, and make it into something special!

And that very special raisin is a new round of the Lake Projects Online Writing Group, which starts…right…now!

Hey Writers Raisin

Let's Write Raisin

The game is the same (eight weeks of hard-core writing accountability — BOOM), as are many of the players, but we have some new-to-the-group writers among us, so please make them all feel at home: Alissa, Connor, and Joe. Welcome!

Each week, in addition to getting each writer’s project updates, we’ll have a short post on writing or productivity. This week, though, is primarily devoted to introducing the group and their summer goals. And here they are:


My current long-term project is to actually start writing again. It’s been a very long time since I’ve written anything and I’d like to get back into the habit.

My week 1 goal is to write a scene. Any scene. Any length. It just has to be start to finish.

Alissa (new to the group!)

OK, so my big picture objective is not to let this story I’m working on for the short story farming memoir fade into oblivion. I think loosely, I’d like to just make progress on it, which is a lot more than I’ve done for the last two months. If you want me to define a goal more than that (I do not, but go for it!) I’ll say I want to write 20 pages for the next story chapter.

Short term, like first week, I just want to write for 2 hours on the piece.


Course re-writes: I need to review previous course versions (3 major course versions so far) and create a whole new set of assignment pages for the three-course sequence (set number 4)!


Goals, goals…What are my goals? Why was man born but to suffer and die? My goal for next week is to get a letter that I wrote months ago in the mail. Surely I can do that! (Don’t call me Shirley.) And then I am going to open up an old file of a letter I started long ago and WRITE SOMETHING. I will finish said letter before the end of eight weeks, swear to God!

Also I will do my weekly blog posts. And if I feel really, really brave, I will once again take up the task of finding agents and sending query letters for my memoir. (I can feel your bravery from here, Bev!)

Connor (new to the group — goals coming soon!)

Joe (new to the group — goals coming soon!)


My overall goal is to adhere to a writing schedule that I can keep consistent throughout and beyond the summer. Since I like using the pomodoro technique, I think I’ll frame my work using that instead of words, pages, or finished product. If I can stick to my tomatoes, I should be able to produce. (that pun was not intended but I just saw it and think it is amazing, so you’re welcome, world! [FYI I will continue to wield my power as czar of this writing group to shower you with terrible wordplay.])

My week one goal is to write one blog post (not counting this one) and to do three pomodoros worth of writing that are not for the blog.

Lisa (goals coming soon!)


Overall goals: finish revisions on an in-progress short story to prep for submission by end of June. Once that’s done, finish the first draft of a novella I started that is the expansion of a short story I wrote last year.

Week 1: Rewrite middle section of the short story.


Overall goal: write a creative nonfiction short story. (Background: most of my published writing is academic or straightforward essays, and I’d love to challenge myself to write something more creatively and get out of my comfort zone a bit.)

Week one goal: decide on the topic, scope, audience, and word count.


My summer plan is 1,000 words a day, which I’ve been doing for the last few weeks, except for when I’m traveling. My goal this summer is to finish the draft of 100 Conversations. (Robert! I have a Louise Brooks book for you; thank you for reminding me!) I’m at 72,000 words, so I’m getting there.

My weekly goal is then 7,000 words.


Long term goal: An MCC 101 course ready to be tested in August.

Week One Goal: Lesson (to include intro, content, resources, discussion boards, etc.) on Critical Thinking (probably I need to narrow that down [not right now, Sarah…]) and Edits on the lesson on Rigor.


Don’t those goals sound great?! I think they do! And I am excited to get started.

But before I go, I want to share a bit about something I hope will get me working more productively, both for my job as well as for my fun writing (ha! no writing is fun! [j.k. I love writing except for the 99% of it that I hate because it is so hard]).

Last summer I listened to an episode of Hidden Brain, one of my favorite podcasts, on something called “deep work,” a term coined by the writer and professor Cal Newport.

Deep Work

Newport’s definition of deep work is “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate” (Newport 3).

On the podcast, and in much more detail in the book, Newport talks about the tremendous value of deep work in a variety of fields, and also how difficult this kind of work is to achieve in a world that places so much value on immediate feedback and lacks acceptance of someone closing herself off for potentially hours at a time in order to concentrate fully on very focused, detailed work.

Newport’s book pairs beautifully with another book I recently read by Susan Cain, a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain’s thesis is that the many people prefer to work in quiet, sometimes isolated conditions and that these people frequently produce things of tremendous value; and Newport’s hypothesis is that the value of this kind of work will only increase in the coming years.

I feel validated and excited by both of these ideas and both of these books.

Now, how do we get the world to give us this space, this quiet so that we can do our necessary deep work as writers? Or, rather, how do we take it?

Because take it we must.

We’ve talked on this blog before about the importance of the habit of writing. It’s damn important. Whatever your habit looks like (daily, only on Monday and Thursday mornings, only on Tuesday and Wednesday nights after 11 p.m., Saturday mornings on the train, Friday afternoons in the office, for an hour in a park, for two hours on the roof of your kid’s treehouse) you need to figure it out and then stick to it. Take that time. Do not have access to your phone. Do not have your email accessible. Do not answer to anyone, for at least 25 minutes (one pomodoro). Everyone in the world can do without you for at least 25 minutes. Seriously.

And then, make that your habit, and when you take a break from all of your productive deep work, check out Newport’s and Cain’s books.

Until next week, you gorgeous raisin writers!

We're Back Baby Raisin



Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. New York:

Grand Central Publishing, 2016.




Week Six Summer 2017 Online Writing Group

It’s week six of the Summer 2017 Online Writing Group — we’re closing in on the summer and on our project goals!

Here are our week six goals.

Week Six Goals:


I need a Patriot Pass for last week, but I’m continuing with Gardner this week.


Week 6: I am going on vacation and will keep a journal of my trip.


This week, I have two goals:

1.  Continue with writing and revising my Library Assessment course group project of doom.
2.  Continue to find and annotate sources for my Law Librarianship course in advance of Thursday’s online workshopping session (nothing like a deadline to make me produce words)!


I didn’t make progress on my creative writing, but I did some writing for my graduate class. This week I need to write another annotated bibliography, and catch up on my blog posts.


Last week was fun, but I got NO writing accomplished.
This week, I hope to write five pages.


Week 5: Revised a few more pages of my short story, continuing with the third-person-to-first-person conversion I started last week. Realized I still had some logistical and motivational issues to sort out in the plot, so I started thinking through those as I revised (eliminating altogether some of the passages that had troubled/bored me the most upon my initial re-read).

Week 6: Complete revisions (ahem, again) while doing some research into antique reselling and siblings screwing each other out of family heirlooms, since that is the key backstory in my short story, and there’s just not enough detail there yet to make it fully come to life.


Admittedly I’ve been slacking a bit this week with writing group—but mostly because I’ve been writing other things, so that’s good, right?? (YES!) One of the essays I’d written last year (around the time of winter writing group, actually) is being published later this week, so I’ll cheat a little and say that was an accomplishment :/ This week is a little crazy at work and I know I’m going to have limited creative energy, so I’ll shoot to go through my old notebooks and flesh out some of the stuff I’ve written before, to stock up for my blog. Love that low-hanging fruit!


This week wrote 4,153 words. Next week’s goal is 7,000.


Coming soon…


This week’s resource post is about listening: listening to the people around you and finding other resources to listen to.

I tell my creative writing students that good listening skills are essential to writers. We need to listen when others talk if we’re going to write realistic and believable dialogue; and we need to listen to what people say to identify what they’re revealing and what they’re hiding. We learn someone’s life story by listening to what they say, but we learn someone’s character by identifying what they leave out.

We also need to listen to the world around us because it’s our environment that provides the richest details for our writing: we just have to pay attention. Right now, there’s a garbage truck rolling through my neighborhood, picking up and dumping trash cans. The cans aren’t really cans at all, but thick rubber, and the sounds they make thudding back on the ground from the truck’s fork lift is an uneven thud. The truck’s brakes gives a dirty sounding wheeze whenever it stops in front of another house, and I can hear that it’s about three houses away.

We can also seek outside resources to listen to in the form of podcasts. I’m a huge fan of podcasts, and because they’ve become so popular in the past few years, there seems to be a series for everything and everyone. It’s not surprising, then, that there are tons of writing podcasts out there. One of my favorite reading websites, Book Riot, put together a list of good podcasts for writers.

Some series are long and some are short; some you’ll love and some you will…not love. But there’s something in there for everyone, so give them a listen!

Until next week, writers: keep your ears open and your pencils ready.

Write on!

Productivity: It’s Not Just For Robots!

This is the second go-around in our writing group for Rachel Kwon: she first appeared during the Winter 2017 session, and she wrote her excellent first guest post in January. I’m happy she’s back in the group summer (especially since she’s considering starting her own blog, and blogs are great!) and I’m thrilled that she’s here for her second guest post!

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

I like to think of myself a semi-serious amateur writer (and a very serious fried chicken enthusiast, but that’s another story for another day), and while I am still shaky on the creative elements of writing—you know, producing words so earth-shattering that readers weep and call their mothers immediately thanking them for giving them life so they could read the work—there is one thing I know pretty well, and that’s productivity. Productivity and smashing a to-do list are admittedly less sexy than a well-written piece, but they’re still necessary.

So, how does one self-motivate and make time for writing, particularly writing for leisure, when there are so many other things competing for time and attention? I think a big part of it is simply creating structures and treating it seriously, even if it’s “just for fun.” I’ve found that these three things have helped me improve my writing (and also simply to enjoy it more):

1. Establish a routine…

I don’t think the details really matter that much, but for me, as a hardcore morning person I do my best thinking when the sun is coming up, so about a year ago, I started doing a thing where I would wake up, stretch, put on the coffee, and literally just start writing. Just 15 minutes or so, in my journal, sitting at my writing desk, about whatever was in my head. It was writing that I would just do for myself, but I found that by doing it regularly in this way, I’d come up with ideas for stories or essays that I’d want to share with other people, and it became easier to do that by just having a dedicated time to do it. (Our post about momentum last week really resonated with me, because I feel that having my routine is sort of like free momentum—it’s always easier to keep things going once they’ve already started than to start a brand new thing, and that’s what my routine has offered.)

Rachel's Writing Space

Rachel’s supremely covetable writing space

2. …but know when to stray from it.

Interestingly, early-bird-writing is the exact opposite of the routine I had for over a decade, which was 15 minutes of writing, lying prone on my pillow, before going to sleep. The circumstances of my life were different and I needed to wake up around 4:30 or 5 a.m. so I didn’t quite have that same zest for writing in those wee hours (or for anything—I don’t care how much of a morning person you are; there’s a very fine line between late night and early morning and I believe that line is around 4:30 a.m.). I also like to mix up the setting sometimes and write in the park or in a coffee shop or on the subway (not during rush hour, because then I would have to write into a stranger’s armpit, which is less fun). Some of my best writing has been scribbled on the back of a bar napkin.

3. Don’t overthink it.

Overthinking plagues me. I can’t help but obsess over the most seemingly trivial details. I used to be of the mindset that I should choose my words extremely carefully, and not write them unless I really meant them. That might be a good philosophy if I were using a typewriter, and a typo (literally!) or some imperfect phrasing really was a disaster, but these days I’ve adopted more of a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” mentality, and oddly enough, I find that I’m a lot more productive when I just write SOMETHING, anything, and then whittle it down to what I actually want to say, the way I want to say it. These days I spend HALF as much time and energy writing a draft of something, no matter how horrendous it is, so I can spend TWICE as much time editing. Someone once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “You don’t win the Tour de France by reading about the race and planning the perfect ride; you win by getting out there, riding every day, and making incremental improvements each time you do.” There is definitely an element of “just do it”-ness involved.

So, there it is. I have some other quirks that I think help, like my preference for Muji 0.38 mm black pens, but those are the high-level structures that I believe have allowed me to be productive with my writing. Now, I think it’s fried chicken time!


Thank you, Rachel! Now, go get some chicken.

And the rest of you, write on.


If I dance fast enough, Rachel can’t eat me! (Image via Giphy)

Week Five Summer 2017 Online Writing Group

It’s week five of the Summer 2017 Online Writing Group — how you guys feeling? I’m feeling all write! (yes punnnnnnns!)

I offered up a Patriot Pass this week — some people were traveling and knew they wouldn’t be doing much with the short holiday week — so whenever you see it, please imagine those writers doing this:


Actually, please imagine everyone doing this.

Here are our week five goals.

Week Five Goals:


My reading of the Gardner book has been transformative. I’m continuing it this week.


I am done with my course revisions! During week five, I am going to write a letter, because I haven’t since January.


Patriot Pass!


I did a little work on my new story. It wasn’t as much as I’d wanted, but it counts! Next week I’m going to keep chipping away at it. I got a great idea for another new story during my class this week and I’m going to keep it on the back burner. It might be a nice distraction next week, or something I can do toward the end of the summer.


Patriot Pass!


Week four progress: Once I started revising the story in question, I realized how badly it was being served by the third-person narration I’d used (i.e. boring as shit). I rewrote about six pages out of the current twelve to first person, and I’ve been really happy with the effect it’s had on the voice. I also moved a few passages around and hit at least two scenes that need to be scrapped or rewritten altogether (as the change in voice wasn’t quite enough to fix them).

Week five goal: Finish revising the remaining pages of the story in its new first-party voice. I missed the contest deadline, so I will be reading some past issues of a few other lit journals to make sure the finished story would be something of interest to them.


I figured out most of the tech and logistical stuff behind launching my blog (I used to have one when I was a teenager and in college, and MAN, blogging has really changed since then!). I’d like to get a critical mass of posts, maybe five or so, before actually publishing, so this week’s goal will be to either select one from stuff I’ve written before (like my essay from last winter writing group, for example), or to write something afresh.


This week: zero words.
Next week: goal is 7,000 words


Week 5 goals: I have to edit a new article I wrote on postmodernism and start another article, this time a case study because I need to change things up a bit. I started a 5-week graduate class so I also have some discussion posts to do. Then read, read, read as I pull articles for my course in the fall.


Coming soon…


Because of the weird holiday week, I’m going to give everyone a couple of writing exercises from the book What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. It’s one of those staples of a creative writing workshop (from the ’90s…) and my copy is yellow with age. But it’s still a good resource for writers.

What If Cover

The exercise I’m going to give you guys for today can be used to supplement your current project — try just a background scene that develops one of your minor characters, something you don’t have to include if the style is too much of a contrast  — or it can be a one-off if you need some space from your current project and want to just stretch your creative muscles for a couple of hours. Here it is:


Write a short story using words of only one syllable.


To make you conscious of word choice. (Bernays and Painter 194)

For my academic writers, you can try this, too. Work on a part of your research, lesson plan, syllabus and make everything one syllable. See how you can simplify wherever possible.

What If Exercise 70

(Bernays and Painter 194)

Have a safe and creative week, and as always, write on!


Bernays, Anne and Pamela Painter. What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers.
HarperPerennial, 1991.