Tag Archives: Guest Post

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!

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.

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.

giphy2

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

On Writing: A Love Story

Rachel Kwon is one of our new writing group members, and a woman who I’ll always associate — fondly — with LaSalle Street, fake parades, and Batman, and she is much more interesting than that will give her credit for. I’m happy to welcome Rachel into the group, and to present her guest post.

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

This is my love story to writing.

As a child, I wrote because putting pen to paper in itself was thrilling. Of course, as a new human, I had no frame of reference, so peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and automatic soap dispensers were also thrilling. But writing was like time travel — I could write about something, and then minutes or hours or days or YEARS later, somebody could read what I wrote and connect with me on some level.

The first story I remember writing was when I was six years old. I wrote about a six year old (how original) who had AIDS, and also came up with a cure for AIDS, but then died before she could benefit from the cure. You know, casual kindergarten topics.

In my teenage years, I wrote mostly for practical purposes. Essays for school. Notes to my friends. Letters to my relatives thousands of miles away. I didn’t think about it as a creative endeavor. I didn’t think I had anything to say, really. Although computers were becoming a THING, I still preferred to write with pen on paper.

I hit my twenties, graduated from college, and started medical school, then residency. Writing for fun took a bit of a backseat, but I wrote lab reports, sure, and convoluted analyses of clinical trials. I took extensive notes as a study aid. I made endless lists in an effort to organize and prioritize my life. As a doctor I wrote endless notes about patients’ histories and physical exams, progress notes, interim notes, all to document that I was taking care of them. I sometimes felt like I was doing more documenting than actually taking care of patients, which sort of made me hate that kind of writing. But my favorite was still just to pick up a pen and some paper (or a bar napkin, or my own forearm) and simply write out whatever was in my head.

Now, in my thirties, I write because I finally have things to say. I write because it’s the only way I can say what I need to say without being interrupted. When I left my career as a physician, I told all but my closest confidantes (to whom I told to their faces, because some things can’t be communicated in writing) by writing a letter. It was important to me to tell my story the way I had lived it.

My relationship with writing evolves as I do. Maybe, in the future, I’ll be writing into the air thanks to holographic technology, as I pet my robot dog and prepare to ingest a savory meal delivered in pill form. But I’ll still be writing.

 

Thanks, Rachel! The letter you wrote about leaving medicine was poignant, and it made me happy and sad a the same time. I have a feeling you infuse that same wonderful, emotional complexity into all of your writing.

Come back on Monday, readers, to see our goals for the final week of our winter writing group. Until then, write on!

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This Is A Writer

Sarah Ruthven is a colleague of mine in MCC’s Art Department who first joined in on our Summer 2016 writing group. She is one of the group’s academic writers and brings diversity to our updates. She’s also the person who first introduced me to curriculum mapping in a faculty development workshop I attended back in 2008, and for that, I will be forever grateful. (I bet you’re thrilled with how you’ve changed my teaching life, aren’t you, Sarah?)

This is a guest post from Sarah Ruthven, a member of this winter’s Online Writing Group:

I am a writer.

My first time through graduate school I did not think this about myself. Despite the fact that for two years I wrote paper after paper culminating in a rather long master’s thesis, I did not think of myself as a writer. When I decided to go back to graduate school again, my biggest fear was that I had not been writing and I was sure my skills had become rusty.

sarahs-workspace

I took another picture of my writing space, minus the laundry basket but it felt like a lie. I am a writer and mom; there is always a basket of laundry somewhere.

When I became a full-time faculty member, I thought I would read all the time and write, publish even. But then the reality of teaching set in and I just never found a writing groove; I wasn’t a writer anyway. In my eleven years as a faculty member I wrote numerous Action Team Declarations, draft after draft of contract language, and a million letters. But still, I just didn’t see myself as a writer.

But something clicked in graduate school the second time around. I started to see it when I wrote to my classmates in discussion boards and when I would hit the page length on a paper, realizing I still had things to write, ideas to get out. Then I joined the summer writing group. I had seen the invitation to join before but I wasn’t a writer then. Things were different, I was different.

I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She recounts her struggles when writing, and I saw those same struggles in my process. Holy shit, I had something in common with Anne Lamott, other than a significant amount of unexpected swearing. But of course we have something in common: we are both writers.

Whether it is swagger or efficacy, something about really seeing myself as a writer has changed the way I write. I am forty-eight pages into a sixty-page paper that will be finished in exactly eighteen days. I sit down to write and struggle. Writers do that. But I don’t stop, I try again. Writers do that, too.

I want to write more after graduate school is done. And while I will likely spend a semester reading everything Nora Roberts has ever written just to take a small break after two and a half years of graduate school, I will not stop being a writer. My work flow will just need to change so that I can teach and write. I am not sure how I will do this, but I have never felt so confident that I will find a way to make that happen.

For my thesis I am writing about the photobook Events Ashore by An-My Le, and recently went to see Moholy-Nagy: Future Present at the Art Institute of Chicago just before it closed. These are the things that I feel so strongly about I had to write about them. They helped me realize I am a writer.

Sarah at the museum

Me at the museum

 

Thanks, Sarah! If you’re writing — writing anything — then you’re a writer. Embrace it. Give yourself a high-five. And now, get back to work.

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Driving

Anne Humphrey is a colleague of mine in MCC’s English Department who first joined in on our Winter 2016 writing group. I have a soft spot in my heart for Anne H., because, in addition to being a fellow grammar nerd, ardent defender of the Oxford comma, and my office neighbor, she is also a fellow alum of DePaul’s MA in Writing program.

And, like me (or like I used to be), Anne is used to commuting quite a distance to and from work. Here’s what Anne has to say about taking advantage of driving for her creative endeavors.

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

This past week, I was on a road trip to Connecticut and back. I love driving. and I love road trips. On the way back on this trip, I was so excited to work on some of what was discussed at the conference, and from seeing old friends there, that I drove all night without getting tired.

But I love to drive in general. Driving for me is not mainly about the trip itself, or the act of driving, but the way driving makes me feel — I am DRIVING as in accomplishing, moving forward, going to a next step.

I commute over an hour, each way, during the school year. Sometimes, people express concern or pity. But I say “I don’t mind. I make phone calls. I listen to podcasts.” To people I know better, I say, “I rehearse for class; I think through various problems.” Some people who correspond with me frequently know that I even manage text and email communication while driving (don’t worry, just at stop signs).

But what I rarely have admitted to anyone is that driving is for me prime writing time. Admittedly, I’m usually working out carefully worded emails about delicate situations, but I’ve worked on my creative writing too, quite a bit, while driving.

We’ve been spending time in this group discussing our writing space, and I am working on a new space in my house. But my main writing space for about thirty years has been in the driver’s seat of my car.

There are things I’ve tried over the years: a pad fitted for the dashboard (people commented on that quite a bit, but it was not really that exotic — my mom got it for me at Walmart); carrying a camera (now can just use my phone for this); carrying a voice recorder (now I can use phone and even voice recognition the same way); and recording phone calls (legal in Illinois if the other party knows you are doing it) — I would use these to talk through writing ideas with my mother or one close friend who is also a writer.

Most of the driving-writing has been inadvertent; ideas just flow for me in that environment, so in thinking about my WIP, ideas would come. Or random new ideas would occur from the stimulation of the driving. However, some writing I have assigned myself as an objective for the road trip.

On one occasion about twenty years ago, I had a novel almost finished but could not work out a central chapter. I knew what needed to happen, and where I wanted it to happen, but I had skipped over the chapter when drafting because I felt intimidated by that piece somehow. So, I said “I will work on that during this trip.” I was driving from St. Charles, IL to Cincinnati. In northern Indiana, I had to stop to replace my voice recorder, which, under the heavy use of this project, chose the first half of that trip to die completely. I forged on. I wrote the chapter. I even thought it almost was good, or at least as good as the rest of the book (which was not very good, but still).

After that, I gave myself many purposeful assignments for during specific trips, both long road trips and my commute. This summer, I had the idea for the “Prince poem” and wrote about half of it on a road trip back from Lake Erie a few weeks ago. On the overnight trip last Sunday night (action photo above), I worked on a different short something and wrote the whole thing. It’s just a short something. I’m not going to say “poem” because in the past few weeks, at two early music conferences, I’ve sat in a few talks about poetry that made me realize that I was not making poems. So for now I am calling them short somethings. Anyway, the Prince short something is still only half done. But I finished the “Midnight Blindspot in a Rearview Mirror” short something, while driving, on an overnight road trip.

I did it using text messaging, texting single lines or couplets to myself. The technology changes, but my method only changes slightly.

MORAL OF THIS RAMBLING STORY: I’d say, when it comes to writing, we should simply do what works: “Just do it.” Get the equipment, be at least somewhat intentional, and do it. Also, the writing space is where you are/where I am. So we should just start writing.

Notwithstanding this strong pitch, I’ll try to finish and post about my in-house writing space for our end post. I’m pretty pleased with it so far. I want the space to be so perfect for my needs that it lures me in, to writing.

Anne (R) dressed as her alter-ego, Grammar Girl, helps me (L) and our colleague Starr (C) recruit students on MCC Night, 2014

Anne (R) dressed as her alter-ego, Grammar Girl, helps me (L) and our colleague Starr (C) recruit students on MCC Night, 2014

Thanks, Anne! Although I don’t promote texting in the car (Trevor can attest to this, since I harangue him if he even looks at his phone while he’s driving), I love these ideas and wholeheartedly agree that writers can capitalize on driving, both for quiet, alone time as well as for brainstorming. So next time you’re stuck on an idea, get in the car and drive!

Read Me A Story…

Group member Lisa participated in last year’s writing group and wrote an excellent guest post on finding small moments to write. In this post, Lisa shares why reading out loud has become so important — and fun — to her.

Lisa doing a different kind of reading out loud: her own fiction at an MCC faculty reading series

Lisa doing a different kind of reading out loud: her own fiction at an MCC faculty reading series, The Typewriter Factory

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

Each night, we finish our day here at the Crizer abode with a book. Currently, we’re going between the Random House Book of Ghost Stories, Lila and Myla the Twin Fairies, and Thor: The Mighty.

I have to admit, I love reading aloud. Sure, there are nights, especially when Pinkalicious is requested (again!), when all I want to do is give some quick kisses, tuck a few blankets, and sit in front of the TV as fast as humanly possible. But, as soon as I start reading, I’m always in my happy place.

There’s something special about hearing your own voice as you read the words on the page, pacing yourself, finding the slight nuances of each character, pausing dramatically, and even choosing to skip an unnecessary dialogue tag here and there. And to say it’s magical for me is nothing compared to how it lights up my little ones; their focused eyes exploring every detail of the illustration; their fingers twiddling with pillow cases as their imaginations give life to unearthly visitors, fantastic creatures, and warrior heroes. I jump at the opportunity to read in my kid’s classroom. Twenty-five little imaginations swirling at once. It’s pretty incredible!

Like most summers, though, I’ve been giving myself grief lately for not reading enough. I borrowed Gaiman’s American Gods from the library (again), I’ve started Rigg’s Hollow City twice now, and Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is on call for tonight. These are all good books, but what makes reading with my kids so much more enjoyable to me right now? We do everything together…everything. So, how can something that has always been such a solitary experience for me changed into such a group activity? I think it’s actually the other way around.

Books and reading have always been such an integral part of my life that they found a way in. Even if I don’t have the time, energy, or focus to read the volume I used to, I am able to share in the wonders of story in a way that is new and different, but really fun and rewarding. I’ll take advantage of this for as long as I can. One day, I’ll be back on my own, curled up with a good book.

Check out the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Storyline Online website with videos of some great children’s books being read by actors. So fun!

Enjoy!

Thanks, Lisa, for sharing. Your kids (and their classmates) are so lucky!