Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day 50! So What Happens Now?

Since you made it all the way through this crazy class, I wanted to leave you all with some closing thoughts and ideas.
Take some time over the next few days to sit down with the pages you’ve written. Read through the work, not with an eye towards what might need editing, just looking for ideas and possibilities, and being impressed with your own effort in crafting these first draft texts. What are the aspects of this class that you could continue on your own? Consider the three possibilities listed below and think about how they might work for you.

1. Writing steadily
For working writers, it all comes down to this; doing the work. Hopefully you have all gotten to experiment this semester with the feeling of writing every day, or at least every week, and you have those rhythms in your body now. Even if generating text was difficult for you, look at the components of inspiration and writing regularly. Try some of the writing exercises that you didn’t yet have a chance to try, or try some of your favorites again. Most exercises and prompts can be done multiple ways, multiple times. Come up with one to two word prompts and/or writing exercises of your own. Keep track of them in a file or notebook. Collect lists in that same notebook, lists of topics, subjects, words you love, words you hate, prompts, people who you want to make a portrait of, character names, locations you are obsessed with, memories from childhood, sounds, colors, objects, first lines, titles, last lines, found fragments, etc. Take that “Idea Book” with you when you sit down to write, and you will always have a place to begin. Keep putting a working title on each text, along with the date the text was written. Keep making big, messy first drafts that are built on possibility, not on necessity. And keep track of your own work, honor it as it emerges, make a sacred and dedicated place to keep all our your texts.

2. Sharing your work with your peers
Most of you probably wrote in a solitary way over the past 50 days, but as we discussed at the beginning of the class, the opportunity always exists to share your creative work with others. It’s an amazing thing to draft texts and take notes while holding the awareness that someone will want to hear what we most want to say. When we begin writing with this awareness, it can potentially add strength and a quiet confidence to our work. Simply reading and witnessing each other is a powerful act, and it is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a writing community. So find other folks to share your work with, either in person or by phone or email. You may choose to schedule a monthly phone call or meet for coffee once a week with a writing friend, whatever works for both of you. It doesn’t matter whether your writing/ reading partner is a novelist and you are a poet; simply try to choose other writers and artists with whom you can make an Equal Exchange. (ie: you send them 3 pgs, they send you 3 pgs) Even before you get the stage of giving and receiving skillful, useful feedback, simply being read by others can be an incredibly important tool. And if you are sitting down for coffee with someone, take 20 minutes and write together! Remember, it is always a revolution to allow oneself to be found.

3. Finding writing exercises everywhere
As you can see from these 50 exercises, writing prompts and ideas are all around us, in both the mundane and the extraordinary aspects of our daily lives. Learn to look at your world through the eyes of a writer and start collecting ideas, prompts, subjects, first lines, last lines, themes and things to try. When you come up with a great one, share it with your writing friends and peers.

If you would like some feedback on your work, please let me know. I'd be glad to read some of what you wrote and schedule a Follow-up phone session to discuss what you got and what the next steps might be. If the structure of a class was useful to you, then check out other writing classes that may be offered in your area. There will be another 50/50 On-line class offered in the Spring, and I might offer an On-line Workshop as well, so keep an eye out for the Spring class flyer and just holler if you have any questions.

Thanks so much for joining the class. If there is anything I can do to support you as a writer, please drop me an email, I am always happy to help. Take good care of yourselves and k e e p w r i t i n g!
Many thanks and many blessings,


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thinking About Poetry

For those of you who are using the daily prompts to develop your craft and generate work as poets, I wanted to share some ideas and things to consider when working on poetry.

1. Check out Some Recent History
It can be an interesting experiment to find five people you encounter during an average day, and ask each of them to name 5 poets. My guess is that of the 25 names you collect, many of them will be the same, and most will be the names of writers who died 100 years ago.
Unless we were lucky and went to some truly extraordinary schools, we probably didn’t study a whole lot of poetry when we were young. And even if we were lucky enough to be exposed to poetry in school, it may have only been exposure to those poets and poems in the traditional “cannon”, like Shakespeare, Dickinson, Wordsworth, William Carlos Williams or Gertrude Stein. With all due respect to these forefathers and foremothers of poetry, there is a lot of more recent history to explore. Not many folks today have heard of language poetry, the Black Mountain poets, the New York School, The New Formalists, The San Francisco Renaissance, Outlaw Poetry, The Beat Movement, Performance Poetry, Hybrid texts, Experimental Poetry, Multicultural Poetry, Eco-Poetics, and the some of the other important movements and events that continue to shaped our contemporary poetry scene in the 21st century. Check out some of these terms by typing them into Google, and see what you find. Look for the names of poets you have never heard of, and check out their work on-line.

2. Read Widely
One of the most useful, fundamental practices for any working writer in any genre is the commitment to reading widely. This means that we become invested in exploring unfamiliar writers, genres and styles. It means that we suspend our likes and dislikes long enough to truly engage our curiosity, it means we pay attention to wholly unfamiliar work, to see what it might teach us as writers. When you head out to your local big chain bookstore, you might not find much modern poetry on the shelves. Sometimes independent bookstores, college bookstores and smaller bookstores may have a bigger selection. Check out on-line bookstores and on-line book distributors as well. For example, you can check out some great contemporary poets at the website for Small Press Distribution, a very reputable source for small press poetry books and anthologies.
(go to: If you find a book you want to read, go to your local library and look for a copy. If they don’t have it and they don’t want to order one for their stacks, you can always request a copy of it through the Interlibrary Loan program. This program allows one library to access the books or materials in another library on behalf of one of its patrons, YOU!

3. Experiment with Forms
As you know, poetry can take any form you choose. If you have never seen or experimented with poetic “forms” (like sestinas, haiku, acrostics, chants, sonnets, tankas, prose poems, etc.) you can check these out in Teacher’s & Writer’s Handbook of Poetic Forms, edited by Ron Padgett. Or you can check some of them out on sites like:
These “forms” do not make a poem any more important that writing in free verse, but they have long and interesting histories and they can be fun ways to keep your poetry practice vibrant and interesting.

4. Make Poet Friends
When you step in and start telling folks that you are interested in Poetry, you may be surprised how many folks who say “Me too!” Poetry can sometimes be a “closeted” practice, all kinds of folks read and write it, but they usually don’t share the work with one another unless they are invited. Check out local poetry groups or classes, usually bulletin boards at your local independent bookstore of library will have some good leads, or you can always look on the internet. Making one or two friends who also have an active interest in reading and writing poems can be a great way to try new things and keep going. We all write differently when we write to be read by others. There are also lots of writing and poetry conferences and festivals that are available, especially in the summer months. You can find a fairly comprehensive listing on-line at:

5. Make it Do-able
Writing poetry need not be a taxing, intensive experience. One of the best thing about a poem is how unconstrained it is, you can write a “poem” in 3 short lines, or 300 long ones. You can write funny poems, portrait poems, political poems, narrative poems, list poems, poems with long lines, poems with one-word titles, love poems, nonsense poems, poems about the everyday, and any other kind of poems you can imagine. Poetry as a creative art has absolutely no conventional, established “rules”, so bring the full range of your curiosity and creativity to bear and see what happens. Look at the time and attention you have to devote to your life as a poet and find ways to make your practice fun and consistent. Read one new poem by another poet everyday. Write one new poem everyday, even if it’s just 4 lines about what you saw or heard today. There is no “wrong” way to write a poem, and as soon as you write one, you step into a long and vibrant lineage of poets.

Poetry is one of the most fun and versatile forms of literature, so jump in, start a poetry-notebook and start writing!
All the best,

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Thinking About Fiction

Hello all, hope this finds you having a great weekend. I know there are a lot of folks in the class who are working on fiction, whether its short stories, novels or fragments of writing that might someday be joined to make a longer text.
There are a few elements of craft that might be interesting to you, some things to try when launching into the wild and exciting world of fiction.

1. Practice Imagining
Fictional writing is centered in the world of imagination, and your imagination, like your triceps, must be exercises regularly in order to be strong and supple. The world of the imagination is like a vast, undiscovered continent to which we all had passports as children. Inventing and imagining freely is one of the best parts of being a child. But at some stage in our development “making things up” stopped being called “imagination” and started being called “lying”. So as adults, there is not much of a role for imagination in our everyday lives and as writers, we may find that the muscles involved in imagination have fallen out of use. So practice imagining. See those two people sitting across from you in Starbucks? Which one of them is the international spy and what is in the briefcase on the floor? See that guy riding his bike? What did he have for breakfast this morning and what nightmare does he have that keeps recurring? As the poet Mary Oliver said “The world offers itself to your imagination.” Look around you in your everyday world and start seeing past what is actual to what is possible.

2. Create Plots
Plots in fictional stories need not be complicated or overly dramatic, but they should involve some series of actions so as to keep your reader active and interested in the text. Look through the last great novel you read or remember the last great movie you saw. Can you summarize what happened in that book or movie in a single sentence? (Ok, it can be a very l o n g sentence!) For example, the “plot” of the Wizard of Oz might be: “A young girl gets blown by a tornado into a different world where she has to fight an evil witch in order to get home again.” Try doing this to get an idea of the plots of the stories you are reading. See if you can summarize your own on-going story or novel in this way. What happens? Like characters and landscapes, plots too are drawn from our everyday experience of living. Look around you and notice what is happening. If the guy in line behind you in Safeway forgot his wallet, then use that as your launching point and crank up your imagination. Was the wallet stolen if so by whom? Has he lost his memory, and if so how and why? Is he trying to hide his identity, and from whom? And remember, there are some wonderful novels and stories out there that do not have huge or exciting plots, but something always happens, no matter how small.

3. Find Themes
If plots are the tip of the iceberg, the part of the story that is above the waterline, then the Themes of a story are the bigger part of the iceberg, the part that is below the water. What is the Wizard of Oz REALLY about? Is it about going home? Is it about the power of true friendship? Is it about the fact that all the things we most want from others (brain, heart, adventure or courage) are all the things we must find within ourselves? Or hey, maybe its just a big Technicolor cautionary tale about one kid’s closed head injury sustained in the tornado alley of Kansas. The “themes” of any story, no matter how small, are the ways in which the story connects to our universal human experience. Make a list of the themes in the story or novel you are writing. What do you want your reader to see or understand about those themes by the end of your story?

4. Invent Memorable Characters
When you think of the novels or stories you have enjoyed the most, you probably remember the characters in them as if they were real. And “real” characters are those who are most fully human, which means interesting, quirky and unpredictable. As readers, we pay much more attention to heroes who we don’t always love and villains who we don’t always hate. Making a character memorable is often a byproduct of making that character specific. What type of cigarettes does your villain smoke? How old are those cowboy boots she’s wearing? What kind of car does your main character drive? What 5 things does he have in his pockets? What did his father do for a living? Learn who your characters are, and keep track of the information. Go through magazines until you find an image of your character sitting at her desk. Keep flipping through the magazine until you find a picture of the car she stole this morning. Find a postcard of the town she grew up in. Collect all your character data in files and look at how you weave specific description into the story. Look at the “characters” who surround you everyday and create amalgams, take the annoying habit of your next door neighbor and add those fuzzy slippers your roommate wears and then put them all on the body of your 12th grade biology teacher. Make characters we will remember, long after the story is over.

5. Begin to Notice Narrative and Scene
In all types of fiction you will eventually be working with “narrative” (in which you tell us what is happening) and “scene” (in which you show us what is happening).
Narrative would look something like this;

“Over the next 3 years, his family moved four times and each house they lived in was more awful than the last”

Whereas a Scene might look like this;
Brian walked into the living room of the new house and tried to identify the terrible smell coming from under the kitchen door. “What is that?” he asked his brother “Have you ever smelled anything that bad?”

Both narrative and scene are necessary, especially in novels, but every book and story has a different and unique ratio of narrative to scene. Sometimes you will need to tell us the information and sometimes you will have to let us see it (and hear it, and smell it) for ourselves. Start to notice these moves in the books you are reading. How much of the story is accomplished narrative? How much is rendered in scenes? Practice writing both and work intentionally on whichever one you find hardest to do.

6. Detail is Everything
As someone who teaches writing everyday I’ve been seriously considering having this phrase tattooed somewhere on my forehead. But unfortunately it’s true. The details always matter. For example, one could write a story in which “an orphan kid is terrified as he travels to his new school”. Or, (as JK Rowling did in Book One), one could say;
“And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead.” By bringing in the sensory details of any scene or moment, you invite your reader to be active, to be a participant in the story instead of a spectator. When you describe an important character or location or series of actions in a story, make sure that you are giving us all the details that are necessary. It is, of course, possible to overindulge in detail, but that’s a Cadillac of a problem to have. Its easier to add too many details and take some away, then to have no details at all and rely on that one lonely blue checkered tea towel to symbolize the entire mansion in the Hamptons. Notice the sights and colors and sounds and textures and objects that already populate your world. And choose your details skillfully, well-chosen and strategic details that we can SEE may relieve you of have to TELL us everything.

As you know from being a reader, well-written fiction has the ability to go places that other genres cannot.
So invent away and have fun!
All the best,

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Thinking About Memoir

Hello everyone and congrats on making it through 30 days of writing!

I wanted to say a word or two about the art of Memoir writing, since I know that a few folks are working on memoirs or memoir-based material. As you probably know, a memoir is very different from an autobiography. An autobiography, in the formal sense, is usually written by someone who is a public figure, a politician, an actor or artist, etc. The subject of a formal autobiography is usually just the story of that person's life, and how they came to be the famous person that they are today. An autobiography is about everything that happened to someone, usually ordered chronologically.

A memoir, on the other hand, is not just about what happened, its also about what it meant. A memoir is about an individual person's relationship to a certain subject matter. For example, Alex Fuller's book Don't Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight, is about her relationship to her family and to Africa, where she was raised. Rick Bragg's memoir All Over But The Shoutin is about his relationship to poverty and how he survived what poverty did to his family. One of the first things to do when you are thinking of working on a memoir, is to write a bit about what relationship is driving the book, and to start collecting the individual stories that bring that relationship to life for your reader.

Its important to note that sometimes you will hear these words used interchangeably, for example, someone famous might be said to be writing their "memoirs" which of course means their autobiography. Or a writer who creates a memoir might include the word "autobiography" in the title, like Lucy Grealy's book Autobiography of My Face, an intense memoir about her relationship with illness, disfigurement and appearance.

Of course all the basic rules for writers always apply when working on text that is centered in the world of memory, (just like work that is centered in the world of the present moment or the imagination) we have to write as if our lives are important and what we have to say has value. We have to acknowledge that we are the only ones who can tell our stories and if we don't tell them then they will go untold. And we have to write as if someone is already out there, listening for what we have to say. If you believe these things, especially in the writing of memoir, then your writing WILL have more power and impact. Remember as you work to take refuge in specificity and uniqueness of expression, rather than taking refuge in abstraction or big words. Make sure we know when and where the stories are taking place and that we can see and hear the people who populate your text.

Learn the skill of using imagination to serve as the mortar between the bricks of your memory, use it to fill in the spaces where you may have forgotten details or conversations. This is very different that using your imagination to invent whole events that never actually happened. Remember that fiction means never having to say your sorry, so if the best way to tell your story is to fictionalize it and to call it fiction (inspired by a true story) then go for it. But if you are choosing to stay in the realm of factual memory, just remember to write fearlessly and edit carefully. Don't try to change all the names of everyone in your past before you even write the first draft of your story. You have the absolute right to write about what happened in your own life and how you felt about it. So don't worry what anyone else will think of the first draft, there will be time and space to make careful choices about who you represent and how, as you go through the drafting process.

And above all, be brave and keep breathing as you write and make it doable. Make a list of everything that you want to include in your book, all the stories that matter most, in the order you want to tell them. This list might change 100 times, but just make a draft of it. This is your working outline for the book. Remember that a good memoir, like a good novel, requires active, interesting scenes. We need action and dialogue, description and visual content. Bring us into your world.

Best of luck with it, and please feel free to add comments here and let us know how the work is progressing. I will add another post soon about writing stories and novels, and of course poetry. Keep at it!
all the best,

Monday, September 29, 2008

Passing the Halfway Point

Hello all, and CONGRATS on getting halfway through the 50/50 class, it's now day 29, so you only have 21 days left!
Passing over the midpoint of any class is always a good time to step back for a minute and consider how its going for you.
Often with a 50 day class, writers may find that they had a lot of momentum for the first week or two, but then that momentum dropped off and they stopped writing daily. Or maybe you are still writing daily, and the work is coming easily. But in case you need one, here are a few ways to jump-start your creativity and your writing.

One of the things a 50/50 class is designed to do is to allow you to experiment wildly. If you always write from your memory, try creating a character and writing from that character's point of view. If you always write stories, try writing a poem. If you always work in the imagination, try placing your awareness in the present moment and writing about the object, person or landscape that is right in front of you. There is, of course, no way to fail at a writing experiment. So if you got some text, then you did it perfectly.

Read Something New
As long as we are talking about experimenting with writing on the edge of your comfort zone, a 50/50 class is also a great time to experiment with reading more widely. If you only read non-fiction, pick up a novel. If you only read memoirs, go find a Sci Fi novel. If you never read young adult lit or children's literature, go to that section of the bookstore and pick up the first book that looks interesting. If you know nothing about popular music, go read a copy of Rolling Stone. Read at least one thing that pushes you a bit farther out into the world of language and writing and see what happens! Its not about loving that new book, its just about seeing how its made.

Go Someplace New
And while you're at it, go fill up your senses with as many new things as you can. Drive a different way going home and see a part of your town or city that you forgot about. Make a date with a friend to eat in a new restaurant and taste a type of food that is totally different from what you normally eat. Go hang out in a bakery and smell the smells, what story do they remind you of? Writing new things sometimes requires new experiences. get in the habit of taking yourself as a writer (and your notebook) with you, everywhere you go.

I know that some of you have been working in the genre of memoir/ personal stories, while others have been working with fiction or poetry. Over the next week I will be posting some text about each of these genres, to provide you with a bit more information on each one. Read through the posts, and please feel free to email me or post questions for your fellow writers or comments and let me know how your experiments are progressing. Thanks to everyone who has emailed me so far, its been great corresponding with you.

All the best,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Twenty Days In : Sharing Your Work With Others

Hello all and Congrats on the first 20 days of 50/50 writing, only one month left to go! I hope that by now you have a good-sized pile of first drafts, and that you have built some kind of daily writing practice.

Making It Easier
If you have been struggling with this class, the urge can sometimes be to get frustrated and to try and tighten your own expectations of how much you should be able to write everyday. Instead, try lowering the bar you set for yourself, until the practice of writing daily becomes very easy to do. For example, simply decide that you will write 14 lines (or sentences) per day in response to each exercise. If you are REALLY swamped for time, give yourself permission to write only 5 lines per day. Remember that even 5 lines per day can be the difference between Writing and Not Writing! Do whatever you can to make it easier and get something, anything on the page each day. Notes, fragments, memories, a single question, anything at all.

Ways to Share The Work
One of the best things about writing regularly is building a range of first draft texts that you might exchange with other writers, if you choose to. As you may have read in the Frequently Asked Questions, this blog will unfortunately not be a place to post the creative work that you are doing everyday. But sharing your work and getting some useful feedback can be an important part of your evolution as working writer. So I wanted to offer five possible ways you might share the work you will do during the class.

1. Print and Read the Work Yourself
As writers, we are constantly trying to practice the art of seeing our work clearly, without judgment, and this process begins by learning how to appreciate the pages we write. We have to learn how to see the strengths and weaknesses in our own work, which requires some intentionality. So if you are used to writing a page of text, scanning it once and then closing the document or journal and heading off into the next part of your day, consider a change in plan. Try to experience your daily text as a READER as well as the writer. There are lots of ways you can do this; for example, when you are done writing your text, print out a copy and go tuck it between the pages of the book you usually read before you go to sleep at night. Or, when you are finished writing for the day, email the document to yourself, so that when you load your new messages tomorrow morning, it will be there in your In Box, waiting to be read. I even know some writer’s who read their daily work out loud, so as to hear its possibilities more clearly. These are all simple methods that allow you to stand, if briefly, in your reader’s shoes, to discover your own text at a different time of the day, in an unexpected moment.

The goal here is not to fall in love with your own work, or to judge it or edit it endlessly, its simple to build an appreciation for the fact that you WORKED as a writer today, and to start becoming familiar with your own voice and style on the page. This familiarity is what we have to build in order to see clearly what needs to be done to strengthen a text. If you can’t SEE it, you can’t make it BETTER. Give it a try!

2. Set up a Peer Writing Partnership
There is nothing as useful to working writers as having good company. Building a community of writers usually starts with two folks deciding to trust one another and make a bit of time to share their work. There are lots of ways to set up a Peer Writing Partnership, here are two:

On-Line Writing Partnerships
If you choose to work with someone on-line, then contact a friend who you know to be a creative writer, and invite them to join you. Set a schedule that works for both of you. You may want someone to read your work daily, but your friend may only have time to read and send you work once a week. The key with any writing partnership or group is to make an “Equal Exchange”. This means that you two find a schedule that works for both of you and, most importantly, that you exchange an equal number of pages. It doesn’t matter if your friend is working on a Sci Fi novel and you are working on a series of Haiku. If you send them 3 poems each week, then they can excerpt 3 pages out of their novel to send to you. The first goal in a writing Partnership is to read and get to know one another’s work. As you become more familiar with one another, feel free to ask Author Questions, specific questions about your own work. General questions (“Is this interesting at all?”) are NOT as useful as specific ones (“Does the title sound too sinister?” or “Does the character of the little boy seem realistic to you?”) . Stay away from the “ILLEGAL” question, which is ANY version of “Does this suck?” It is the writer’s job to answer that, not the Reader. No one can assign core value to your work but YOU.

In-Person Writing Partnerships
It’s always more fun to sit down with a friend, exchange work, read to one another, discuss what the possibilities are, and then do a bit of writing together. So find a friend who lives near you, make an Equal Exchange of text and time, and jump in! Knowing how busy you both probably are, shoot for meeting for at least 1 hour once a week, in a quiet place that is convenient for both of you. You can email each other your text beforehand, so that you won’t have to take time in person to do your reading, although some folks love to hear the work out loud.

3. Set up a Peer Writing Group
Maybe you have two or more friends, who are as interested in writing as you are. Choose a convenient place and a time, and keep the text exchange equal and mutual. Remember, the fact that you all may be writing in different genres doesn’t matter. Sometimes poets prefer the company and attention of other poets, or novelists prefer to work on text with other novelists, but what matters most is finding a safe, comfortable and intelligent working group of writers who like to eat and laugh as much as they like to give feedback.

When giving feedback remember that your OPINION is not as useful as your attention and your creativity. Instead of telling the author what you “loved” or “hated” tell them what you noticed and where you got lost. Give specific examples and make specific suggestions of things they might try in the next draft. As an author, get in the habit of asking Author Questions, specific questions about your own work. Listen to the responses you get and incorporate the suggestions if they are useful to you. And stay FAR away from anyone who believes that being mean, cruel or manipulative is “helpful” to you as a writer. If you wouldn’t trust them with your kid, don’t trust them with the first draft of your text.

4. Start your own Blog
If you are looking for a place to post your daily writing so that friends and fans can see what you are up to, you might want to consider starting your own blog. There are lots of free blog sites, including;,, and others. Since you may already have set up a google account in order to add comments to this blog, go to and explore.
There are a few things to keep in mind when blogging; remember to check the “settings” on your blog, so that you can choose who should have access to it. Be wary of allowing “anonymous” comments on your blog, and be aware that even if you restrict access to users you know, it is NEVER possible to totally restrict content that is posted on a blog. So don’t load up your whole novel if you are worried about copyright infringement. That said, if you DO start a blog of your writing, send me and email and tell me how it goes!

5. Work with a Writing Coach
It may be useful for you to take a local or on-line creative writing class, or start your own writer’s group. But if you are looking for someone to work with one-on-one to read and evaluate your text, and to help you figure out what steps are next for you as a writer, you may want to work privately with a Writing Coach. There are a lot of folks who do this work, and (of course) a lot of scam artists as well. Be wary of anyone who is not themselves a working writer and editor, and be VERY wary of anyone who promises or “guarantees” that they will get you published. Local colleges and universities sometimes have faculty members who teach creative writing and work as Writing Coaches in their spare time, and some Content Editors or Copy Editors do this kind of work as well. Find someone you can afford, who treats both you and your work respectfully, and communicates with integrity, honesty and skillfulness. If I can be a resource in helping you find someone who is right for you, just let me know.

Optional Follow-up Meeting With Max
This semester, at the request of a few students who also took the 50/50 class last time, I have set up an optional follow-up meeting, that you can register for if you are interested. This option is very simple: After the class is over on October 20th, you would choose 10-15 pages of work that you wrote over the 50/50 class and send that work to me via email, attached as a Word document. In your email to me, write any specific Author Questions or concerns that you have about the work. I will print out your work, read it through, and make some detailed notes. Then we schedule an hour long phone session in which we will discuss the work and what the next steps might be. The usual rate for this process in regular one-on-one coaching sessions is $75 but for this class I have waived the reading fee and lowered the hourly rate to $50. If you are interested in this option, please just drop me an email and let me know.
(For more information on the on-going work I do as a Writing Coach, you can check out:

Whichever method you choose for sharing your work with others, the goal should be to begin to step forward and take yourself more seriously as a writer. Cultivate writing friends and partners who speak clearly, skillfully and honestly, and who make you laugh! Find some concrete ways to become a little less isolated as a working writer, and let these 50 days of writing become the first step in moving your work and your voice out into the world.
Keep it going!
and be well,

Monday, September 1, 2008

Day One: Getting ready to Write

Hello all and welcome to day one. I sent out the first writing exercise, so it should be waiting in your email In Box. If for any reason you didn’t get it yet, please send me an email and let me know. All daily writing assignments will be sent out by email, not posted here on the blog.

As we all get started here on day one, I wanted to post a few thoughts on some things to think about as you jump into your daily writing. There is an old maxim by writer Kingsley Amis “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair.” I always laugh out loud when I read this, because i guess writing really does boil down to that. In the end, it is always about simply sitting down and turning towards the work.

As you each launch into this 50-day investigation, take a moment to consider what patterns and preferences you already have as a writer. Start with location, where do you prefer to write? Sitting at your desk? In a comfortable chair? There is no "right" location, choose anywhere you are comfortable and not likely to fall prey to distractions.

Consider the tools you prefer to use, do you write a first draft most easily when working with pen and paper? Do you prefer to write in your journal, or do you work best when you are typing directly onto the computer? What time of day works best for you? Are you a morning writer or someone who writes best late at night when the day is almost over? Even if you don’t usually write everyday, you already know a great deal about yourself as a writer. The trick is finding a way to USE what you know about yourself, without being limited to it.

For example, many of us would love to have the whole week free to do nothing but write, no going to work or tending to family, no obligations or chores, no emails to return or phones to answer. But this kind of time and space is usually quite rare. So we have to figure out how to work in the times and places we already have available to us.
If you know that you work best in the morning, try to give yourself 30 minutes before work to start a bit of writing. If you work well in the middle of the day, take yourself to lunch and sit with your notebook and see if you can get some text. If you work well at night, keep the notebook by your bed and write a few lines before you go to sleep. If you are crazy-busy all day long, print out each assignment sheet every day and put it in your pocket. Whenever you get a spare minute, pull the sheet out, flip it over, and legibly jot down one or two things.

The key here is to lower your expectations until the work becomes EASY to do. If you would love to get 3 pages, start by just trying to get the first 3 sentences. A strong beginning is all you need. Give yourself permission to lay down your utopia of being the Perfect Writer and just focus on getting those first 3 sentences. Remember that the elaborate trance and idea of the Writer You Want TO BE can sometimes keep you from living as The Writer You Already Are. As the writer Marge Piercy said “The real writer is one who really writes. Work is it’s own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.” There is nothing wrong with being loved, but I think I understand what she means. Sometimes we will get a magnificent, whole first draft, but other times the work will simply emerge in messy, fragmented fits and starts. Either way you will be WORKING as a writer, and that is the real goal. Building a sustainable rhythm as a writer is always more valuable than any individual text we make. So for these 50 days, set up a realistic plan for yourself, taking into account both what is Preferred AND what is Possible. Keep the moves very small and manageable, and try to have fun!