Category Archives: Writing

If You Write It, I’ll Give You a Present

It would appear I’m not so good at following my own advice. If I were a dr. I’m pretty sure I’d smoke at least a pack a day. I’d probably have a martini glass balanced on the end of the exam table while I wrote out prescriptions for one of those cholesterol lowering meds and lectured patients about exercise and diet. I talk a lot about writing every day – in my own book, yet I haven’t been doing it lately. While I’m not planning to write a memoir (I’m not very interesting), I love writing essays, and someday I’d like to try writing a novel. But seriously, what kind of jerk tells people to write every day and then doesn’t even do it herself? Anyway, I was thinking about this while I was shopping for a birthday gift for my dad last weekend. He just turned 60, and my husband and I decided to make him his very own, customized book-of-the-month-club kind of thing. We bought a book we thought he would like for each month of the year, and wrote up a paragraph about each one. We ended up with kind of a crazy mixture. . . Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Sherlock Holmes, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (my dad used to teach fourth grade) – a reference book about weather, because my dad is OBSESSED with storms. It was quite possibly the only time I had fun shopping for a gift. It got me thinking. . if you’re totally stuck, which happens to EVERYONE, writing about gifts is a super easy way to get unstuck. There are so many instances in life where a gift has made a difference – good or bad. I mean, it’s not really about the present, it’s about the thoughts, what it meant, and the lasting memories they leave right?

What was I thinking? Why was I out smoking and drinking white russians when I should have been home working on my memoir? What a terrible mistake!

So listen. . . since I’m making a conscious effort to write more, I’m hoping you will too. I’ll send a copy of my book (and a special bonus surprise) to whoever writes the most kick-ass gift story. I don’t care how long it is or anything. . . it doesn’t matter.

Ooops. I brilliantly gave you all the wrong email address at the webinar. It’s this:



Filed under Contests, Work, Writing

Coming on July 9th!

I’m giving a free webinar at Writer’s Digest’s website today at 1 p.m. if you’re up for it. Hope to see you there.


Filed under Writing

The Wrong Kind of Criticism Can Really Kick Your Ass

I love picking out books to take along on vacation. I just got back from a wonderful week away with my family where I ultimately read Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger, (creepy good fun) but this wasn’t my first choice. As I was looking at the books on my shelves, I came across Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping, and wondered why I wasn’t more familiar with it. It’s become a classic, I generally love family stories, and I’ve always been attracted to symbolism about water (I’m convinced this comes from growing up on one of the Great Lakes). It seemed like the kind of novel I would love and like a perfect travel book, since as a bonus, it’s rather slim. Happy to have found something, I sat down for a couple of minutes just to read a few pages. I was intrigued, but suddenly remembered I had read it before, and I didn’t have fond memories of Housekeeping at all.

While I didn’t get very good grades in high school, I surprised myself by doing very well during my first semester of college. I loved my classes and for the first time felt very engaged and excited by learning. But then I signed up for a Women’s Fiction seminar. It sounded innocent enough. We were going to read Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and of course Marilyn Robinson. I read novels all the time, so I figured reading novels for a class would be simple, or at the very least enjoyable. Apparently not. I still remember how uneasy I felt in that class. I read the books faithfully. . although in the class they were suddenly referred to only as “texts” – hello! Pretentious! Amy, the graduate student who taught the class found everything I said trite – I wasn’t digging “deep enough into the text.” They were novels, and quite good ones, but did that mean we had to analyze them to death? I was never sure what she wanted, and the harder I tried the more I floundered. But the real reason I will probably never enjoy Housekeeping comes from what happened after my first exam. I had read every book and come to every class – I was confident I understood what occurred in these books, yet I got my exam book back to find that I had received a “D.” Ouch. I will never forget approaching Amy, (who wore Frye motorcycle boots by the way) and asking her about my grade. I didn’t think it was possible that the grade reflected my understanding of “the texts.” Her response? “Well, you probably do understand them. It’s just that you can’t write.” WTF? Now, I’m fairly certain I write better now than I did then, but is that any way to talk to a student? Until I came across that copy of “Marilyn Robinson’s text” I had completely forgotten about that conversation, but what I do know is this. I’ve always been careful about how I give criticism to writers. I’m always honest but gentle – and if I permanently spoiled a novel for someone, I’d be pretty sorry.


Filed under Writing

I Want a Role Model!

This fabulous woman would be a great role model. . if she were real.

I was just reading Penelope Trunk’s (aka The Brazen Careerist’s) How To Be Lost With Panache, which I stumbled upon at the perfect time, because I had just started writing a section of my book about “being stuck” and I completely understood her need to turn to soothing things. . . such as New York Magazine to get her through tough times. I’ll be the first person to admit that “being stuck” while writing a book is, in the whole scheme of things, not such a big problem. But the more I thought about it, and the further I got along in the chapter, the more I was able to see that getting stuck while writing isn’t all that different from getting stuck in real life. You can’t think, you can’t come up with any decent ideas about what to do. . going out for a simple as a cup of coffee feels like a major life decision. Should I make coffee at home? Or should I get some fresh air? Because that might be nice. Or will that take up too much time? Is it going to rain? You get the picture. But then her post mentioned something that got me off the coffee track right quick. She mentioned that Tavi Gevinson of The Style Rookie, the only just about to enter high school fashion blogger, was her role model. She’s real, she’s a dork and she’s smart. What’s not to love? I thought long and hard about who my role model would be, and I just wasn’t sure. How can I not know who my role model is? I feel I must remedy this immediately. I’d like someone who was funny, smart, successful and being Midwestern would be a bonus. Definitely something to think about, and fyi, I’m accepting suggestions!


Filed under Work, Writing

When You Can’t Seem To Follow Your Own Advice

All work and no play had made these ladies terribly dull!

I had big plans for this week. I was going to be crazy productive. I was going to stockpile some blog posts, spend some time on Twitter looking for new people to follow, catch up on blog reading, write two chapters of my book, email people I met at blogher, and finally deal with my ever growing slush pile. Instead, this is what I’ve accomplished:

• Found a new pizza place in my neighborhood that I think is far superior to the one we currently frequent.

• Purchased stovetop espresso maker.

• Attempted to make a latte.

• Failed in attempt to make a latte.

• Watched an anxiety-provoking episode of Grey’s Anatomy (or maybe three).

• Confirmed that new pizza place is definitely superior.

In other words, I have done nothing productive, and as a result I feel awful. The “big deadline” is looming ever closer, and I can’t afford to waste a single day. I’ve worked with writers for a long time, I know we all need and deserve breaks, so this begs the question, “why can’t I follow my own advice?” As of Monday at 11 a.m. it was clear that I needed a break. I was showing all the classic signs! Opting to vacuum instead of sitting down to write, making lists of household tasks that I somehow convinced myself couldn’t be put off a single second longer. Vacuuming the curtains? Really? When I finally did try to write, it took me about 45 minutes to write one truly terrible sentence. So why did I insist on torturing myself? Why couldn’t I do what I would tell other writers to do, which is quite simply TO GIVE IT UP FOR AWHILE? I mean, the world is not going to come crashing down if I watch a couple of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Nor is it a total disaster if I decide to see a movie, read a novel or eat more pizza. What is a waste of time, is making myself miserable and forcing myself to work when clearly everything I do right now is just not going to work.

Today I finally did it. I went out and got a couple of new books, went out for coffee and read like a regular human being. I didn’t feel guilty, I just enjoyed myself. I had a decent latte, and you know what? I’m pretty sure that when I write this afternoon it’s going to turn out just fine.


Filed under Writing