way, way behind

August 24, 2011

We’ve continued to meet monthly, with a short break this summer, but apparently I haven’t put any of our updates online since April. Oops.

Last night’s meeting was wonderful. We talked about Steve’s trip to Africa and its impact on him, read some of Andrea’s poetry, and talked about the Midwest Writers Workshop I attended and my new book idea/project. We also discussed some writing contests and may individually prepare essays to enter in a contest in November.

Next meetings, so you can put them on your calendars and try to attend:
September 29
October 25

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get more organized and update this site with current, relevant info. But don’t hold your breath. I have a book to write :-).


April 26th meeting

May 2, 2011

Tonight we talked about description, simile, metaphor, etc., and I read from Stephen King’s On Writing about description, learning to recognize too much or too little of it, and so on. Writing exercise: a worksheet, fill-in-the-blank, about finishing similes and metaphors, which showed how dreadfully bad we all are at that. Then we wrote this: Write about the first time you got in trouble from someone other than your parents.

It was just Andrea, Jen and me tonight. The three of us also set goals for the next month, wanting a little bit of impetus to make us move forward. Good discussions, also, about all the many rejections I’ve received this month, about figuring out how to move forward and with what, and more about whether writing fiction is the same thing as lying. We agree it’s not, but some of us said they like to be stretched by the writing exercises but feel like they’re being untruthful if they make something up. So we talked about parables, stories, the four gospels telling the same thing but not, and about the truth that can still be found in fiction.

Also, I thought it would be helpful to set the next several meeting dates, even though our conflicts usually arise in the last couple days before the meetings. I will be out of town for various small trips and conferences this summer, so please note that I’m not being consistent in terms of which week in the month these meetings are. I’ve had to be flexible. Please let me know if you have any definite conflicts, but I’ll send reminders as each date nears.

MAY: Tuesday, May 24th at 7 pm
JUNE: Tuesday, June 28th at 7 pm
JULY: Tuesday, July 12th at 7 pm
AUGUST: Tuesday, August 23rd at 7 pm

Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks.



Getting behind…

April 3, 2011

I didn’t post about February’s meeting and we’re already a couple weeks past March’s. Forgive me, all. We met on Tuesday, February 22nd at my house, but it’s been so long I don’t remember enough to summarize. So moving on…

We also met on Tuesday, March 22nd at my house and talked about memoir writing. I read some excerpts from Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. It was a small group — Steve, Andrea, and me — but still so, so good. I read the first 1,000 words of a book I’m trying to write and discussed some of my struggles. Steve and Andrea humored me by acting excited about my story and offered loads of great input. I’m revising now to incorporate many of their thoughts. (Thanks again!)

We also did a writing exercise from Natalie Goldberg’s book. Read below, and please, try this at home.

But first, wanted to let you know the next meeting will be the last Tuesday of this month, April 26th at 7 pm at Andrea’s house. She has graciously offered to host and give us a change of scenery (either that, or she’s tired of my kids interrupting, though as loving as she is, I think she just wants to have us over). She lives at 257 W Oak Hill Road in the parsonage (attached to Grace & Mercy Ministries). When you pull into the parking lot, facing the church, it is the door to the right, the green one. Call or email me if you need more detailed directions.

And now, here’s the exercise, titled The Four-Letter Word:

Let’s dare talk about love for a moment, shall we?

Being in love is a loss of control. Suddenly your life is dependent on the eyebrow twitch of Joe Schmo. It’s terrible — it’s thrilling. Everyone wants it.

No one says it but writing induces that state of love. The oven shimmers, the faucet radiates, you die into the mouth that only you see. Right there, sitting with your notebook on your lap, even the factory town you drove through heading north to Denver, the town you hated and prayed no flat tire, no traffic jam would hold you there, even that place while writing about that trip, that day, that year, you caress now. Your life is real. it has texture, detail. Suddenly it springs alive.

Hardly moving, only the pen, hand, wrist, lower arm in a quiet stir, yet love is exuding from your every cell. You are like a great mountain, a buddha. You are yourself.

Tell me about a breakfast you were once privileged to have. Eggs over easy? Grapefruit? One thin slice of toast? Not even that. You ate a pickle — and it never tasted so good. You vowed to eat pickles for breakfast for the rest of your life. Then what happened? Tell me. Be specific. Go. Ten minutes.


January 25, 2011

January 26, 2011

Great  meeting. Again. Always. But I’m going to say so every time.

Tonight we discussed brevity, at great length (had to say it; sorry). The topic was based on the famous 6-word story written by Hemingway:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

We read examples of some six-word memoirs, stories, prayers, resolutions and discussed how hard it is to be really succinct. For the writing exercise, I passed out a “Brickstorming” exercise and then we all had time to work, but we each got to choose whether we wanted to try the brick exercise or the six-word memoir. A couple of these that I jotted down from various group members:

Weak enough to love God back.

Dear God, love me! Love, Me.

Found his voice in others’ lives.

Much too close to the edge.

My belief is full of doubt.

Then we went on to an interesting dialogue about (imagine that) writing, spiritual writing/autobiography in particular, the differences between writing by hand and on a computer, about writing for different audiences, pros and cons of blogging and some specific concerns different people have about “publishing” their writing this way, and about faith and challenges to our faith. Enlightening, interesting, inspiring… making me so very grateful for this wonderful group of people.

Steve read a powerful, moving piece he wrote, and we all agreed that we’d like to hear other things people in our group have written. So please, whenever you feel so inclined, bring anything with you that you would like to share. This is a great opportunity to be inspired and encouraged, to work out areas in which you feel like you’re stumbling, to stimulate great discussion, and to get to know each other better.

Next time: come prepared to write. No homework. (No guilt.) I have a bunch of fun writing prompts, mostly in the fiction realm but not necessarily fiction, and I think we’ll share our writing, do 2 or 3 of the exercises, and see what happens. I love the writing part of the group, but to me the discussions are even better, and I can never predict where they will go, but each and every time they’ve been good and just right.

We’ll meet again on Tuesday, February 22 at 7 pm at my house, 309 E Jefferson.


Dec. 21st

December 22, 2010

Wonderful meeting — but I say that every time, don’t I? I guess you’ll have to be here to know for sure… there are a few of you that we’d still love to have join us. But I know how busy our lives are. So if you can only read the updates, so be it. And maybe someday…

Last night we tackled one of my biggest fears — dialog. After discussing common problems, we chose one of the following prompts (or made up our own) and wrote about it, using only dialog. (I cheated and added a few small descriptions, but very few. And please don’t tell on me.)

You overhear a young man and a woman in a restaurant. They don’t realize that you’re listening.
Write what you hear.

You’re a priest hearing a confession. What you’re hearing is frightening/horrifying/funny/dangerous
(your choice). Write the conversation. This exercise forces the writer to focus on what is heard,
not what is seen. The penitent is a voice only.

A man sits at a table, his head in his hands. He begins talking to himself about the situation that has him upset. He doesn’t realize that there’s someone else in the room, seated in a chair by the fire, shielded from his view. At some point, the man becomes aware that he’s not alone. Write enough of the man’s monolog to capture the reason he’s upset, then go on to the moment he realizes there’s someone else in the room. Write that dialog.

Two children are playing in a sandbox. What are they building or making? Are they cooperating? Kids tend to narrate their adventures. Write it down.

Write a scene in which one person is listening to two other people have an argument or discussion. For example, a child listening to her parents argue about money. Have the third character narrate the argument and explain what is going on, but have the other two provide the entire dialog. It is not necessary to have the narrator understand the argument completely. Miscommunication is a major aspect of dialog.

A man and a woman who have been married for fifteen years meet on the sidewalk in their front yard as she is coming home and he is on his way out. The day is gray and blustery, with the smell of snow in the air and rapidly falling temperatures. She is dressed far too lightly for the weather. She was supposed to be home all day. He wasn’t supposed to be home at all. One of them has to tell the other something important. The other one has to keep the first from finding out a secret.


After promises that we wouldn’t have to share, and after much discussion about how bad our attempts were, we all ended up reading them and being impressed by the work. Not bad after all. But it’s something we need to continue to face head-on and try to incorporate into future writing. The assignment, should you choose to accept it: spend 20-30 minutes in a cafe or restaurant, alone, writing down/typing in/recording (if that’s legal) what you hear. Study it. Pay attention to your own speech patterns. Start noticing dialog in everyday life.

Also, I passed out a sheet of lists. The goal is to jot down ten one-word answers to each category and have those to use as possible story-starters later. Click here to download the PDF file: Lists

Hope you can join us for the next meeting. We’ll meet at my house again, if that’s OK with everyone. 7 pm on Tuesday, January 25th. (Again: please tell me if you think you can come so I’ll know if we’ll have a group or if it needs to be rescheduled.)


Nov. 23

November 23, 2010

Another really good meeting, even though we missed Andrea and Sandy. (And all of you who have thought about coming but haven’t made it yet.)
Tonight’s writing exercise was in four parts.
1) Make a list of events in your life by which you measure time. Put these in the form of before/after (for example, before I had kids, after I graduated from college, before I started exercising, after I lost the key).
2) Choose one item on the list that intrigues you. Use it as your starting point. Make a new list. In this one, each line should start with the words “I remember.” Let your mind go wherever it will. Let the memories flow into one another. See where this takes you.
3) Now look over the list of things you remember. Choose one moment or event. Make another “I remember…” list, but this time focus the memories around that specific event. Think of all the details you can.
4) OK, now we’re going to write. Write for 15 minutes about this thing in the form of an essay. Use as many of the details from your list as possible.
We ran out of time and wanted to talk, so we didn’t finish step #4. But if anyone wants to finish this at home and then email your essay to me, I’d love to read it.
Before the next meeting, pay attention to dialogue. Listen to conversations. Notice your speech patterns. Be aware of the way people talk (versus how we would write). Notice sentence fragments, structure, slang, voice. If you have time, sit in a coffee shop and eavesdrop on the people beside you. Watch TV or a movie (and if you’re really motivated, transcribe some part of it and analyze how it works). Listen to a one-sided cell phone conversation (and maybe even write what the other half of the conversation might have been). We’ll do writing exercises around dialogue next time, so I thought it would be helpful to pay attention to it in the meantime.
I know December is a crazy time for most of us, but I’m going to schedule a meeting anyway. If you can come, wonderful. And if you can’t, remember, this is a guilt-free zone. If I only end up with one other person here with me, I will consider the meeting a success. And if no one comes, maybe I’ll have the house to myself and I can write anyway. How about Tuesday, December 21st? Or would Thursday, December 16th be better? Please email me if you are available and may possibly be able to come one of those days. I will let you know what I decide based on the responses. Again: NO GUILT ALLOWED. Just do your best to keep writing.
And if anyone has any writing they want to share, any ideas, any lines, anything, please feel free to email it. I’d love to read anything you write and offer feedback (if you want it) or simply praise you for doing something — because, as we discussed tonight, nothing you write is ever wasted, whether or not you know what to do with it once it’s written!


Meeting on Oct. 28th

November 18, 2010

Had a great meeting tonight, although we missed those of you who were not here.

Next meeting: Tuesday, November 23rd, 7 pm, at my house again (309 E Jefferson St). It worked out well, with just a very few family-related interruptions, so we’ll try it again. Please let me know if you think you can come so I can make sure we have appropriate space.

At the meeting Thursday we talked ways to find ideas for our writing and ways to keep them. I talked about idea files, like the one in which I keep scraps of paper with things scribbled on them (quotations, bits of conversation, well-written lines from books I read, ideas for essays, magazines I think I could write for, etc.). And I passed out small notebooks and index cards to be used for keeping track of things like that. (Steve, I think you forgot yours. You can get them next time.)

And then, for the writing prompt, we looked at a stack of old photos because photos are another good way to inspire our writing. We each selected one and wrote whatever we wanted. It could take any form — a story about the characters in the photo, imagining we were the people in the photos, reminiscing about a personal experience, a description of what we see, a conversation, whatever we could imagine. I’ve scanned just a few of the photos for those of you who weren’t here, in case you want to try it, but there are so many I couldn’t do them all. If you want to try it, pick one and write for 10-15 minutes. Who are they? What are they doing? What do they remember? Or is it the person taking the photo, not the subjects, who is important? Why?

We had wonderful, inspiring conversation and lots of chocolate chip cookies. As I said to the people Thursday night, though, this is a guilt-free zone. We don’t have time in our schedules for more guilt. So I sincerely hope you can come next time, and it’s understandable if you feel regret about missing the cookies, but don’t feel bad if you have conflicts. I’ll keep trying and it will work when it works.