Tag Archives: writing

Insomnia (humor column)

(photo courtesy of Pixabay)

In yesterday’s blog post about the free writing exercises I did in a session with Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, authors of Queen of Your Own Life, at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, I mentioned a column that had run in Refreshed Magazine that won a 2015 Evangelical Press Association Award. I’d been surprised to learn about the honor, because I didn’t even know the column had been submitted to the contest.

In fact, the column had originally run in the Christian Voice Magazine, I think, and was reprinted in my book, “What the Dog Said“. It was borne from a free writing exercise; I set a timer, wrote, and hoped something wonderful would come out. Success.

(Side note: I’m not really big on awards, but I will say that I am really proud of the fact that this column won an award from a religious organization, despite the fact that there is zero religious content. It’s just a general, humorous piece, and it got a perfect score from the judges, proving that humor doesn’t have to fit into a box to resonate with readers.)

I realized today that the link to the column reprint was no longer working, so here, here’s the column. This was pretty much what I wrote in the 10 minute writing sprint. See, you don’t have to be a genius to be a writer. You just have to write.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

INSOMNIA

It’s after midnight and I can’t sleep.

I have a column due in the morning and I have no idea what I’m going to write about, so I keep turning over thoughts in my head. The problem is that the column ideas are being pushed aside by weightier items demanding my attention.

Take the fortune cookie I ate today. Continue reading

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Erma, Fiction, and Free Writing with the Queens

One of the sessions I attended at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop a few weeks ago was with Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, best friends and authors of the book Queen of Your Own Life.

My year started with the rug being pulled out from under me, and while the shock of betrayal definitely threw me off course, in the end I realize I’ve been given a gift: the chance to pursue the things I feel like I’m supposed to be pursuing, and learning to become the human I’m supposed to be.

This is a year of change, of healing, of forgiving and being forgiven, of saying “No” to others and saying “Yes” to myself, and to demanding that people who say they love me actually treat me with respect – and, I’m realizing, learning to respect myself.

In other words, I’ve been given permission to put myself first.

But enough blathering about me.

Erma. The workshop session. So…

Kathy and Cindy gave us all timers, and we did 10 minute burst of free writing using prompts. I always say that I don’t write fiction, that I don’t know how to write fiction, as if  you have to have been born with some magic talent for making sh*t up. What I got out of this session? I can do anything, if I just stop thinking about how much I don’t know how to do it.

A lesson for life, in this year of discovery and change.

Here are the three writing exercises, and what my brain banged out in each 10 minute burst. I actually love free writing, and have used it to create some great stuff. I won an award for a column I once wrote, which was basically a free writing exercise. (An award, I might add, for a contest someone else entered on my behalf. This fact will become relevant in a minute.)

Kathy and Cindy gave us four elements, and the only guide was that the elements should be in whatever we wrote. I’m posting what I wrote, with almost no editing (in fact, I didn’t even fix the places I’ve spelled the names wrong), but I can see nuggets of stories that could be explored, hints of how these fictional women are becoming the queens of their own lives.

So who knows. Maybe I do write fiction. Or maybe I’m learning fiction has a bit of fact nestled inside. Anyway, timers ready? And, write… Continue reading

Back To Work (No Kidding!)

photo courtesy of Pixabay

(This column originally appeared in Refreshed Magazine, February 2015)

People always tell me that I’m good with kids, usually after I’ve entertained their three-year-old by asking stupid questions like “I like your sparkly shoes. Do you think I could borrow them sometime?” and “I can’t seem to find my tail. Have you seen it anywhere?”

The ironic thing is that I’m not actually good with kids. I like kids, one or two at a time, in a supervised environment, for a limited period of time. Put a bunch of kids together in one room and my anxiety level quickly shoots into the red zone. Add in a few babies, and you’re guaranteed to hear screaming and crying.

And the babies aren’t usually very happy, either. Continue reading

Highland Park, paupers, and bodies in unmarked graves

marked-mt-hope-tour-prosperous-and-penniless-tour-2015-guide-sally-millick-051-2

My scheduled creative cemetery prompt today was a photo of the monument at Mt.Hope Cemetery, marking the place where several hundred graves of paupers, convicts, and the insane were re-interred after their bodies had been found in Highland Park in 1984, when bulldozers uncovered them while landscaping.

I scheduled the creative prompt photos days ago, and set them to post daily so that I don’t have to think about them. That means that my writing plan today was different than the photo – I was all set to write about a local madam. But this morning I decided I wanted to add something more to today’s photo caption, so I set out to find a quick fact – and ended up writing a draft about the institutions where these people lived.

It was a fascinating rabbit trail – and I’ll work on “Tilly’s” story tomorrow. But I thought you might like to see a bit of what I’ve uncovered today. Continue reading

Back from Erma, flu-free

erma workshop logo

I awoke slowly, a tiny ray of light peeking through the curtains as I tied to open my eyes. The dog was breathing in my face, his wet nose crammed into my right eyeball. My eyes hurt, but I don’t think it was from dog slobber. They felt itchy and irritated, and when I finally hauled myself out of bed and looked in the mirror, I could see they were also red. I panicked.

Uh oh. Do I have pink eye again?

I’d recently gotten back from the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton, OH, where I spent four days socializing and eating dessert before dinner. The sessions were instructional, the keynote speakers inspirational, and the message one of encouragement and embracing one’s mission. We all left feeling empowered.

And for some, nauseated.

What do you get when 350 women and 9 men check into a hotel for a weekend-long humor writing conference featuring top notch guest speakers, dessert with every meal, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

You get the flu, that’s what you get.

Prior to the conference, most of us had joined the Erma Attendees Facebook group, taking time to learn each other’s names, discuss packing lists, and admit fears about attending the premiere workshop for humorists.

After the conference? The talk was all about who caught what from whom and when.

Patient Zero clearly brought the dreaded virus with them to Ohio, because a few attendees were struck down the first night and didn’t recover until it was time to head home. A few others got sick over the weekend; as I left the hotel on Sunday morning, I saw several people who looked like they might not make it out the door.

And then as people returned home to their corners of the country, like a giant domino chain of nausea and fever, one by one others fell. Someone even started a Facebook poll to track who was sick, since so many people were posting “Me, too” in the comment sections of other people’s posts.

Me? I got lucky. My stomach was upset, but that could have been from all the cheesecake; I don’t usually have dessert at every meal. I checked my temperature every hour, just in case I was burning up and didn’t know it. Nope, no flu here. But my eyes were killing me, and I was afraid that in addition to my business cards maybe I’d also passed out pink eye. If the next discussion thread was about who caused the painful temporary blindness, all fingers would point to me.

Not how I want to be remembered. Continue reading

Plucking words from the universe and dancing with my muse

radiolab muse elizabeth gilbert

Click the photo to go to Radiolab.org and listen to the podcast.

I just got back from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, OH. I attended in 2004, 2006, and 2008, and then last summer, while at St. David’s Writing Conference, I met three women and talked them into going with me this year.

I’ll write more about the actual conference later, when I’ve recovered from four days of cheesecake, teaching, and social interaction. It was, as expected, fabulous. But I wanted to share one thing with you now.

As I drove from Rochester to Dayton, I binged on past podcasts of RadioLab. One in particular stood out: “Me, Myself, and Muse.”

If you read my blog, I often lament about having great ideas that I don’t follow through with, or about book ideas that I don’t write and then see someone else has written them.  I get stuck, and overthink, and talk a lot about things I want to do but don’t, and it’s been going on for while. Too long. Like, if this whining was in a plastic container of leftovers in my fridge it would have not only gone moldy long ago, it would have sprouted a civilization that developed a cure for cancer.

I’m even on deadline, right now, right this minute, for a book I’m contracted to write that is just completely stalled, and I’m spinning my wheels creatively.

One of the reasons I was back at the Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop was to get my creative self back into alignment. Some time ago, I went from a very successful stint as a music blogger, with regular paying freelancing gigs, and lots of paid blogging and writing, to walking the dogs and binging on Netflix and bemoaning the fact that I offer nothing to the world. To be fair, things had changed in the music and publishing industry, and magazines and newspapers I’d been writing for were sold, which meant those paid writing gigs were gone. And I got jaded and lost my passion, for life and writing. (And there was also that stalker, too, who caused me no small amount of aggravation and was the last straw in the camel’s backpack that led to my taking a break from regular, serious writing for a while.)

The last few years have been a process of stopping, starting, reevaluating, doing well, crawling under a rock, taking stock, and emerging with wings that aren’t quite unfurled. Other parts of my creative life have emerged – improv and, most recently, stand up.  But the writing is now in a different climate, from a different perspective on life, and amidst a great deal of disorganization in my creative life. I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk wondering if I have any words left and, if I do, where I’d find them under this pile of folders and books and notes and dog toys.

So the message of this podcast has really stuck in my head and heart, particularly the part where Elizabeth Gilbert says:

“I kind of believe the world is being constantly circled as though by Gulf Stream forces, ideas and creativity, that want to be made manifest. And they’re looking for portals to come through in people. And if you don’t do it, they’ll go find someone else. And so you have to convince it that you’re serious and you have to show it respect and you have to talk to it and let it know you’re there.”

It haunted me the entire drive. And then the first workshop session I went to at Erma was with Alan Zweibel, who among many, many, many things, was an original writer for Saturday Night Live. He told us that the secret to writing is to write, and that we should focus on the process, not the product. There there are words out there, he said, and they just need to be plucked out and put down.

There it is again.

I’d never thought about my ideas or creative inspiration being something outside of myself. I always felt like creative inspiration was supposed to be inside of me, and if I wasn’t feeling it, it was because I didn’t have any.  But what if ideas and creativity are constantly swirling around me, like bits of the universe that I can reach out and catch, if only I open my hand? Well, that’s another story. Because then, what I’m lacking isn’t the creativity. What I’m lacking is the work. And I have total control over that.

So the takeaway, from the podcast and the sessions and the whole conference? It’s all there for the asking. All of it. ALL OF IT. The only thing that’s required of me is the work. The muse will join me in this dance of creativity once she sees me out on the ballroom floor and believes I’m going to stay there for the entire song.

Food for thought I wanted to share with you.

There’s so much to say about the conference, which is still digesting in my soul, and I’ll write about that in a separate post. But right now? I’ve got some work to do.

What I Read in 2015

books for blog post 002smaller

With just a couple of weeks left in 2015, I thought I’d compile my annual list of “books I read”.

I keep the list every year, but I don’t always share it. Lately, though, I’ve found myself recommending a lot of books or just discussing what I’ve read, even if it I didn’t love it. So I thought it worthwhile to share my list with you.

The books are listed in the order that I finished them (vs any kind of ranking order), along with some general thoughts. Don’t be misled by the “finished reading” dates. I’m often reading several books at one time, so it’s not unusual to finish a couple of books within days of each other – although I have definitely been known to stay up for a few days straight reading (“Dead Wake”) or read a book in one day (“Nothing But The Truth”). Also understand that inclusion on the list isn’t necessarily an endorsement; a book is on the list simply because I read it in 2015.

Continue reading