About Barbara McAllister

Barbara McAllister has a passion for writing that was dormant for a while but receiving her “pink papers” from a major corporation kicked her writing into gear. She currently works her day job as a Foundation Program Officer. When she isn’t working, she spends time in Rocky Point Mexico taking in the smooth sounds of the Sea of Cortez.

Fitting in Writing ANGTFT (Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That)

I have a thousand things to do today and writing is just not one of them.  This statement represents well the challenge of people working full time, managing the hustle and bustle of life while also trying to squeeze in writing.  Often times when I share with friends and colleagues that I enjoy writing, the number one question consistently asked is, “When do you have time to write?”

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I must admit it is a valid question to ponder.   While working a full time job clocking at least 50 hours a week and attending classes five hours a week on a personal quest to earn a Phd, it is a reasonable question to ask.  I find the answer to be one simple truth.  You frankly make time to do what you want to do.   There is no magic potion for finding time to write.  There is no miracle formula that works universally; it’s simply a commitment that one has to make and stay the course across all obstacles until the desired writing objectives are complete.

When people shift to a healthier lifestyle, their eating and exercise habits must change in order to sustain success.  Writing is no different.  To sustain a healthy pattern of writing, you must watch your writing habits.

My writing has not been a perfect journey, and I haven’t yet hit all of my writing goals.   What I do have is a few habits that I keep coming back to that will refocus me as needed.  No matter how long I step away from writing, these three triggers work to get me back on track.  Identifying your writing triggers is a revelation we all need. Here are my top three:

Writing is therapy for me. My best writing is triggered by moments of pain.  I came to know this through the experience of losing my job as well as the loss of a dear friend.   These moments of pain and loss created my best writing pieces.  This has helped me to take advantage of opportunities to bring my voice forward in the turmoil of dark times.   Writing heals me.  Over time, I have learned to embrace the pain and stop myself to write during those times.  Never let a good crisis go to waste.

With a little help by friends I get by. The best thing that happened to my writing practices was joining a writing group and developing a group of friends that support my writing ups and downs.  I joined a writing group because it was something different and sounded like a cool idea at the time.  My co-worker invited me to the group.  He was the King Blogger of a large corporation and I was always fascinated by his writing style.   This group is the glue that keeps my writing going.  We meet every two weeks and read each other’s’ projects and celebrate successes and rejections.  Peer pressure still works and you just do not want to show up three straight times without something to show and tell.  That pressure will have you rising up early mornings or late nights to get something written down.  We all subscribe to the belief that it doesn’t have to be perfect but it does have to be written down.   Simply attending our sessions give me enough mojo to dust myself off and get back up again.

Be kind to myself when I’m off track. I am my worst critic and when I do not hit a writing goal, I go inward and it creates a downward spiral that lands me in a place of being stuck.  Over the years, I have adopted a lighter attitude about not hitting every single deadline on time.  Writing is something I get to do.   It’s not something I have to do.  And each time, I get to write, I treat it as an honor and a privilege to bring my voice forward. By being kind to myself during my writing lulls, I find that I shift out of the lulls much faster.

Writing is a gift and as the William Faulkner quote says, “if a story is in you, it has got to come out.”  So, I hope this blog inspires you to uncover your writing triggers if you haven’t already and bring your stories out.   I would love to hear your ideas on how you manage to “fit in writing.”  Please post your tips below because we all could use them.  Happy Writing!

How to Run a Writing Group: Meeting Logistics

The assorted authors on this blog belong to a writing group in Phoenix, Arizona, and we thought we would share some of our ideas and experience. This is one in a series of posts we’ve put together on The Care and Feeding of a Writing Group.

The Where, When, and How of building a writing group

English: "Wilshire Room," company in...

English: “Wilshire Room,” company in Playa Vista May 26, 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similar to planning for a wedding day or other important events, securing the right location and having the right atmosphere is paramount to its success. This is also true for writing groups. Finding the right place for your meetings can accelerate your group in achieving its writing group objectives. In this chapter, we’ll share a few critical considerations for your writing group logistics based on our experience. Our goal is to share our experience so that you can enhance your plans and design your writing group goals and expectations for staying connected as a team.

The key logistics to plan for as you start your writing group include where to meet, frequency of meetings and sustaining the communications and momentum in between meetings.

Finding a good meeting location

The physical space selected to host your writing group sessions should align with the goals of your writing group. In our writing group, we require members to provide input on each others’ posted work. The work can range from poems to chapter readings. Therefore, securing a location that will allow for open discussions without disturbing others is critical to achieving this group goal. We have chosen face to face as our primary method of meeting. With tools such as Google hangout, Skype and Google docs, meeting virtually may work for some groups. There is no right or wrong answer but consider which would work best for your group in achieving your meeting goals.

Tips for finding the right venue

As you choose your location, you want to find a central location that is easily accessible for all members. If you can minimize the commute time to 25 minutes or less, this will minimize the driving burden on any one person. You should also keep an eye out for a location that strikes the right balance between being quiet enough but not so loud that you are distracting to other patrons.

Example of Places

We meet in coffee houses and the open and engaging atmosphere provides the right setting for our team. We are also allowed to rearrange tables to maximize use of the space. The most common table arrangement for our meetings is the rectangular shape. Both round and rectangular setups work well for writing groups. The rectangular shaped tables will allow for more people. In addition to coffee shops, you can also check with your local library on renting out a meeting room, book stores and restaurants often have private space that is available. We have tried out a few different locations over the years and most have been coffee establishments.

How often should your writing group meet?

The key to successful writing outcomes travels through a path of establishing and sustaining a disciplined routine. This discipline cuts across the writing that is happening outside of the meetings and the discipline required in setting up and convening with members on a periodic frequency. In our writing group, we have found a schedule of meeting every 2 weeks provides the right cadence for having adequate time to write and develop your own short pieces and give adequate time to read each other’s work in advance of the writing group meeting. The size of your group and the volume of work to read in advance of the session should also factor into the frequency of meeting and the amount of time scheduled per session. Our group is for casual writing and on any given meeting; we are reviewing two to four pieces.

Length of meetings

This will vary based on the size of your group and the volume of submissions provided in advance of meetings by each member. On average, our group is generally reading 2-3 writing pieces per session. We also allow time for updates by each member regardless if they are submitting a writing work for the session. With reviews of three pieces per session and a group size of 5-6 people, we recommend a session time of 1.5 hr. Be sure to identify a facilitator as it is easy to stay on one person’s work too long and run out of time.

Staying connected between meetings

In this rich technology age, we strongly recommend usage of a calendaring tool to establish your writing group meetings. This could be Google calendar, meeting wizard, Microsoft Outlook or your tool of choice. Our group uses Google Calendar and Google Docs shared folder to store our writing submissions. This works well and gives just in time access for everyone.

What we have learned is logistics make a huge difference in the quality of your meetings and your writing group. Having a central location minimizes the burden on everyone and removes the temptation to stay home by avoiding a long drive. One hidden gem is to always maintain great relationships with the establishment owners and find ways to patronize their business while you are using their space.

Finally, there will be times during your writing group experience where schedules become chaotic. Work and life will try to get in the way of meetings. If you keep the regular frequency of meetings going even if you are missing a couple of members, the group will stay on track. It is important for the sake of the group to address lack of attendance head on and our learning about these type hurdles and more will be discussed in the next series of blogs.

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Story Forge Poem – A Web of Lies

A few months ago we used the Story Forge Cards to come up with a story outline for Film Noir. Several of us in our writing group each looked at the same card layout and created individual  stories. Three stories already been posted. Our group decided we should test out Story Forge to aid in writing poems.  Below is the outcome.  Take a look and let us know what you think. We continue to enjoy experimenting with Story Forge Cards. It is  a good process to generate story or poem ideas.

A Web of Lies

The ring was not lost
He finally realized
Like pieces fit together in a puzzle,
His wife had strung a web of lies

The 3 Karat platinum diamond ring
Was pawned to pay her gambling debt.
Totally different version from her story
It was in the shop for a cleaning and reset

The past six months of the marriage
Had been very lonely for him.
He begged her to come home early;
She argued overtime was best for them.

What she did not account for
Was the circle of friends in his life.
The pawn shop attendant, his fraternity brother,
Immediately knew she was his wife.

Although the attendant was held into secrecy
By his company’s code of conduct rules.
He had experienced a similar hurt
And didn’t want his brother made into a fool.

The brothers maintained a bond
Since their time together serving in Germany.
We fight each other’s battles,
In the air, on land, and sea.

With clarity of her lies
He left the marriage; divorced his wife.
She sunk into a deep depression
And with no hope in sight, she took her life.

Cakepan Manuscript – Chapter Two: Playing Games

This is a creative writing experiment, shamelessly stolen from the Chopin Manuscript: a serialized story where each author writes a different chapter. The members of this blog are each writing their own chapter, and we’re calling ours the “Cakepan Manuscript”.

You can start reading at Chapter One, which began with the premise: “An unemployed teacher, in a wine store, runs into a former student.” Each week we will post a new chapter until we reach the thrilling conclusion!

We hope you enjoy!

Chapter Two: Playing Games

Moravian Stars in the Strietzelmarkt in Dresden

Image via Wikipedia

“Mr. Holfinger?” the gunman asked. “From… from art class?”

My stomach quickly knotted into a boy scout’s clove hitch at the sound of his voice. So had hoped it wasn’t him. My mind kept racing.  I wanted to respond faster but the words just were not there.  Cooperation trumps combative was circling over and  over in my head.

Finally in a moment of rapid teeth chattering, the words escaped and I mumbled a response, “Zack, dude, wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

“Maybe I should have said something different,”  I thought as that sounded kinda ill placed for the situation.

“Don’t try and talk hip to me Mr. H as if I’m back in your stupid class,” he said in a stern yet desperate sounding voice I’d  never heard before.  “Shut up and don’t say another word to me or I will pack a round of bullets in here and light this  whole store up like Christmas.”

The surveyor belt was continuing to hum with grocery from the tall guy just behind me.  Baby wipes, chocolate chip cookies, and a pack of rib-eyes started to pile up by at the base of a case of Miller Light that had everything log jammed; stuck just before reaching the spot where the cashier would normally begin to scan the items.

Zack was wearing a grey leather jacket, unbuttoned without a shirt, exposing a Moravian star perfectly positioned in the middle of his chest surrounded by a tapestry of colors including a scroll banner with the word, ” hope,”  inscribed nicely above the start of his six pack.  The star was flowing geometrically with a perfect split between black and red cone shaped points that would catch the eye of any art teacher. It was centered precisely in his chest as if he had merged the Delphi glass and symmetry lessons together in a perfect combination.

He clutched the handle of the gun marrying his left and right hand so intimately that all you could see were fingers tightly closed without interruption. It hit me. That was the exact tattoo, motif, and leather jacket of Artem, the main character of Grand Crimezone.   Zack beat our butt in this game week after week; it was the most popular after school program for student retention. It also was the catalyst of my termination; my being here tonight.

I snapped back hearing an even more elevated tone,  “Miss, give me all the freaking cash out of the drawer now or your family will not see you this evening.”

The young lady was a wreck. Rarely has she been able to open the cash register without it being a point of sale. This was frowned upon by management and required a certain code. With tears in her eyes, she was praying she remembered the manager’s code.  She pressed 0, 9, 1, and the third digit was 2 but her shaking index finger landed in between the 2 and 3 and she quickly pressed the “no sale” button.

The register didn’t open.   It was a frozen moment in time with a deep red floral smell permeating from the Merlot.  Zack was furious and at the end of his patience.

 (continued in Chapter Three)

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Exercise and Writing: Majoring in the Minors

Pulldown exercise, which strengthens the arms ...
Image via Wikipedia

I cannot believe I am even putting these two activities together in a title. Individually, each carry enough anxiety to my heart and in some cases a huge amount of disappointment. At any given point in time, there is a huge possibility that goals set for either task are slipping further and further away.

Last week as I closed the velcro on my work out gloves for the 20th strength training session, I began thinking about my commitment to both exercise and writing and reached an epiphany. The ability to miss commitments in both are deeply rooted in reasons that are identical twins.

Try it for yourself. Make a quick list , your Top 3 reasons,  that are at the root of you blowing writing goals or skipping exercise commitments. Common reasons that often surface to the top are not enough time, too many distractions; fear of failure and not seeing positive results fast enough or not having a strong enough belief that your work will yield winning results. We are looking for the major win, the loss of weight quickly or the best seller right out of the shoot. Yet we know that most successful people take incremental steps with extreme discipline towards their goals. They master majoring in the minors. Start writing consistently, schedule writing time and shoot to hit it consistently for 10 straight times.

What would be your idea of something you could do this week to get back on track  or stay on track with your writing goals?  It’s likely to be found in the small minor things.  Take small steps and I’d love to hear what you are doing.

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