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?”


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!

An Awkward Arrangement: The Relationship between the Inner Writer and the Inner Editor

Since I joined this writing group, I have not finished my novel or even published a poem. I think because I am still wrestling with doubts about the value of being a writer compared to other work. The doubts are not so strong that I have given up altogether, but they are strong enough that they have given pause to my writing even in the face of ample opportunity. Failing to move forward, I have begun to ask myself deeper questions about writing in hopes of discovering what is holding me back.

I decided the purpose of creative writing is to share your thoughts, dreams, and ideas. An engineer creates tools, but a writer creates ideas. This should be easy: I have ideas after all. I need only write down whatever comes to mind.

But not every idea is necessary, useful, or relevant; they must be selected, edited. After all, I want to be a good writer; I don’t want to share any and every thought. Unfortunately, my interior editor is the worst kind of micromanager: demanding only the best before I have even started, worrying about the potential fallout of exposure, and questioning the intent of every word.

On several occasions, people have suggested to me that I simply dismiss this aspect of myself, if only temporarily, and let myself write. Perhaps, their interior editor is quiet, easily subdued, or simply nonexistent. But, sometimes it seems that my editor and writing selves are less like two conflicting individuals who can take time apart and more like conjoined twins who must learn to work together or they will fail to live their lives.

So far this awkward arrangement has facilitated some writing, but it moves forward ever so slowly. The inconvenience of such an arrangement has left me missing the normal functions of typical writing society, such as daily work on drafts and the desire to share what I produce.

Now, I am on the verge of starting a full time position as a program data analyst. It is my hope that this new employment may act as a spiritual surgery effectively separating the editor and creative and giving them each their own body of work: the editor to analysis and the creative to creative writing. If this proves out, they will no longer be tripping each other up or pulling in opposite directions and essentially getting nowhere. Ideally, they will still check in on each other now and then: you know, sit down, have a cup of tea, hear about each other’s day, provide a little alternative perspective. But maybe now they will each flourish in their own respective space and my brain can move on to a more harmonious and productive bliss.

An introduction to Scrivener


scrivener-outline (Photo credit: ChrisL_AK)

From time to time, the tools we use as writers evolve.  While William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrought their works on the classic Underwood typewriter, in this day and age there are a plethora of options in the digital space.  One such tool that I am embarking on making my goto is Scrivener[1], a $45 Mac OS application (a $40 Windows version is now available as well) that aims to fulfill the tagline of “Outline. Edit. Storyboard. Write”.[2]

The application has a 30-day trial that is fully featured and truly for 30 days of use (which means that if, for some reason, you only use it once a week it would last for 30 weeks).  There is an excellent interactive tutorial that is itself a Scrivener document which makes it very convenient to be up and running quickly.  It took me about an hour to go through the tutorial and immediately afterward I created a new project which eventually became this blog post.

Scrivener is designed around the concept of the Draft which is all of the textual elements of your work, with each granular section being an individual file.  This allows the author to visualize the work in progress as an outline, as index cards on a cork-board, or as individual chapters.  The work can be fully annotated, footnoted, and categorized so that locating a particular passage or finding all of the items that you wished to revisit for cleanup is easily accomplished.

Power, close at hand

While going through the tutorial, it became quite apparent that Scrivener is a tool with a lot of powerful features that are close at hand when you need them but not in your face when you don’t.  One powerful feature is the full-screen composition mode.  When you engage this mode, it’s just you and your page: no desktop, no other application windows, in short no distractions.  Great for cranking out the words.

Several features are aimed at providing the writer with the ability to customize the experience to their individual taste.  Once you’ve got it to your liking, it will feel like a comfortable pair of shoes, the ones you can walk miles in without chafing.

Another powerful feature is the ability to save snapshots of your work and then compare revisions in a visual manner.  Rework a paragraph to your heart’s content, safe in the knowledge that you can return to a previous version if things just don’t work out.

From working draft to publishable manuscript

Once your draft is ready to move to the next level, Scrivener offers the compile phase of the lifecycle.  This is where your draft is transformed into a completed manuscript.  Working on a screenplay that you want to send out in Final Draft format? No problem.  Ready to e-publish your latest novel? No problem. Pretty much any final format you desire, Scrivener’s got you covered.
For this blog post, I compiled to plain text and then posted from that resultant document.  The initial draft is four sections (this is the third) which I could have re-arranged per my whim.

It’s a wrap

So far, my experience with Scrivener has been great.  I am looking forward to using it for longer works where flow and layout come into play, but I appreciate its simplicity when that is all that is called for.  About the only knock that I can give it so far is that they don’t have an iOS version.  I sometimes like to just take my iPad to a coffee shop and write.  It would be great to have the same seamless experience on the mobile device, and I know that it is something the makers of Scrivener are working on.

[1] One of my absolute favorite short stories of all time is Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener.

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How to Run a Writing Group: Challenges To The Status Quo

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.

2.19.10 by colemama

2.19.10 by colemama

Once your writer’s group is established and humming along, you may find a new set of challenges to disrupt the harmony.

The first may be having to address accountability.  Though you have stated in your expectations that this is a group for and by writers, occasionally someone may start to slack and appear to only be in it for the social aspects.  This member may cease to bring any new writing to meetings and may even go so far as to cease reviewing and being prepared to discuss other’s work.  While the first aspect may be nothing more than writer’s block, there is no good excuse if things devolve into the second aspect.  To address the first part, it can be helpful, via conversation, to draw out of the blocked writer what it is they are currently working on and help them set a goal for the next meeting.  The accountability part is then revisiting that goal at the next meeting, hopefully with some positive movement.  Since the group exists to support the members, helping each other set goals is a group function.

The second aspect, if the non-writing member is also not providing feedback to others (and this will most always be because they aren’t taking time to read others’ works ahead of time), is best handled one on one since it can be more confrontational in nature.  Reminding the member that the group has expectations should be enough to call attention to the problem.  Again, setting a goal that by the next meeting the member will be better prepared to discuss other’s work is in order.

If the member is just not contributing on any level, they may need to take a break from the group; a hiatus.  I, myself, took a lengthy break from the group when I found myself being pulled in other directions and no longer felt that writing was a priority.  In my case, although I wasn’t writing, I was still reading and providing feedback right up until I decided to take the hiatus.

My group didn’t ask me to take a break; it was self imposed and a hard decision to make.  If a group decides to suggest to a member that perhaps they should take a break to re-focus, it should be made clear that the member is welcome to return when they can meet the expectations of the group.  I only came back when I was ready to contribute new writing each meeting.

If a group member provides valuable insight at each meeting and is contemplating taking a break, the group might feel compelled to try to talk her out of it.  Perhaps the member doesn’t realize that they are viewed as an important piece of the well-oiled machine.  I think it is important not to pressure too greatly, but letting her know is definitely a positive.

A slightly different challenge would be a member that only comes to meetings when they have written; we call them a moocher.  Usually this will be someone who works on longer pieces and is really only looking for the “receiving feedback” portion of the contract.  Granted, they may review other’s works, but only when they attend every couple of months (which always coincides with when they have something to share themselves).

While this is a subtle undermining of the group expectations, it is nonetheless something that your group will need to determine if it is to be addressed.  Again, any action on this is probably best handled one on one.  Suggesting that the member attend more regularly and send out portions of their work for each meeting is a good solution.

So, those challenges I just mentioned are about other members, but what if you are the one that has a challenge?  To meet your group’s expectations, you will need to practice a bit of time management.  In our group’s case, we generally meet every other week on a Sunday and the expectation is that new writing will be posted for review by the Thursday evening prior.  That means that, in general, members will have two full days to read and make notes/observations and prepare their feedback.  I generally set aside 15 minutes per “piece” to read and grab first thoughts.  I will then revisit if I find that I have more to contribute, but at the least, each of the other members of my group gets my full attention for those 15 minutes.

Occasionally, a member will be posting a longer piece that will take more than 15 minutes to read.  Usually, in our group we know ahead of time that this is going to occur and prepare accordingly.  Depending on what I am working on myself, I try really hard to get my writing posted by that Thursday deadline.  Sure, we all slip sometimes, but as long as everyone doesn’t slip the same week, there is plenty of time to do the review.

Now, how much time you spend on your own work is completely up to you, considering any goals that you have and such.  The members of my group that are consistent with their work have said that they stay in the habit of writing each day.  I wish I could count myself in that group, but to date that is not the case.

Occasionally, you may find some divergence occurring.  For example, the group may wish to embark on a collaborative piece and one member is in the midst of the snarls of a rewrite or wishes to devote their focus fully to a writing class.  If the group has enough members, one member diverging for a short time should not pose a problem.  It’s part and parcel of the supportive nature of the writing group to allow members to explore their passions, wherever that may take them.

Story Forge – A Soldier in Southfield

This is the second short story written from our Film Noir Story Forge layout. Our group each took the same layout as a starting point, but came up with very different stories. You can read all of our Story Forge pieces here.

Never Gonna Cry Again 2 by alphadesigner

Never Gonna Cry Again 2 by alphadesigner

It could have happened anywhere in the country but this particular incident took place in Southfield, Michigan. It’s a common enough story about a soldier returning home, leaving the war zone but not the war.

Not long after Lieutenant Colonel Chris Bradley retired from the Army, surviving three tours overseas, twice in Afghanistan and once in Iraq, he settled into the family home that his parents had abandoned for Florida. His childhood neighborhood didn’t exist any longer, now as foreign as the dry barren terrain of the Middle East. The houses on both sides were occupied by people from a different culture, the Islamic culture that had baffled him in its place of origin, and was even more puzzling here in the old stomping grounds of Southfield.

The house that was closest to Bradley’s was occupied by a couple from Pakistan with three children and a pair of parents, his mother and her father, all living under one roof. They were quiet and didn’t disturb anyone. The basketball hoop over the garage went unused and they were rarely seen, the women especially. Occasionally Chris would see the son walking home from school, a slender boy with a slight limp named Ahmed.

Only one other neighbor from his childhood hadn’t sold out. Mr. Vincent lived across the street. He sat on his porch most evening, luring Chris over with beers, a game of checkers and talk of the old neighborhood. It was ironic because Chris had been frightened of Mr. Vincent—years ago he’d seemed ancient and imposing to his adolescent’s mind.

Mr. Vincent wove story after story of the onslaught against the American culture, the threats to the Judeo-Christian heritage Chris had fought for. He sat listening to Mr. Vincent rail against the neighbors, his parents included, for moving away so they didn’t have to see the takeover of Islam.

One evening while they were on Mr. Vincent’s porch, there was screaming next door. A hysterical young woman, wearing a head scarf but with her face uncovered, came running out the front door screaming. Her clothes were on fire. On reflex, Chris stood up and ran to help. He pushed her to the ground and rolled her body in the grass, using his own body to extinguish the flames.  The smell of kerosene was unmistakable.

No one emerged from inside the house where the women came from. Mr. Vincent stood at the edge of his porch, looking on.

“Call 9-11,” Chris yelled. Others had come out of their homes but no one moved.

His truck was in the driveway. Chris scooped the young woman into his arms and rushed her to the passenger side of his truck.  The truck screeched as he backed out and swung around, leaving tire marks as he headed toward the hospital.

She wailed and moaned in the seat and when Chris tried to ask her in how it happened, all she did was scream and cry. The smell of kerosene filled the truck, but he didn’t ask, only staring at her face, twisted in pain.

There was a bronze tone in her skin and she had a long straight nose with close set eyes. There were flecks of green in the light honey colored pupils, flecks of beauty shining through the pain. Even in anguish she was lovely and he wanted desperately to make her pain go away, to see her smile.

Chris drove straight to the area where the ambulances dropped off the urgent cases. When the doctors began to ask what happened, she whimpered in what Chris recognized as an Afghanistan dialect of Pashto. He would find out later she was brought to Southfield by her husband and his family.

The only English the young woman spoke were fragments of worry that there was no money for doctors. His heart clenched like a fist, hating how their culture treated women, knowing the husband and his family must have abused this innocent young woman.

The police were called and when questioned, Chris revealed his suspicions, the smell of an accelerant.

He’d seen the family before, the men coming and going, the women covered when they left the house. There were at least a half dozen people living in the home. He knew the burning wasn’t an accident, but a punishment gone wrong.

Her name was Sabia; it meant pretty girl. He waited until she was in a room resting. The heavy clothes had protected her body. A yellowish ointment was smeared over her arms, chest and hands. Incoherent she jabbered and mumbled in a half sleep. He couldn’t understand all the words but he knew what her cries meant. For no rational reason Chris made a promise to himself that he’d keep her safe. He used the smattering of Pashto he knew to soothe her and then he left the hospital full of thoughts of how to take care of her after her release. She couldn’t go home and it didn’t seem wise to have her move into his house, directly across the street from the family who tried to burn her to death. Maybe a shelter for abused women.

When he arrived home, a police car was parked on the street and a news van from the local television station was in front of his house.

Mr. Vincent was still on his porch and Chris climbed up the steps, leery of the news crew. The other neighbors were out, mostly dark skinned men in small groups, smoking cigarettes and talking amongst themselves. He saw a woman in a burka move away from the window inside Sabia’s house.

Before Chris could ask Mr. Vincent what had happened, the police were walking a young man in handcuffs out of Sabia’s house. The man was being led out of the garage and down the short driveway toward a patrol car. The news team moved quickly, the cameraman jogging after the reporter as they tried to get a shot of the man whom Chris assumed was Sabia’s husband. He was short with a round belly, dressed in slacks and a gray shirt, with the same oily black hair and dark skin Chris had lived among for years, fought for their freedom.

Mr. Vincent popped the cap off another beer. After the police drove off, the reporter came into Mr. Vincent’s yard, the camera man in tow. Up close Chris recognized a veteran news caster he’d grown up watching. Soon it was revealed Chris was the hero who’d saved the young woman’s life. There were questions and comments, gushing of praise and pride in a hometown soldier making Southfield proud. Then it came out that the reporter had learned from the Muslim neighbors that the argument started because someone had spread rumors of Sabia’s infidelity. She’d been seen sneaking off to take English classes at the local high school. Pictures of her in the company of other men had been given to her husband.

Listening to the story, Chris felt more compelled to rescue Sabia from her barbaric husband and his vile family.

After the news team left and the neighbors returned to their homes, only Chris was there with Mr. Vincent.

The older man offered another beer but Chris declined. All he could think about was Sabia. He’d go early tomorrow to see her. His mind began planning for a future with Sabia—his heart had taken a leap he couldn’t retreat from now.

He’d have to sell the house as he’d need to get her away from Southfield. How far did would they have to go to ensure her safety?

“You should have left it alone,” Mr. Vincent said. “Why’d you have to go sticking your nose where it didn’t belong, soldier?”

Chris looked over, pulled out of a reverie of possibilities.

“What? She might have died, or been disfigured.”

“Yeah, well it happens all the time. Proves what heathens they are. Same thing happened just before you came home. Right around the corner—a man and his wife bludgeoned their daughter to death because she was seen dancing with a black man. Let nature take its course. It’s the only way we’ll clean up the neighborhood.”

Chris couldn’t believe what he was hearing, suddenly struck with the same apprehension towards Mr. Vincent he’d had as a child.

“He’ll be deported now at least. Time to move on to the next one.”

Chris stared at Mr. Vincent. He was sitting rigid in the chair, facing the street, his eyes sweeping over to the house next door to Chris’s place.

“You know that kid?”

Chris nodded.

“What’s his name?” Mr. Vincent asked.

“Ahmed,” Chris said.

“He’s a queer, don’t you think?”

“What makes you say that?”

“I can always tell. I knew that younger Kowalski boy was queer as a three dollar bill before he did. You can tell. It’s all over ‘em like flies on dog shit.”

“What are you saying?”

There was silence as Mr. Vincent lifted the beer can to his lips. He took a swallow and then slowly said, “It’s not too hard really, to use their own perverted culture against them.”


Story Forge is like tarot cards for creative writing. The Protagonist in this scenario was the Betrayal card and I couldn’t fix on a character with that description. Looking at the lay-out, the Officer card (7) sticks out like a handle. That’s where I latched onto the main character. The double-cross, the cruel twist of fate and the tragic outcome certainly pushed me to come up with a more complex story.  Up next is Jeff Moriarty’s version of this Film Noir Story Forge.

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