Writing Conditions

One thing to play with as you get more comfortable with a writing routine is the conditions in which you are the most productive. It’s important to pay attention to conditions when attempting to produce creative work so that you can figure out what works for you (so you can keep doing that) and what doesn’t (so you can stop doing that).

When you sit down to write, make a physical (not mental) note of your conditions so that when you finish what you’re working on, you can assess how the conditions helped or hindered your creative spark.

Some considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Silence vs. Chaos – do you produce more quality work when it’s silent, when there’s ambient music, when you’re in the middle of the loud city hustle and bustle, when surrounded by nature sounds, with a TV on in the background, etc.
  2. Comfortable vs. Rigid – do you prefer being on a couch under a blanket in pajamas, warm and cozy when you write? Or in an office chair at a desk like it’s official and work-based? Or do you prefer extreme discomfort for productivity, writing outside in the cold or extreme heat?
  3. Digital vs. Manual – do you write more when you write with a pen in your hand or a keyboard under your hands?

Maybe none of these things relate exactly to you but it’s important to keep tabs on what keeps you motivated so that you can recreate that condition as often as possible! Or – so that when you’re unable to recreate that condition, you don’t feel as negative about a lack of productivity!


Writers tend to self-isolate, it seems. So many of our most beloved authors retreated inward and wrote about the isolation therein. I wonder often if writers are people who like to be alone but need content, so they write about loneliness. Or if writers are naturally lonely and therefore, producing such content.

Sure, Joan Didion wasn’t lonely on purpose – her husband died and her career reflected that. Hemingway maybe didn’t deserve a romantic partner because he was a destructive, accident-prone, abusive drunk. And Gillian Flynn seems to channel the feeling of loneliness into characters who make relationships seem volatile and dangerous, by nature.

Take a few moments to write about what loneliness means to you – do you choose to be alone knowing that loneliness may come with it – do you have companionship and does that do anything to your writing – do you spend most of your time with single or coupled people?

Alone and Lonely are two really different ideas and delineating what makes them different may help you learn something about what you value.

Retreat – to Write

Getting away from the predictable monotony of a routine or scheduled life can have great rewards in your creative endeavors. Whether you need some time in a lavish hotel room in a new city, a sober week of recovery, or a six month hike along the Appalachian Trail – immersing yourself in a new world with new sights, sounds, smells, and challenges may inspire a new idea or help you flesh out an old one in your writing.

I always advise that writers who make their income at a 9-5 unrelated to their writing carve out at least two separate full weeks during the year to plan on getting away and focusing on writing. Ask for the time off in January and rest comfortably knowing it’s there waiting for you. And take some writing prompts with you. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. How is this temporary life like and unlike your every day life? What do you like more about it? What do you like less about it? What do you miss about real life? What will you miss about this?
  2. Who’s been here before you? Create someone and describe how and why they occupied the same space that you’re occupying now.
  3. What are the benefits of silence? What are the benefits of loud chaos?
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Essay Workshopping

Because the five paragraph essay here is meant to argue a point, I want to writers to remove all emotion and you reviewers to go in hard. This is your opportunity to call out every grammatical error, every misspelling, every logical leap or fallacy, every point with which you disagree. A good essay is so well-argued during its writing and editing that by the time it reaches the public, every argument has been anticipated and negotiated in its text.  

For my essay, I would want a workshop partner who hates Parks & Rec, dislikes female leadership, and hates me the person. I like to have a real fight during the editing process so that I’m really ready to argue my points once the essay is completed. 

I want a workshop partner to say, “But Leslie is too enthusiastic and emotional to be a good leader” so that I can work that argument into my essay, refute it, and move on. So I could include the line, “Leslie Knope’s enthusiasm, passion, and emotional interest in Pawnee when translated to national leadership would bring us progress and growth – just like it did for Pawnee.”  

While usually I trust having a workshop partner you trust, who sees things your way, who knows where you’re coming from – in this case it can be best to have a partner with whom you actively disagree on a number of issues. That said, please still remain respectful of one another and one another’s work so I don’t have to conduct any divorce mediation on your group.  


Pick a television show, something you have watched at least once in its entirety, something you can quote, something you know really well. If there is no television show that fits the bill, choose a movie. If not a movie, pick a book.  

We’re going to work on the five paragraph essay so choose a position to argue in your essay, and write five paragraphs. The first paragraph will introduce your topic and hook in your reader. I’m writing my essay about why Leslie Knope from Parks & Rec would eventually run for and win the United States Presidency. My introductory paragraph would outline this in a catchy way. It would end with my three provable parts. 

These are the *parts* that your essay is going to *prove* and should be carefully laid out, concise, and little teasers for the paragraphs to follow. These can be laid out in one sentence – you’re going to explain them in greater detail later in the body paragraphs. 

Each body paragraph – three of them – is dedicated to one of the provable parts.  

And finally your fifth paragraph is the conclusion – a place to finally state and rest your case. It should pack a punch, be poignant, and leave your reader at least convinced in your own conviction. I like to use a poignant quotation here when I have one. In Leslie’s case, “Maybe it’s time for more women to be in charge” would be a beautiful campaign slogan that would lead seamlessly into a female cabinet when she wins. 

Childhood Home Workshop

Workshopping poetry can be particularly sensitive due to the inherently emotional nature of poetry. Because it doesn’t necessarily fit into the rules or norms of many types of literature, it can also expose its author to unnaturally critical responses. The critique rules outlined two blogs ago should definitely be followed. But I warn you poets to be prepared to have your work dissected, to emotionally detach from the words you wrote despite that being nearly impossible and to trust that your partner has the best interest of your piece in mind.  

And while providing feedback to your partner, be careful to dissect the WAY they say things rather than what they’re saying. Be careful to respect their boundaries and emotions. And if you give a critique that makes them emotional, leave it alone.  

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Childhood Home

For this week’s writing prompt, you are to use your own memory of your childhood home – whether or not you still live there – as the setting for your poem. This can be a memory of your own, an invented story starring you, an invented story starring an invented star, or simply musings. We will be reviewing some famous epic poems in class all week and I implore you to use these as your muse when writing your own poetry.  

I know some of you believe that the appeal of poetry is the lack of rules, and that is partly true. Poetry however should follow the basic vocabulary and grammar rules of English language unless the deviation is intentional and has a purpose that you are able to explain.  

I encourage all poems for this exercise to be at least thirty lines and you should be prepared to do a mostly oral workshop as poems truly come alive when read aloud by their creator.  

Great Lakes Workshop

Ok now that we have our lakes divvied up and our first drafts, I want to share some good workshopping tips before you split off tomorrow for an hour of workshop time.  

First of all, and perhaps most importantly, you must be careful with the feelings of your writing workshop partner. Consider the time you put into your own writing and the kind of feedback you do and don’t want. Make sure that when giving your partner notes, they are gracious, thoughtful, and kindly worded. A writing workshop must be considered a safe and open space where sharing is imminent and feelings are respected.  

Make sure that your own work is ready to be critiqued – consider the type of work you expect from your partner and match yours to that standard. It should be complete, legible, and you should proofread it at least once before handing it over.  

Be confident in your opinions but ready to be convinced otherwise – both with respects to your own writing and that of your partner.  

And finally, if you and your workshop partner have a disagreement always keep in mind that your writing is your writing and their writing is their writing. Ultimately the decision always goes to the penholder. Share your opinion respectfully, and move on if that opinion is not shared. 

Great Lakes

Living in Indiana, we are blessed with 234 miles of Lake Michigan access. Lake Michigan is the only great lake located entirely within the United States and is the third largest of the great lakes.  

Your assignment this week is to choose one of the great lakes – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, or Superior – and write a 300-word short story using historical facts, current data, and your own understanding of the lake as a back drop. The story can be about whatever you want – the lake can be central to the story or merely a backdrop. You will be asked to workshop the story with a classmate as to be determined once you’ve completed your first drafts and eventually read a finished product to the class.  

This is an exercise in using geography to enrich human stories. Geography is more than just a class or a course of study. It is a context in which everything on earth – and outside of earth – happens. Strong stories lean on the geography around them to tell a compelling human story.  

Please use the comments to dibs your lake. Because there are five lakes and twenty students, please limit the number of students writing about each lake to four. 

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