writing group

I don’t know about you, but cabin fever has dug in pretty deep over here in Wisconsin. A friend of mine posted this meme on Facebook the other day:


At least some of us still have our humor intact. The rest? Well, let’s just say it’s been a very, very long winter.

One ray of sunshine, though, registration has opened for a number of summer writer workshops and retreats. Maybe you’re looking for an opportunity to finally put the finishing touches on that short story collection you’d like to publish, or you have questions about how to ramp up tension, or you’d like to talk shop with someone other than your dachshund who’s been giving you the eye since the last ten inches fell in the backyard.

If so, here are few opportunities that might interest you:

Write-by-the-Lake Writers’ Retreat & Conference — Madison, WI

Held June 17-21, 2019 at the Pyle Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  Professional instruction for writers of all levels and genres.  Instructors include Christine DeSmet, Ann Garvin, Tim Storm, Marilyn L. Taylor, Angela Rydell and others. Guest speakers include Jen Rubin and John DeDakis.  Early bird registration ends May 20th. 

Priory Writers’ Retreat–Eau Claire, WI

This is the inaugural year of the Priory Writers Retreat, which will be held July 18-21, 2019. Situated on 120-acres wooded acres, The Priory once served as a monastery for Benedictine nuns in Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley.  The retreat offers workshops, instruction, open-mic, as well as shared excursions and camaraderie.  Faculty includes poet Dasha Kelly Hamilton, fiction writer Nickolas Butler, humor writer Mary Mack, and non-fiction writer David McGlynn. A keynote address will be offered by poet Max Garland. Application deadline is April 30, 2019.

Interlochen Writers’ Retreat–Interlochen, MI

The 14th annual Interlochen Writers Retreat will be held June 10-13, 2019 at Interlochen Center for the Arts.  The retreat offers four courses–Plot with Rebecca Makkai; People, Places, Prose with Eric Charles May; Shaping the Raw Material of Family History with Rebecca McClanahan; and Getting Your Story on the Page with Christine Maul Rice. Early bird registration ends April 1st. Deadline for scholarship opportunity: March 1st.

Bear River Writers’ Conference–Petrosky, MI

Sponsored by the University of Michigan, this conference is located at Camp Michigania on Walloon Lake near Petrosky, MI. This year’s conference will be held May 30-June 3, 2019. Workshops are offered in fiction, poetry, nature writing, flash fiction, memoir and essay writing.  Poetry and manuscript consultations are also offered. Registration traditionally fills quickly. Scholarships are available.

Barrelhouse Writer Camp–Port Matilda, PA

Barrelhouse sponsors two writer camps each summer at Godspeed Hostel located in central Pennsylvania.  This year’s camps will be held June 20-23, 2019 & July 31-August 4, 2019. The camp atmosphere is advertised as laid-back–no mandatory sessions or readings. Writers set their own schedule.  Editorial conferences are offered, but not required. Evening campfires and camaraderie, if desired. Applications for both camps are open until March 31st.

Iowa Summer Writer Festival–Iowa City, IA

This summer marks the 33rd year for the Iowa Summer Writer Festival held at the University of Iowa.  Over 125 workshops are offered covering a wide range of craft topics and genres.  Throughout the summer, week-long and weekend workshops are available, as well as a selection of two-week intensives.  Class sizes are capped at twelve for the week-long and weekend workshops. Two-week intensive workshops are capped at ten participants, who are selected via an application process. Check out the festival’s website for workshop and instructor listings, as well as information on how to register.

Minnesota Northwoods Writers’ Conference–Bemidji, MN

Since 2003, Bemidji State University has welcomed writers to their Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference. This year’s conference will be held June 17-23, 2019. Instructors include: Peter Orner (Fiction), Camille Dungy (Poetry), Ada Limón (Poetry), Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Poetry/Creative Nonfiction Hybrid), and Dustin Parsons (Creative Nonfiction).  Terrance Hayes is this year’s Distinguished Visiting Writer. As of February 4th, all workshop sessions were filled, however applications are still being accepted for those wishing to be placed on a waiting list. 

Flash Fiction Retreat w/ Kathy Fish & Nancy Stohlman–Grand Lake, CO

Flash fiction extraordinaires, Kathy Fish & Nancy Stohlman will hold a retreat for flash fiction writers at Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge in Grand Lake, CO, which is about an hour and a half north of Denver, CO.  The retreat takes place August 14-18, 2019 and will include instruction and one-on-one mentoring sessions with Kathy and Nancy, as well as plenty generative writing time.  It’s noted that the terrain surrounding Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge requires a fair amount of climbing so those who might have mobility issues may find some activities difficult.

Obviously, this is just a small sampling of all the wonderful workshops, retreats, and conferences available to writers. If you’d like to search for more retreats and/or conferences, Poets & Writers Magazine keeps an active database on their website, which you can find by clicking here.

Are there any summer writer workshops and/or retreats that you’ve enjoyed in the past? Feel free to share your experiences below. Always love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash


Last Sunday my husband and I watched the Super Bowl. My husband’s the football fan. I just happened to be reading a book on the love seat in the same room as the television. I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t confess to peeking at the commercials. The one with the daughter cracking up while her father explains the metal wand in his hand is a dipstick made me chuckle. I cringed when the trailers for the new Avengers and Toy Story movies popped up, though. Maybe this grumpy gal is tired of the same story line being rehashed to death so another line of action figures can be merchandised. Just saying.

One has to wonder where originality and innovation have gone. Have they disappeared? I certainly hope not. Author, journalist, and opinion columnist Anna Quindlen gave a commencement speech to the graduates of Mount Holyoke College back in 1999. This is what she had to say:

“Every story has already been told. Once you’ve read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound & The Fury, To Kill A Mockingbird, A Wrinkle in Time, you understand there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in history of time has ever had.”

And then you have Christopher Booker in his 2004 book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, reaffirm this by suggesting all the stories written since the dawn of civilization fall into one of the following archetypes:

1. Overcoming the Monster: The hero overcomes the bad guy (monster.)

2. Rags to Riches: Your basic Cinderella story.

3. The Quest: The protagonist sets out on a mission. Think Lord of the Rings.

4. Voyage & Return: Adventure story where the character has a life-changing experience and returns home to tell the tale.

5. Comedy: Everything that could go wrong will go wrong, but everything comes full-circle by the end.

6. Tragedy: Always an unhappy ending. The main character pays heavily as the result of his/her flaws.

7. Rebirth: A story of self-discovery where the character emerges transformed.

As writers we’re often encouraged to read and/or imitate writers who have come before us so one can assimilate how good writing ought to look and sound. And yes, feel. Even famous writers, like Hunter S. Thompson, have gone through this exercise. It’s said Thompson retyped not only The Great Gatsby; but also, Farewell to Arms so he could become one with Fitzgerald and Hemingway. The danger, you ask? When your beta-reader returns your piece and says, “Hey, you know, this piece reminds me a lot of [insert favorite writer/story here].”

It’s true. Meaningful stories aren’t always born out of originality. Some readers prefer the familiar because it makes them feel more rooted or connected. Yet, we must not forget our role as writer is also to provide the bridge which leads the reader on a journey to someplace he/she could never imagine unless the story is written.

Take risks. Slow down. Be a keen observer. Break the rules. Seek out the extraordinary. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to embrace your own unique voice. The world is waiting to hear what you have to say.

Photo Credit: Photo by Clever Visuals on Unsplash

books 2

I’ve been a subscriber of Poets & Writers magazine for almost a decade now.  It never fails to deliver and has been a resource I’ve returned to time and time again. One of the features I enjoy most is called “Page One,” where the first lines of up and coming books and collections are highlighted.

Here are a few favorites from the January/February issue:

“When I was a girl I would sneak down the hall late at night once my parents were asleep.” From Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro (Knopf, January 2019).

“You deserve your beautiful life.” From Loves You by Sarah Gambito (Persea Books, January 2019).

The reason I love this feature so much is because it reminds one how important those first lines are when it comes to building trust between reader and writer.  A reader wants to be drawn into the story, to be given a reason to care either about the character or what is to happen next.  A reader also wants to be entertained and perhaps, be able to escape the real world, even if just for a little while. As writers, hopefully, we’re able to deliver on all accounts.

Obviously, there are a myriad of ways one can open a story.  You can:

Set the Mood

Meet in expensive beige raincoats, on a pea-soupy night.—from “How to be an Other Woman” by Lorrie Moore, Self-Help: Stories, Vintage Contemporaries, 1985.

Introduce a Character

This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night.—from “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver, Collected Stories, Library Classics, 2009.

Have a Conversation

“Tell me things I won’t mind forgetting,” she said. “Make it useless stuff or skip it.”—from “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories, Scribner, 2007.

Ask a Question

How could a grown man with any self-respect sit in a Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory at eleven o’clock in the morning and eat a hot fudge sundae with mint chip ice cream, hold the nuts?—from “Nerves” by Ann Packer, Mendocino and Other Stories, Vintage Contemporaries, 1994.

Make a Statement

I know when people will die.—from “Wait Till You See Me Dance” by Deb Olin Unferth, New American Stories, ed. Ben Marcus, Vintage Contemporaries, 2015.

Be Active

The girls were searching Arleen’s room and had just come upon her journal.—from “The Girls” by Joy Williams, The Visiting Privilege, Vintage Contemporaries, 2015.


Here is a snake with a girl in his mouth.—from “Passengers, Remain Calm” by Dan Chaon, Among the Missing, Random House, 2001.

No matter how you choose to begin, the opening ought to pique the reader’s curiosity and propel the story forward.  Read the examples above again.  Ask yourself whether they pass muster. Snake with a girl in its mouth? Curious? Heck, yeah.  Propel the story forward? Definitely.  You get the picture.

Author Colum McCann wrote an article in the Guardian back in May 2017 titled, “So you Want to be a Writer? Essential Tips for Novelists.” He cautions writers not to stuff too much into the first line and/or page, that one ought to consider the opening a doorway.  He says, “Once you get your readers over the threshold, you can show them around the rest of the house.”  Makes sense, don’t you think?  Get in, but let the story unfold in it’s own time.

One last thought.  Remember you don’t have to perfect the first line before you dive into writing your story draft.  Sometimes it takes a while for things to gel enough before one discovers the best way to invite the reader in.  All I can say is trust the process.  It will come.

Do you have a favorite first line? Feel free to leave a comment below and tell us why it resonates with you.

Photo Credit: Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash


There are days when it feels as though the only other person on this planet who could possibly understand the pressure associated with maintaining enough stamina to produce not only original, but meaningful work out of a few disparate images floating around the fog of one’s subconscious over and over and over again is another writer.  Sometimes the weight of it all takes more of toll than one imagines.

How can one protect him/herself from burning out? Well, here’s a little advice from one writer to another:

Accept that writing is a marriage not a one-night stand. Relationships require time, commitment, the ability to listen to one’s partner without judgement. The same can be said for writing, don’t you think? Writing is a process. There will be good days when everything feels born of genius. And then there will be days that make you feel as though you’re fourteen again standing in the front of Mrs. Stoller’s English class, your cheeks turning from blush to crimson to despair as you stumble through diagramming a simple compound-complex sentence on the board. Everything evens out over time if you keep at it. Trust me.

Stop caring what other think. I’ll be honest, this one catches me every time. If you’re anything like me, an innate people-pleaser, you already know how difficult it is not to let the opinions of others affect your work. Some people will absolutely hate what you have to say. Others will fall in love with you. At the end of the day neither matters. The greater gift is that you’ve dared to contribute your unique voice to this experiment we call humanity. Nobody else can do that quite like you can.

Unplug. Taking a break from the internet and/or social media can be regenerative. It’s crazy how dependent we’ve become as a society. Do we really need to check our Twitter feeds every half hour? Do we really need the play by play? Do we really need to know what Kim Kardashian is wearing? Take a breather. Clear your head. You’ll be better for it.

Have something else in your life besides writing. Give yourself permission to live life. Bake bread. Plant a garden. Take a pottery class. Train for a half-marathon. Visit a friend in the nursing home. Play with your dog. Join a band. All these experiences eventually make their way back to the writing.

Read something beautiful every day. I have a practice of reading either a poem or piece of micro-fiction before I start writing each day. It reminds me what a privilege it is to be part of this lineage that chooses beauty and meaning over the superficial. What a difference words make in this world.

Take care of your body/mind/spirit. Eat right. Exercise. Meditate. Get your ZZZs. This is just good life advice, friends.

Spend time with a child. Play with your kids. Take your nephew or niece out for ice cream. Volunteer at your local school or Boys & Girls’ Club. There’s so much we can both teach our children, as well as learn from them. We need one another. Children are beautiful reminders of what it is to see the world through curious eyes.

Find a community. It’s often said writing is a solitary act. However, reaching out to other writers whether via a workshop, writing group, or forum not only provides an educational outlet; but also, a support network of writers who’ve walked along the same path. I don’t know what I’d do without my writing friends. We really are in this together.

Once in a while walk away. Don’t be afraid to take a break every now and then, be it a day, a week, a month. Regroup. Refill the well. It’ll still be here when you get back. Promise.

Remember why you fell in love with writing in the first place. Write out of passion. There’s no other way.

Photo Credit: Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash 






It’s that time of year again. I’m sure your inbox and Twitter feed have been chocked full of “Top 100” and “Best of” lists just like mine. There’s something to be said about this annual socio-cultural exercise we put ourselves through, where we tally up all our accomplishments and hope like hell they out-number the disappointments. Obviously, some years are better than others, but sometimes it can be tough not to feel a little blue, especially if things don’t quite align as one envisioned, say, 364 days ago.

I suppose it’s human nature to lift a glass at the crack of midnight and resolve to shoot for the same goals as the year before, vowing this time things be different—really, I swear—even though deep down we know all will likely be forgotten by the vernal equinox, or at the very least, until one sits down to type up next year’s “Best of” list. Rinse, repeat, pour another.

Does this mean we shouldn’t set ourselves goals? No, of course not. Without goals life becomes a stagnant pool of boredom, never changing, never growing. Like food, goals nourish us. Where the problem lies is in expectation.

How many times do we make promises like these?

  • This year I’ll finish that novel I’ve been working on for the last five years.
  • This year I’ll get started on that blog/website.
  • This year I’ll shop around and see if anyone thinks my short story is worth publishing. Maybe someone at the New Yorker will give it a chance.
  • This year I’ll write every single day without fail. Really, I swear.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these goals. You could even call them lofty. Are they attainable, though? Depends on how you look at it.

The poet William Stafford wrote at least one new poem a day for over twenty years. In fact, he felt so passionate about the discipline he assigned the same task to his students. The groans and sighs that must have filled that classroom. As lore goes, a student once challenged him by asking how anyone could be expected to write an amazing poem every single day. Stafford’s response, “lower your standards.”

We often set such monumental expectations for ourselves that we risk immobilization at the very thought of taking the first step. It’s like seeing the entire ocean before us without acknowledging the beauty of its very existence.  Instead maybe we ought to take a lesson from Stafford, break it down, celebrate the day-to-day achievements, which when recognized make our goals seem less daunting and yes, attainable. Perhaps by year’s end you’ll realize you’ve accomplished more than you ever imagined possible.

What goals do you have for 2019? Please feel free to leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Photo Credit: Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash