My second job:

lassuburbsmallerToday was a big day for my alter writing ego, editor of the website Originally, we started as an online literary magazine, but since the first issue we’ve thought maybe the idea – a community of thought one idea at a time – was a bit bigger than just one publication.

Here’s today’s announcement. We’d love it if you joined our community.

Old habits, new resolve

Source: The New York Public Library digital collections

It’s one week into 2016 and already my old habits nibble at the edge of my new resolve despite extraordinary effort to the contrary. But this isn’t an essay about failing, or falling short or even self-recrimination.

Instead it’s a piece about hope. And intention. And turning back to the things that bring my life joy and fulfillment, curiosity and comfort.

How do I want to spend my days? What work, aside from the daily business of living, brings meaning to my life, enhances it, rewards my passions and in some small way – or dare I dream a larger, more significant one – contributes to someone else’s life, enhances their point of view or opinion, maybe offers a new perspective that might make someone consider something in a different way?

I think often about what I want this space to be. Like most writers, I love to read about process, and daily routines and time management tips that I’m sure will make me more productive and, yes, PUBLISHED. I’ve had some success: an essay here, my most popular post here, my own magazine of which I’m extremely proud. I belong to a writing group, whose members are friends and whose input and advice I value more and more as we continue to travel our writing paths. I’m also a huge fan of Story Studio Chicago, a welcoming home for writers whose instructors encourage, guide and push when necessary, and who provide validation that our work matters.

Yes, writing takes a community but ultimately it’s the act of one – one woman, alone at her keyboard or with a pen and a sheet of blank paper – that brings the words forth. It’s knowing the solitary thrill of writing that one perfect phrase, of explaining how I felt at that one singular moment, of telling the story precisely, exactly the way I want.

That moment of knowing that yes, I got it right, is the zen of creating. It’s why we all keep writing, even after months or years of not doing it but thinking about it all the time until one day you’re watching The Thin Red Line on Starz and checking Twitter, and the music Terrence Malick chose to underscore his movie draws you to Pages and the blank screen and you start writing again. And you decide you want to keep writing and not give up because how could you? What else would I do?

Stories matter, the real ones and the made-up ones and all the ones in between. That’s where I want to be, creating them and sharing them, and that’s my hope for this new year. I promise to keep writing and I hope you keep reading. I’ll do both, and let’s share what we discover along the way.

Weekly Reader: April 10


Here’s a bit of literary news that caught my eye this week, and recommendations for something to read over the weekend. Enjoy!

The literary equivalent of Coachella took place in Minneapolis this week, when 15,000 writers, academics and students gathered for the 2015 conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, or AWP as the cool kids call it. Follow #AWP15 on Twitter to get the inside scoop on panelists, readings and Karen Russell’s keynote speech.

Literary Hub launched this week as “a single, trusted, daily source for all the news, ideas and richness of contemporary literary life”. Created by Grove Atlantic and Electric Literature, the site offers LitHub Daily, a newsletter with breaking news about literature and books that you can receive in your inbox every morning. It also features interviews with authors and booksellers, excerpts from novels, and a virtual bookshelf filled with the best new books, as well as recommendations for previously published and undiscovered works.

Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Fest, the Midwest’s largest summer public literary event, is looking for volunteers. Fun!

Why not give these a read?

“Wakefield”, E.L. Doctorow

Thread, Summer 2015 issue (includes an essay by yours truly)

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

Notebook vs journal: What’s in a name?

Crickets (the iPhone kind) wake me up at 5:30 every weekday morning. When they chirp I reach over and shut the alarm off for 15 minutes, then drag myself out of bed and head downstairs to make coffee. I wait, pour myself a cup, then walk into my office and sit at my desk. I take a sip, open the 99-cent composition notebook (black and white cover, college-ruled) and uncap a Pilot Precise V5 fine point marker. Finding my place in the notebook, I skip one line from the previous entry, note the date and time, set the alarm on my phone for 30 minutes (crickets again), and start writing.

As I write I try not to think about what I’m scribbling down, or anything really. I don’t check my messages first, nor my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I may throw a load of laundry in the dryer while the coffee brews, if my kids need something before they leave for school, but in the almost-two years since I decided to start my days with a writing session, I’ve become quite good at thinking about nothing until I sit down to write.

It’s a relief, actually. I like starting my day with nothing.

For the most part, I adhere to Natalie Goldberg’s advice from Writing Down the Bones: Don’t think, just write. Don’t stop, just let it flow. Try not to cross anything out, don’t correct misspellings, and for heaven’s sake, do not edit. The goal is stream-of-consciousness writing as a path to deeper truth.

It’s Goldberg’s assertion, among so many other writers and writing teachers, that a daily writing practice yields benefits when you come to the page seriously and with intention. It’s the same idea as Julie Cameron, who promotes morning pages in her book, The Artist’s Way, and it’s profoundly simple: When you clear out the cobwebs, you reach a deeper creative level.

But what if your writing isn’t all that deep, or even all that interesting? When I first started writing morning pages I was resolute and oh, so profound – pages of descriptions of sunrises, what chirping birds sound like, the thump of the newspaper as it hits the concrete driveway, a beam of light illuminating my handwritten page. I experimented with imagery and metaphor, worked from prompts, described my neighbors’ houses, imagined where the man across the street went at 5:45 in the morning as he backed out of his driveway wearing his pajamas. Really.

Then I got bored and started what I’ll call my feelings phase. Our oldest child will start college in the fall, a fact which spawned dozens of pages about applications, acceptance and rejection, chick-out-of-the-nest emotions, did we do a good job as parents.

There’s also a lot in there about resolutions: a new year, the start of a new month, Sundays and Mondays. I wrote down goals, created schedules, and plotted my days by the hour. The more schedules I wrote, the more bored I was. I questioned whether I was writing with intention or just keeping a diary; whether what I wrote was worth anything, or if it was a trivial hobby.

When I first found myself floundering I decided to take a break from morning writing, but after a couple of days I read through an old notebook and to my surprise found that some of the writing wasn’t half-bad. A word or sentence jarred something in my mind and I picked up the Precise V5, flipped to the next blank page, and started writing again. Almost two years later I still do the same thing when I get stuck, and without fail I feel better, like my day has righted itself.

Whether you share your writing notebooks or keep them private is up to you. But for this practice, I’ve found that the best audience is yourself.

Intention: Daily writing practice

“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”

Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook

“I had a sincere and earnest desire to figure out this writing life.”

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Do you write every day? These fine writing ladies think you should, so let’s spend the week talking about why. Stop by tomorrow to learn what a daily writing practice is, and why making it a habit results in much better writing.

Chicago Lits Up

Chicago’s biggest literary weekend kicks off today with Printer’s Row Lit Fest, a raucous weekend of writers, workshops and wandering through one of the city’s iconic neighborhoods in pursuit of all things literary. 

I could go on about the hip and happening panels, the literary icons who are speaking (James Patterson! Sara Paretsky! Walter Mosley! Bonnie Jo Campbell!) and the fantastic organizations doing great work with children, young adults and ethnic communities. We could wax nostalgic with Second City’s interpretation of The Breakfast Club, or an appearance by Marlo Thomas. But my taste isn’t everyone’s, so if you’re looking for something to do this weekend (some same-day tickets are available), or if you’d like to savor the scene without fighting the crowds, use these links to check in on the literary action. 


Printers Row Lit Fest live blog

@PrintersRowFest on Twitter

2014 Printers Row Lit Fest the weekend lineup


Recommended reading:

Today I present the new issue of magazine: Industry.

Mutterhood is a quarterly literary magazine that showcases original writing and photography built around a specific theme. (It’s also my other gig, in addition to this crazy writing life.)

Industry takes a look at that thing we call work with articles that range from actor and writer Julia Sweeney’s essay about her trip to an Amazon distribution warehouse to a first-person account of an American family’s experience opening a Subway franchise in Jamaica. Our contributors explore how eco-guilt helps one woman protect her wallet; whether a box of vegetables can recreate a childhood memory; and what the term industrious means in today’s hectic world. We’ve also got stories about first and worst jobs, a profile of a successful artist and Etsy shop owner; the history of the snooze alarm; and a haunting photo essay about the beauty of abandoned, ruined places.

I invite you to take a look at the new issue of mutterhood, and to stop by our website: There you’ll find links to our previous issues, as well as our weekly journal where we share information and even more related content. If you’re interested in becoming a contributor, be sure to check out the submission guidelines. We’d love to see your work.

Enjoy Industry. I’m sure you’ll find something you like.