Leaving Your Mark

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Getting naked is the last thing we want to think about in winter. Especially those of us who live where snow falls.

But I think the more we mirror nature rather than draw the curtains on it, the closer we get to feeling balanced. Steady. A reasonable goal during these very unsteady times.

That’s my plan for this upcoming winter and early spring. To get a little bit naked. Bare a little more of my soul. Leave my mark in the world. In words.

Like the tree that falls in the woods when no one is around, your mark won’t reverberate unless you share it with others.

So let’s get naked together this winter and spring. I’m starting the year off with a one-day writing workshop in the woods (January 14th at Little House of Glencoe) and following it up with half-day, four-five-and-six-week workshops, as well as private coaching options.

Go to the Workshop page of my website for more details or email me with questions.

Let’s strip down to the bare essentials. We’ll leave quite an impression.

 

WRITING WORKSHOPS with ELLEN BLUM BARISH

WINTER/SPRING 2017

Half-Day & One-Day Workshops

Friday, December 16; 10:45 – 12:15 pm (Beth Emet The Free Synagogue)

Saturday, January 14; 10 – 4 pm (Little House of Glencoe)

Friday, February 3; 1-2:30 pm (Women’s Exchange)

Thursday, April 13; 9:30 – 11:30 am (Off Campus Writers Workshop)

Four, Five & Six-Week Workshops

Thursdays, March 2 – 23; 10:30 – noon (Women’s Exchange)

Tuesdays, February 7 – March 14; 1-3:30 pm (Skokie)

Wednesdays, May 3 – 31; 1-3 pm (New Trier Extension)

 

 

 

 

What Change Looks Like

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It has been an unusually busy fall, enough to keep me from my twice-monthly posting. But I suspect your inbox has been as full of political email these past months as mine, which has made logging in even more overwhelming than usual.

May this message offer you a brief respite from all of that, bringing you literary news and perhaps a twinkle of inspiration.

Since we were last in touch, I’m delighted to share that Thread has:

More important to me than the numbers is what I’m seeing in the variety of submissions. I was determined to publish a diversity of voices across gender, age, perspective and geography. Contributors to Thread, Stitch and the live readings write from as nearby as Chicago to as far away as Switzerland and Spain and their experiences were formed in the United States, Great Britain, South Africa and Hawaii.

I’ve been teaching “Writing for Personal Discovery” workshops in my home since January and thrilled that the work of six students – John Hahm, Ellen Hainen, Marie Davidson, Nina Kavin, Brad Rosen, Michael Rabiger – made it into Thread, Stitch or a live lit reading this year. While it isn’t everyone’s goal to write for publication, I am committed to publishing emerging writers who are seeking just that.

Next winter and spring, I’ll be trying something different by offering shorter-length workshops  – one day and four-week sessions – for busy people who would like to give this personal narrative thing a try. I’m also teaching a morning workshop on Friday, December 16th titled “So That Your Values Live On: Writing Your Ethical Will” at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue. Check the Workshops page of my website for more about my winter and spring workshop schedule.

Finally, I promised to keep you updated on my inhale year. I’ll provide you with a complete report in my next post, but until then, let me say that the experiment in not writing has had some very surprising writerly results.

I leave you with a quote I found in a wonderful book I’m reading called The Artist’s Torah by David Ebenbach. He reminds us that creation is the result of destruction. Change is hard. Scary. Our tendency is to keep what we know, because even our current scary is a known one. But he reminds us that,

As artists we are asked to the truth we see, without and within. It asks us to be willing to grow – to destroy what we’ve been so that we can be something new.

What better example of this than in autumn’s own natural art exhibit?

Could next year be your year to start – or return to, writing?  Private coaching can make this happen. Gift certificates make a very thoughtful – and unique – holiday gift.

 

A Fire Burns in the Ice

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This year marks my tenth as a writing coach and it’s got me musing on how we end up doing things that we love that we didn’t set out to do.

I liked school well enough to pursue a graduate degree, but I wasn’t anything close to a stellar student. Enthusiastic, sure. Yet far from a star.

But I sure put that degree to use. My bylines appeared in Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Self, my essays aired on public radio and I helped several publications earn editorial awards. I felt really lucky to enjoy so many of the pieces of my chosen field – the reporting, writing, editing, and publishing. I even liked rewriting and proofreading.

Twenty years after I graduated, a former professor of mine at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications where I received my fine j-school education, recommended me for the editor post at the school’s alumni magazine. I was delighted at the offer and happily accepted.

During my three years there, that same professor thought I might be able help coach students who were destined for fine journalism careers but struggling with some aspects of writing. So in addition to my editorial duties, I coached a few students on the side. I keep up with a several of them on Facebook and boy have they have soared!

I’m not exactly sure what it was he saw in me then that promised some skill at working with people on their writing and helping them to reach some goal. I suspect it had something to do with my love for the work, dedication to excellence (even if I try and fail), and a certain gusto that I still carry with me.

Gusto, I guess, because I’m not that patient when it comes to other things. Very little else holds my attention like the process of making something appear — into what is often gorgeous and artful – out of nothing. There’s something extremely appealing to me about the blank page, something alluring and challenging that offers us a chance to capture an experience, a thought, an idea, a memory, or simply a series of words, that if handled in just the right way, provides an answer or a clue, is a gift to someone else or, perhaps most importantly, remains forever.

To leave a legacy behind, even a small one, made of static words on the page that have the power to move people. How cool is that?

Many years into a career, some folks burn out. I feel like the fire glows brighter for me now, especially at the sight or sound of a spark in the eyes, voice, or written words of the writer with whom I am working.

In the gem world, the tenth anniversary merits a diamond but because it’s below freezing here in the Midwest, I’m leaning toward readily available ice as my metaphor, with a multi-faceted look back at some of the successes I’ve seen in the writers with whom I’ve had the joy of working:

  • One of my first tutees from j-school has a high-level communications role in the Democratic National Committee.
  • Three personal essays of a writer I met at one of my book readings were recorded and aired on Chicago public radio.
  • Numerous stories that were struggling to leave the head of the writer, looking for a safe place to land, found their way to the page.
  • Many stalled final papers, dissertations and business proposals became unstuck.
  • Writing prompts given to four of my students turned into essays that I felt were good enough to publish in Thread.
  • I believe that the strong personal essays for graduate school applications helped send at least ten writing students into the programs of their choice.
  • A powerful story was published by one of my writing students in Shambhala Sun, another in More Magazine and a third in Blood Orange Review.

If you have been thinking about working with a coach, consider this year as the one where you make that dive.

Click here for more on my coaching.

Does working with others sound better to you? Try one of my workshops – online or live – that start next week!

Subscribe to Thread.

Submit to Thread.

Support Thread.

Read Thread.

Thoughts? Questions? Something you’d like to share? Comment below or email me at ellen@ellenblumbarish.com.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.

 

Spiraling Toward a Creative Goal

 

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the creative process, it’s that it’s so not linear.

Certainly the process can be broken down into steps. And those steps can be taken one at a time. At your own pace. In a very organized way, if you so choose.

But that’s about it, as far as planning goes. Those steps aren’t the mere up and down variety. More like the spiral staircase. Once in, the process takes over and your best bet is to try not to look down or up – you may get dizzy – and simply go with it.

The piece you thought you were writing somehow goes in another direction. You put it aside, go for a walk or see a movie, and a connective thread comes to you, maybe a theme. You decide to try a different approach. And it feels better, sounds better. You read it out loud and you don’t like it. You put it aside again and pick it up later to read it and you see something in it you didn’t before. Perhaps it’s in there already or there’s a space for it, calling to you to fill it.

The process is so unlike the rest of what we do in a day. Or is it? We may be washing breakfast dishes but then get distracted by a phone call or something on TV. Or we may move from one room to another completely forgetting what we left for.

I think that day-to-day life is very much like the spiral of creative process. Some days it may feel more like non-connecting circles, which may feel repetitious and not very meaningful. But imagine what a bunch of balloons might look like in the sky. Now there’s a bunch of non-connecting circles! Lovely, right? Even, maybe artful.

This is what I’ve taken away from the past several months. Months in which I’ve taken a break from blogging to dive into photography, music, storytelling under the lights and also, more long-form essay writing. It’s been a rich time that has confirmed for me how useful it is to cross-pollinate one’s arts.  If you get the chance, I urge you to try it. Take a break from your writing to express yourself in another creative way. Abstract painting. Charcoal drawing. Electric guitar. Patchwork quilting. Baking sweet confections.

Time away from blogging deadlines also allowed me some distance to formulate my ideas about how I teach, how I facilitate the writing process for others. This is what I’ve concluded: I think writers are usually hanging out somewhere within one of these eight pieces, which are are, appropriately verbs:

They are in some version of being or looking for stimulation; writing; printing; sharing; feedbacking; revising; tweaking; or submitting (or telling).

I’m giving these verbs a try this summer over the course of eight weeks in the form of a facilitated writer’s circle that encourages writers to move through these eight steps (perhaps not in this exact order). For more about that, click on the Workshops page of my website.

And I am also launching new private coaching options, four different approaches that respond to what I’ve been hearing from writers about what they need and want. Because that’s the other thing I learned from my time away: I love being  there for other writers, to nurture and support you through your own creative process. It is so delicious to be a part of that, for you and for me, too!

For more information about any of these options, and for fees related to them, just send me a line at ellen@ellenblumbarish.com.

Private Coaching Options

 

Single Coaching Session: If you are just starting out and want to see what coaching feels like, or for guidance for the intermediate or advanced writer looking for next steps. One hour session.

 

Three-Session Throughway: You are looking for the right project to settle in on, or to select pieces to submit for publication. Or you may be looking for feedback on a small body of work already in progress. Three one-hour sessions.

 

Three-Month Roundup: This is your chance to dive into a project with support and guidance. Two, one-hour sessions per month, over a three-month period in person, over the telephone or Skype, or via email manuscript exchange. 

 

Year-Long Mentor Program: For the writer who wants support and direction for a longer writing project, whether it is a series of connected essays, a memoir, a family story or business history.  Two, one-hour sessions per month for a twelve-month period that also includes  email and phone consultation in between sessions.

 

Writers with whom I have worked, or whose work I have reviewed have had their essays or memoir pieces published in The Sun, More magazine, Shambhala Sun, North Shore Magazine, Blood Orange Review and have aired on WBEZ/Chicago Public Radio. Many have also had pieces  published in essay anthologies or self-published books. I have taught, or currently teach writing to journalism and marketing graduate students at Medill School of Journalism, graduate students in nursing at North Park University, undergraduates at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and adult learners at StoryStudio Chicago, Writer’s Workspace, Ragdale, Off Campus Writers Workshop.

 

Photograph by Ellen Blum Barish.