Writing Wishes Can Come True

heavysnow 2Photograph by Ellen Blum Barish

Is the prospect of a long, cold winter weighing you down?

Revise that old script you have for winter.  It’s a great time to get back to your writing!

If you’ve been thinking about working with a writing coach, but the price has kept you from giving it a try, this is the time!

Until December 31st, 2013, I’m offering  a 25% discount for a one-hour coaching session and a 30% discount for three or more sessions. So if you are working on a personal essay for publication or pleasure, a memoir, a family history, dissertation, academic paper or essay for college or graduate school applications, take advantage of this first-time-ever fee!

If you were thinking about purchasing coaching time for a friend, consider a gift certificate at this greatly reduced price. Certificates are good for 2014 but must be purchased before December 31, 2013.

For more information about this holiday purchase price or gift certificates, email me at ellen@ellenblumbarish.com.

All the best for this holiday season. Hope to see you in 2014!

Warm wishes,







Writing as Risk



She’s writing a memoir of that year in Paris to remember. He wrote the academic journal article on book preservation for professional advancement. She’s finishing a personal essay on that anxious stretch of time during her pregnancy for fun. He described how his dreams inform his painting for that college application essay. She wrote a summary of a medical journal article for a school assignment.  He’s putting the final touches on a collection of essays on family life that spans fifty years for posterity.

Writers bring their words to the page or screen for a range of reasons and in a multitude of forms. But with each project – work I’ve been witnessing from my private coaching clients – no matter what the mission, there is risk in the writing.

There’s so much at stake. Hurting someone’s feelings. Inaccuracy. Negative response. Rejection. Changing your mind. Putting your work out there. Getting your work out there, and not feeling seen or heard. Like taking a running leap from a lush green pasture into a white, open sky.

Continue reading “Writing as Risk”

Summer Isn’t Just for Reading


Photo by Ellen Blum Barish

With its flood of light, summer may be time to read, but for those of us who like to write, it is, most definitively, writing season. Time to curl up on your favorite armchair with your laptop on your knees or sprawl on a café table with a Sharpie and a yellow legal pad. Pick your position and your tools. Read something well written. Add a well-selected prompt. Claim 20 minutes (30 if you can!) Mix in a deadline, some friendly feedback and you have, most definitively, impetus to write.

If you are looking to rouse slackened writing muscles or just keep them from atrophying, let me help facilitate. I’m teaching two writing workshops this summer – a six-week Tuesday evening workshop and an eight-week Wednesday afternoon workshop to accommodate all schedules.

Identify the stories that are circling around you, stalking you, or taunting you to write them, and transform them into personal essays, memoir, or even short fiction in my Tuesday evening workshop titled “Find Your Story” at StoryStudio Chicago beginning on June 4th.

If you can’t get enough of personal essays, then consider my Wednesday afternoon workshop at New Trier Extension that starts June 5. In this eight-week workshop, “A Close Look at Personal Essay,” we’ll read essays that fall into themes and write our own based on our discussions. You can find the online catalogue here (go to page 38 for the workshop description and details), and fill out the online form or register by phone at (847) 446-6600.

It’s easy to keep that picture of yourself writing in your head. This summer, commit to taking it from your imagination to the page. Feel free to email me with questions or if you’d like me to direct to one of my former or ongoing students. You can learn more about my background and teaching style here.

Or, if you’re thinking you’d rather do this without a group – one-to-one –  I’m scheduling private coaching sessions this summer utilizing my workshop readings and assignments so you can join in from the comfort of home via screen or phone receiver.

May the words you read this summer be your own!






Great Openings

“Trailing plastic tubes, Paul made his way across the room, steeped in twilight, and I was struck by how the body sometimes looks like the sea creature it is, a jellyfish with long tentacles, not really a fish at all but a gelatinous animal full of hidden symmetries, as well as lagoons and sewers, and lots of spongy and stringy bits.”

This is the opening line of my favorite memoir of 2012,  Diane Ackerman’s One Hundred Names for Love: A Memoir.  It sets a scene, paints a picture and gives us something to think about all at the same time (“a gelatinous animal full of hidden symmetries”). 

What’s particularly amazing about this memoir is that it manages to braid a love story with a story of a healing, a mission to educate about stroke and celebrate love of language.

Here’s Diane and Paul in a short Youtube video about the book:







A (Not-So) Modest Proposal

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If you haven’t heard of Elizabeth Gilbert, you have most likely heard of her best-selling spiritual memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. It’s the story of her yearlong search for pleasure, spirituality and balance after she discovered that a married life  — with the possibility of children in the suburbs  — was not for her. She set out for gastronomic pleasures in Rome, Italy; communion with the divine in an ashram near Mumbai, India and a balance between the two in Bali, Indonesia.

The fact that all of the countries’ names begin with the letter “I” was not lost on her as she was in search of herself.

It’s a wonderful book. Honest. Insightful. Funny. But as a married woman with children who lives in the suburbs – one who also has spiritual curiosity and an adventuresome spirit – I wondered why she felt that the two worlds had to be mutually exclusive. I began to fantasize about writing a book of my own based on Gilbert’s model but with mothers in mind. And so, acknowledging  (and apologies for lifting) Gilbert’s idea, I present the following proposal:

I’d title it: Eat, Pray and Sit Down for a Minute, Will You? My readers would be busy mothers because I believe this population is hungriest and neediest for pleasure, spirituality and balance. The book would be far fewer pages than Gilberts’, honoring a mother’s lack of time, and would be something I could produce if, and only if, a combination of the following events and support mechanisms coalesced:

  • a stretch of time that doesn’t collide with my husbands’ or two children’s work and school schedule;
  • my husband’s support and time;
  • a reliable sitter, driver or neighborhood mother materialized to fill in for emergencies;
  • a working car;
  • a tank full of gas – and a stretch of reasonable gas prices;
  • and a good GPS system.

I couldn’t take a whole year off like Gilbert did. I could only spare a long weekend. Four days tops.

Like Gilbert, I am in search of pleasure, spirituality and balance, especially as I look ahead to my empty nest years. Because of time and budgetary considerations, a cross-continent trip is simply out of the question. Since I am a Midwesterner, I would travel to Illinois, Indiana and Iowa for this adventure. (Note that these states begin with the letter “I.”)

In Chicago, Illinois — my Rome — my first stop, I’d visit the best hot dog joints and deep-dish pizzerias and ponder their flavors, aromas and digestibility. I’d consume large quantities, just like Gilbert did in Italy, and be forced to unzip the top of my pants at the end of the day. I’d interview the folks at the Vienna beef factory and ask them what makes their dogs different from Oscar Meyer’s and I’d save room to compare Malnati’s pizza to Giordano’s and Uno’s. I’d talk to locals with the most authentic Chicago accents and befriend one so I wouldn’t have to eat alone.

Stop two would be Richmond, Indiana — my Mumbai —home to Quakers and their quiet meetinghouses. I would attend Meeting for Worship and interview Friends about how their silent worship and emphasis on a simple life keeps them so peaceful and calm. I would ask for advice about how to apply these ideals to the life of a busy suburban mother’s and I would quote them liberally just like Gilbert did of her ashram friend in India, and one, maybe two, might become oft-referred icons of spiritual advice.

The final stop – my Bali – would be Iowa City, Iowa. There, in search of balance between the orgy of taste buds and expansion of my waistline and the peace from silent worship, I’d feast my eyes on the Iowa flatlands and finger the hard and soft cover reading material generated by the writers on the campus of University of Iowa. I would lose myself in the inspiring and thought-provoking sentences and soulful readings and vow to read and write more.

Upon my return home to my red brick and slate gray Georgian in the suburbs, I’d write about my journey during the available working hours when my children were at school and after-school activities. At this pace, and with this schedule, it would only take a few years to get the manuscript into presentable shape, but I believe that once pulled together, like Gilbert’s memoir, it could be a potential best-seller and may also have the added benefit of doing a little something for Midwest tourism, too.

And the end of her journey, Gilbert found love. After her memoir was published, she married him, though I am pretty sure she did not return to the suburbs.

I may discover something equally as surprising at the end of my journey. For instance, I may uncover a previously buried desire to farm the land and I would move to Idaho to become a potato farmer. (Wouldn’t this make a great epilogue?)

Eat, Pray and Sit Down for a Minute, Will You? would answer the question: Who says suburban mothers can’t find pleasure, spirituality and balance in a four-day driving trip through the Midwest? It would address the idea that you never know where you’ll find a pearl of wisdom or a moment of clarity.  Not so surprising, really, that Gilbert experienced  transcontinental epiphanies after back-to-back Italian meals, conversations with a Balinese healer and long periods of meditation at an ashram in India. Isn’t it more compelling to find spiritual clarity in the middle of the United States? Having left one’s family to fend for themselves, interrupted by frequent cell phone check-ins? Gilbert’s aha moments would pale in comparison to the ones I would certainly have after chowing down a Vienna hot dog or deep dish pizza, sitting silently on a wooden bench in an Indiana meeting house and standing in the back of a crowded university auditorium in Iowa City listening to writers who would do almost anything to exchange places with me and my big advance.

This is something adventure-hungry mothers could get excited about. Something with which spiritual seekers could resonate. Something that both editors and marketing departments could work around. The book could not only be marketed as a hot new memoir, but as a how-to manual for localizing one’s own low cost, do-it-yourself spiritual quest … recession version.

And then, for the sequel (because you know there would be one),  I would travel in a similar but expanded manner to the east coast to Maryland, Maine, and Massachusetts, then south to Mississippi, and perhaps onto Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, and then west to Montana. Because with my previous book’s success, it will be all about me.

First published June 2008. Copyright Ellen Blum Barish