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.

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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.

 

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. 

Photograph by Ellen Blum Barish.