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A Phone of One’s Own

May 24, 2017

Everyone writer has a vision of an ideal writing space. Whether that be the stereotypical quiet room filled with books, a big oak desk, and possibly a quill, or just simply a quiet room with ample time and unlimited access to books and writing materials. But in a world that is so fast-paced, it’s often impossible to find time to sit at all, never mind at a desk, to write, especially if you’re the type of person who enjoys being out and about. The issue here isn’t really the lack of ideas or writer’s block. It’s about writing while on the move and doing so in a way that gives your work the time and attention it deserves. As an active person who’d take a walk around the block over a TV show any day, I sometimes forget to make time to write, which seems silly to say as someone in a graduate program for writing, but I think it’s the cliché of the desk that makes it that way. At least for me. So instead of fully sacrificing being active to write, I’ve tried to find ways to incorporate writing into my current lifestyle.

When I was younger, I used to write before bed, but for the first time in my life, I actually need the sleep. I had to find a new time to write, but can’t really quit my job and am pretty unwilling to give up my active daily routine. The idea came to me on the train, one of the few times during the day where I am both still and inspired. While people-watching, I came up with a start of a story and instinctively pulled out my phone and wrote down my notes. This was the first time I had ever done that, and it changed everything for me. Why had I not been using my phone like this before? I can’t be the first person to do this. Prior to this instinctive response, I’d have an idea without a pen, tell myself I’d write the idea down at home, or when I was done at work or done at the gym and then go about my day forgetting my idea and not really willing to sit down long enough to remember what I was thinking about, or just being too tired at the end of the day to think hard enough to get it back. Ever since then, I’ve realized the Notes app is actually useful for more than just grocery lists. It’s a way to write all the time, whenever you have thought about something new. Public transit is my best friend for story starters, but writing on my phone also works in most other aspects of the active lifestyle. I can write on my walk, I can write on my bike (don’t worry, I pull over), I can write waiting in line at the store. You’d be amazed how much you can fine tune a plot line while in line at the grocery store at five p.m. on a weekday. Not only have I been able to start new stories and develop them enough to the point at which I actually want to finish them, I’ve been able to arrive at that stage without having to be trapped inside my room that much. Which is great for someone like me.

The key to make this work is having a smaller device to carry with you at all times, and since everyone has a phone, you’re pretty much covered. Ultimately, you will be sitting down eventually to expand on your ideas and complete your story on an actual desktop, but minimizing the downtime has greatly helped my writing in terms of producing material. Most of us are inspired by our surroundings and having that organic response to inspiration on the spot is not only helpful, but makes sitting down and writing at the coveted desk an enjoyable experience instead of just locking myself in a room and waiting anxiously for something to come.

Jessica Hanch, Assistant Editor


Declare the Pennies on Your Eyes

April 25, 2017


Here’s a challenge: name a good work of art about taxes. Their very nature resists creative engagement. Generally, those who complain most about taxes are those who can most afford to pay them, and when the president refuses to release his tax returns or even to disclose whether he paid any income tax at all, it is too easy to align the issue with one’s personal politics. At the same time, there is something Pollyannaish about being in favor of paying taxes, given that a lot of the money we pay to the federal government goes to fund things that we oppose. All that being said, I nominate “Taxman” by the Beatles the most successful creative work on the subject. Recorded for the Revolver album, the song features the snappy, bright guitar and psychedelic harmonies that characterized the mid-career Fab Four, but lyrics are lacking. The song was one of the few that George Harrison wrote for the band. He had just learned that the top tax rate in England at the time was 95 percent, thus the line “There’s one for you, nineteen for me.” Of course, the Beatles were not paying nineteen shillings out of every twenty in taxes. In a tiered system, income earners pay the same percentage in taxes at each level, with the rate increasing as income increases, which means George was talking top rates rather than effective rates, though what that was in 1966 for Harrison, I have no idea. He may have chafed at that, too.

In her essay for our April issue, Hilary Collins reveals that she tithed first to her church, then to her therapist. Now she is paying down on the dubious return of a psychic, when she seeks to connect with a boy who died, as a way of recapturing a missing part of herself. In her piece, “Laundry Chute” Eileen Favorite peers into a void and recalls a lifetime of memories. And Jason Reblando’s photo essay “Youth Boxing” reveals stark portraits of determination and aspiration. Read on. It’s free.

Ian Morris, Managing Editor


Real Names, Realer Lawsuits

March 16, 2017

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, PhD, is not an attorney.

It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission. This handy little phrase has been invoked since at least the mid-1980s. The idiom was coined by Rear Admiral (and Yale PhD recipient) Grace Hopper in a 1986 edition of the US Navy’s Chips Ahoy magazine, or so says my cursory research. Today it is invoked as a kind of get out of jail free card by anyone from big business CEOs crushing the competition in the name of progress to teenagers getting caught sneaking back into the house in the wee hours of the morning. But should we apply this catchy maxim in the realm of creative nonfiction?

Welcome to the sticky realm through which we creative nonfiction writers, unlike our kin in the poetry and fiction genres, must tread. If we’re writing the truth or an even the truth as we see it, the most basic way to establish our credibility is to use the actual names of those we are writing about. And if what we are writing is true, why would we need to ask permission to use it? Simple right?

Continue Reading


The Ides of March

March 16, 2017

Though there is nothing particularly foreboding about the middle of the month of March, just about everybody is familiar with the Soothsayer’s warning from Julius Caesar, “Beware the ides of March.” Less remembered is these characters’ next encounter. As he strides towards the capital in the last moments of his life, Caesar spies the Soothsayer and calls out—with his characteristic hubris—“The ides of March are come.” To which the Soothsayer replies, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.” My favorite renderings of the seer’s last line have never been portentous or snide but rather matter of fact. The soothsayer knows what’s coming next. Why guild the lily?

For writers of creative nonfiction our challenge is more often shaping the past than foretelling the future. For us, tragedy and disaster are matters of experience not speculation. In this issue, Tyrell Collins provides a first-hand account of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina through the eyes of a child, in his essay “If You Weathered My Storm.” And Margaret McMullen addresses her memoir of a writing life to Julia Gregg, a friend and fellow writer from the South. For these two women, growing up and growing older means mastering the craft of writing and the profession of teaching. The years bring the certain joys of family but also—inexorably—loss. For the author, it is her father and for Julia, her son. The occasion of the piece was a speaking series to celebrate the life of J. Zach Gregg, who was killed in a bicycle accident.

For photographer Lee Bey, the objective is to suspend a subject in time, such as a skateboarder mid-flight or a young singer at Chicago’s Jazz Fest on the threshold of stardom.

We also have reviews of the latest books by Sarah Gorham and Neil Gaiman and, on our blog, a reflection on naming names by Assistant Editor Andrew Krzak.

Ian Morris, Managing Editor


The Video Game Original Soundtrack and the Pen

February 15, 2017


Listening to music while I am writing is a must-have. Firing up my well-curated playlist is just as, if not more important than the obnoxiously large cup of coffee that needs to be sitting by my side during long writing sessions. Flicking that “play” button when I open a blank Word document is just as commonplace as brushing my teeth when I get up in the morning. But I can’t just listen to anything and everything. Come on, these ears have standards. No, the only thing filtering through my speakers is video game original soundtracks (OST).

Hear me out.

I’m sure most of us know that music can be calming and therapeutic. The right music can even help you concentrate. How many studies have we heard about or read about that discuss the correlation between classical music and high GPAs? The answer is too many. Now, I’m in no way attempting to push video game music into the same vein with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Magnificat, but I am also not undermining the amazing talent of contemporary composers, many of whom are working on some of the biggest games in the industry.

OST’s are created with an actual purpose. It’s background music. It’s designed to sit in the background. Therefore, it is meant to help you concentrate and feel a deeper connection to the narrative happening on screen without the distraction of lyrics. That is primarily why the mu-sic has such a strong element of subtlety and can help with your own writing and the scenes you are crafting. Continue Reading


Saying What Needs to Be Said

February 15, 2017

“All writers are liars. They twist events to suit themselves. They make use of their own tragedies to make a better story. They are terrible people . . .”

This quote by British writer Nina Bawden (1925-2012) in many ways speaks to the heart of what writers do: tell stories from their lives. To a writer everyone and everything is used as fuel to put words on paper.

This is a challenge for the nonfiction writer who understands that objective facts are both their most valuable commodity and, ironically, the Sword of Damocles that continually hangs over their heads. While fiction writers have the luxury of dressing real-life figures in a variety of faces to disguise anyone who might object to how they are portrayed, in most cases the nonfiction writer must trot them out bare and open like Lady Godiva for the entire world to see.

Despite protections under the law, particularly in the field of journalism and investigative reporting writers can still be sued in court. In these situations, juries become the arbiters of just what constitutes the truth. Continue Reading


Ten Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

January 17, 2017


Thinking too much about writer’s block often keeps a writer stuck rather than help them engage their mind in different ways. If you’re stuck, use your so-called “paralysis” as an opportunity to try something new. These are not “tricks.” Writing is work, and the only way to write is to write. Rather, these are ways to approach your writing from a new lens so that you can look at your writing as transitioning rather than being “stuck.”


  1. Address the blank page with Dear: ____________. Pick someone you’d like to address your writing to. Having an audience in mind helps when you are struggling to find your voice on the page.
  2. Find ten books. Write down the first sentence from every book. Pick the one that compels you most and begin writing from there.
  3. Take an old piece of writing and change the point of view.
  4. Write about a room that feels meaningful to you, whether real or imagined. Be sure to include all five senses when describing this room.
  5. Write about two characters who know each other well. Have them be doing something like moving a couch or some other task that requires a group effort. While they are moving this object, focus the conversation on something different.
  6. Write a list of five songs that conjure a particular memory from a time in your life and write about that memory.
  7. Write in your journal by hand. Don’t stop to change or erase anything.
  8. Go to a coffee shop or to a park bench and try to eavesdrop on a conversation. Once you hear something that interests or compels you, explore it on the page.
  9. Write down a list of ten titles for a essays or stories. Try working backwards to see if any of these titles provoke ideas for scenes.
  10. Find a photograph. Describe it on the page using strictly observation.

Kate Wisel, Assistant Editor