Writing Podcast of the Week – 2/25/2017


The Writer’s Range host Mojo Anderson interviews Australian writer and performance poet Emilie Zoey Baker

Baker is a poet, teacher, and Education Officer at Australian Poetry Center. Her voice is clear, passionate and contagious. I can think of no one better to teach poetry to an audience of any age.

Highlights from the podcast:

The word “abracadabra” – comes from an Aramaic phrase: “Abracadchabra” meaning I will create as I speak.

Baker is a big proponent of Twitter where she tweets as @easybee: “If Whitman was alive, he’d be tweeting.”

On teaching poetry to teens: Poetry not seen as fun, enjoyable by kids… “Trying to teach poetry using a textbook is like trying to teach about the ocean using a glass of water.”

Writing Podcast of the Week – 2/18/2017

The most inspiring and pragmatic advice I heard in podcast-land this week comes from the All Song’s Considered interview with singer songwriter Ryan Adams. I have pulled the specific section of that podcast out of the longer episode and linked to it above.

Ryan Adams’ thoughts on the relationship between typing and viewing your keystrokes on a bright screen got me thinking about some of the writing tools that I use unconsciously. To start with, I use a screen and a computer mouse. By far, I prefer typing to writing by hand, but when I say typing, I really mean typing on a computer, with a word processor and all its tools, with  my favorite keyboard shortcuts, with a mouse, the ability to highlight text, copying and pasting, search functionality, spell checking, grammar alerts, and easy access to Google. No doubt I’m using many, many tools blindly, almost robotically.

My hunch is that I rarely pour out my thoughts freely. When I say that I write on a computer, I am saying that I mostly edit on a computer. This is something worth considering. How easily does all this helpful technology feed the more critical, second-guessing obstacles into your stream of consciousness?

Writing Podcast of the Week

The 10 Minute Writers Workshop is one of my favorite podcasts about writing. Episodes are consistently good, and at 10 minutes in length, you aren’t committing to a huge investment of time. Each week, the host interviews a writer. There is usually enough good conversation in an episode to get you in the headspace of writing, and they are often inspiring enough to get me to dive into my writing or editing.

This week I listened to an episode of 10 Minute Writers Workshop featuring Alice Dreger. I’ve saved this episode on my hard drive and have probably heard it 5 or 6 times. It’s that good. By now, I’ve taken enough notes while listening to this short interview to have very nearly transcribed or paraphrased the whole thing. I can’t recommend this podcast episode enough. Here are some thoughts, quotes, and takeaways for your consideration:

Alice Dreger – author of the recent Galileo’s Middle Finger

She was a professor of Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern University. I love how this part of her career seems to inform her writing and her sensibilities. I studied Narrative Medicine and Medical Humanities a bit in grad school and feel a kindredness to this work that blends narrative and the field of medicine.


Schedule downtime. Even more so than “up-time” – writing time. If you do, you’ll actually rest during downtime more fully.

Use a piece of music – play the same music over and over when you are working on a piece. Then, if you become distracted from your writing, you can return to it more readily if you put on that music again it helps your mind to get right back into that narrative.

Writing books Alice Dreger recommends:

  • The Forest for the Trees – Betsy Learner
  • And, probably my favorite recommendation for a book on writing, ever: Winnie the Pooh:

“Personally, I really love the Winnie the Pooh stories as a way to think about writing. In the Winnie the Pooh stories you get almost every character you encounter in real life and so it really helps me as a writer to figure out how to treat the different characters in the world humanely. Everybody in Winnie the Pooh has a character flaw, and yet, A. A. Milne treats them all with such delicacy. I really love the way he shows you how to treat people well… There is one funny (Pooh) story that begins: ‘Rabbit and Piglet were sitting outside Pooh’s house listening to Rabbit.'”

Treat the characters of your world with caring

Think more about “What does the reader need from me?” rather than what I want to get across, or the story I have to tell, the lecture I have to give.

Advice to young writers: Write what you know – if you take this advice seriously, you’ll find yourself being brave in the world – if you go purposefully out into the world of your life, you will experience more difficulty and joy. If you are open to it, you’ll bring more to your writing.

“The book writes you… That’s a really interesting way to experience the world. That’s something that writers get to do. It’s a level of pleasure that very few people get to experience.”

Writing Podcasts Abound


These days, I’m listening to as many writing/creativity podcasts as I can find. So many, in fact, I’m having a hard time keeping track of the shows and the episodes that have stood out to me. In general, the quantity and variety of podcasts continue to grow as the months go by. NPR even has a podcast about the best new podcasts out there (The Big Listen).

There are voices and personalities I’m committed to, week after week, or month after month. Some of the podcasts I’ve grown attached to are perhaps a bit too long, but they are engaging, and I’ll hang out with them regardless of episode length. Some shows contain a helpful comment or two buried in the midst of long-winded, off-the-cuff banter that desperately needs editing. Some shows are just not for me: hour-and-a-half conversations between a clutch of egos that strike me as so vapid and verbose—stating the same sentiments over and over—I end up running away fast. But I don’t want to linger on the unhelpful shows. There are too many good ones to talk about.

I’d like to start keeping better track of the specific podcast episodes that have been the most challenging, encouraging or informative to me each week. Episodes that are worth revisiting. I’ll try posting my favorite discovery each week as a way to help other writers out there who are, like me, swimming in the sea of good and bad content about writing, publishing, creativity, pop culture, spirituality, and/or the arts.

Enough ado. Without further ado, here is a thing I heard this week that I found informative and energizing to me as a writer:


Podcast Episode of the Week

For the final week of January, 2017

DIY MFA, a podcast hosted by Gabriela Pereira that seeks to help writers grow in their writing and reading, and equip them with tools and connections to online communities. Episodes vary widely, containing interviews with writers, agents, and publishers, with topical discussions, and updates on the publishing industry.

I appreciated DIY MFA episode 131 that dropped this last week. It provided an overview of the recent Digital Book World  2017 conference. I’m not usually one to follow the all latest buzz, but I found the resurgence of print books and audiobooks to be very helpful and encouraging.

General takeaways from the conference thanks to DIY MFA:

  • Most buzz was about Audiobooks and the rise of audio in the publishing industry
  • Podcasts, interviews, audio readings…
  • Print books are on the rise again.
  • Sales of Indie Adult Literary books are doing well.
  • African American Literary books – a sub-genre has been neglected previously, but that particular market is being developed more now.
  • Digital sales are up in juvenile (YA) ebooks – one ebook market that is still hopping while others are not doing as well.

Notes on the integration of new technologies in marketing – Technical and social media platforms for writers:

  1. Wattpad – online publishing – aiming for a branded stories for a Wattpad audience – writing stories with product placements in them.
  2. Publishers are experimenting with interactive technologies. See Crave – phone, video, and interactive stuff while readers make their way through books.
  3. Many agents these days pre-sell audio rights – selling these audio rights even before the book itself is sold.
  4. Interviews – with podcasts. You might need to ask podcasters and magazines 3 to 6 months in advance of book release since these entities often book their content months in advance.

Challenges to writers who are marketing their content:

  • Avoid the shotgun approach of working in all technical platforms or all social media outlets at the same time. Radio, TV, Podcast interviews.  But rather be more like a focused sniper. Persist in one platform to establish relationships – Understand who you are reaching out to and be persistent.
  • Consider working on marketing strategies with other writers and artists. See the author co-op group with Anne Garvin – a group of women authors that cross-promote their work. Collectively work on each other’s platforms. They call their group Tall Poppy Writers

“The World Salvaged from the Lords of Profit”


Mary Oliver, from her essay collection, Upstream

“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones–inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones–rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent beautiful blossoms.”

Simpson’s writer Joel Cohen’s six lessons for fueling creativity


From the most recent alumni magazine from the University of Alberta, here are Simpson’s writer Joel Cohen’s six lessons on fueling creativity. Collected and presented by Stephanie Bailey. Find her on Twitter at: @s____bailey

Lesson 1: Create a sanctuary for creativity …

Because writers produce their best work when they are given the freedom to do what they do: write. The Simpsons writers work within a protective bubble that is largely free from the bureaucratic interference facing other sitcoms. “If we want to do a joke, we do it. If we want to do a storyline, we do it. It’s really a creative paradise.”

Lesson 2: Welcome waste …

Because the creative process is inherently inefficient. It can take nine months of rewriting to create an episode of The Simpsons and as many as 40 hours to perfect a single joke. “I don’t think creativity can be efficient. You know when you’re done, but you don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

Lesson 3: Don’t get married to an idea …

If it takes away from the larger story you’re trying to tell. “Even if you have a great idea, it’s sometimes even a better idea not to use it because it hurts the overall picture, the big picture. Don’t fall in love with the little gem; look for the bigger gem.”

Lesson 4: Fight your first instinct …

And push yourself to think more creatively. In the writers’ room, the writers often flip an initial idea and try to think of it from a totally different angle. “The first thought is often not the most creative thought — it’s the most obvious one.”

Lesson 5: Admit it, some ideas are just bad …

But there are benefits to bad ideas. When people aren’t mocked for a dumb idea, it helps create a safe environment in which they feel comfortable taking risks. And bad ideas often lead somewhere great. “There might be a nugget in that idea that someone else can hear, pick up on and build upon.”

Lesson 6: Be humble …

When it comes to deciding on the best idea — the idea that will get the biggest laugh or make the greatest impact. “When you’re generating all of these ideas … somebody has to make the decision, filter them all down and choose one …. The trick to being a filter is to take yourself out of it, be humble and recognize that the group, frankly, knows better than you do quite often. Surrender to that.”

Thoughts on Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder


The end of Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder seemed inevitable, but, for me, it took too long to get there. The similarities between this story and her previous, “Room,” are so obvious, I can’t help but read this as a dialogue with that book. And even a kind of metaphor for the success of that book (and movie). I struggled off-and-on with the intensity of the main character’s (Lib’s) pragmatism, but ultimately, I found her to be richly portrayed, and a good counter-balance to the intensity of the spiritual fatalism around her. The characters were very polarizing.  The question that hangs in the air through the whole novel: Will the young girl die? It is answered, finally, in a richly layered way that surprised me. While the novel’s surface is stark, its subtexts are often surprisingly subtle.

Thoughts on Racism in America

The following are some of my thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent book, Between the World and Me, a long-form letter from the author to his young-adult son about growing up as an African American in the United States. This book is a conversational, personal, and philosophical memoir of sorts. It gets under the skin. It engages readers on an emotional level. It is very helpful for anyone trying to gain a deeper understanding of the racial conflicts that are often swiftly stated, misunderstood, and brushed aside in political discourse.

My hope is that these notes are a form of active listening, though they are probably mostly poor misstatements of other people’s ideas. I hope to unearth some of my own healthy and unhealthy assumptions. I do not always recognize which are which. Active repenting with the hope of learning and understanding more. I stand correctable.

  • I am one of “those who think they are white.”
  • Race is the child of racism rather than the other way around
  • African Americans can reasonably assume they will be found guilty before they are found innocent.
  • There is so much about racism that I must unlearn.
  • There are garden of opposing ideas about racism even among African Americans.
  • An African American has to be twice as good.
  • An African American is rarely free to show anger and frustration.
  • An African American is often punished (in ways that other citizens are not) for expressions perceived to be a form of dissent.
  • Members of the executive branch of the U.S. government are not held accountable for their errors to the same degree most U.S. citizens are. This is a safety net and a privilege afforded especially to white police officers.
  • Innocence is a myth and a dream that some citizens believe at their peril.
  • I cannot be quick to dismiss this: An African American lives in a vulnerable world without protections, without law enforcement, without checks and balances, where anything evil could strike at any moment. This is not an imagined reality. This reality has been routinely demonstrated for friends, neighbors and family.
  • Not only are some citizens not under the protection of the law enforcers, but they are vulnerable to abuse by those enforcers.
  • It only adds to the delusion to dismiss this reality as a subjective over-exaggeration based only on “imagined slights.”
  • The ones who decry that African Americans are exaggerating “imagined slights” are privileged with a singular, protected, nurtured, liberated imagination, and an obtuse, abstract understanding of what a “slight” is.
  • African Americans are expected to return injustice with a servile, passive, Christian response. If they do not, it is OK to dismiss them and any injustice that might befall them.
  • “All men are created equal” is not automatically put into practice just because it is “self evident.”
  • “All men are created equal” is an ideal that must be demonstrated, defended, and fought for. It is possible to dismiss those who fight for this idea in the name of fighting for this idea.
  • African Americans don’t have the luxury of assuming (or fantasizing) that a minority of corrupt enforcers can be written off in favor of the dream of a noble enforcer.
  • An African American doesn’t usually have the luxury of giving or being given the benefit of the doubt.
  • Experience matters.
  • Cancer is not a subjective force or a force of misunderstanding.
  • A suggestion: Unfairness is relative. Injustice is not relative.
  • Pictures of black children hugging white police officers are a soporific song for some citizens. For those who suffer under the burden of the American dream, it is more like a punch to the stomach.

Martin Scorsese on Endo’s novel, “Silence”


Excerpts taken from the Forward by Martin Scorsese in this recent printing of Endo’s Silence:

Silence is the story of a man who learns–so painfully–that God’s love is more mysterious than he knows, that He leaves much more to the ways of men than we realize, and that He is always present… even in his silence. …This is one of the most painful dilemmas in all of Christianity. What was Judas’ role? What was expected of him by Christ? What is expected of him by us today? With the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, these questions have become even more pressing. Endo looks at the problem of Judas more directly than any other artist I know. He understood that, in order for Christianity to live, to adapt itself to other cultures and historical moments, it needs not just the figure of Christ but the figure of Judas as well.

I picked up this novel for the first time almost twenty years ago. I’ve reread it countless times since, and I am now preparing to adapt it as a film. It has given me a kind of sustenance that I have found in only a very few works of art.

…on the face of it, believing and questioning are antithetical. Yet I believe that they go hand in hand. One nourishes the other. Questioning may lead to great loneliness, but if it coexists with faith–true faith, abiding faith–it can end in the most joyful sense of communion. It’s this painful, paradoxical passage–from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion–that Endo understands so well, and renders so clearly, carefully and beautifully in Silence.