Getting Real About Writing 30 Day Challenge

My experience with my own writing career, as well as with clients and students, all comes down to one conclusion: Most of us just need to buckle down and actually do the writing. We can talk about it, read about it, think about it for months, maybe even years. But to be a writer you must write.

That’s why I designed this new motivational program: particularly perfect for those New Year’s resolutions you’ll be making soon. Here’s all the info you need … sign up now!:

The Getting Real About Writing 30-Day Challenge

Do you have tons of ideas for writing, but “no time” to actually get them done? Maybe you’ve taken a zillion writing classes, read a billion books about writing, but still haven’t finished (or started!) that novel, essay, short story, or book proposal. Maybe you have a demanding job and/or family that seems to always need tending until your allotted writing time is all gone.


Getting Real About Writing is a 30-day program designed to help you to (read: force you to!) focus on your writing. I’ve designed it to meet the needs of most “aspiring” writers I’ve encountered as a teacher and writing coach: You have great ideas and you have the skills. You just need to actually put the words on the paper. This is what separates the aspirants from the writers: words on paper. In just one month, we will make you a writer.

Enough with the “if only …”s. If only you were independently wealthy and didn’t need to work. If only you lived in a silent house alone by the ocean with no responsibilities. If only the space-time continuum weren’t so restrictive …

The “if only …”s are never going to happen. The Getting Real About Writing Challenge will show you that your writing is possible anyway. My approach is simple, even if it isn’t easy: I’ll help you set concrete, achievable goals. Then we’ll get to work.


It’s a self-guided, 30-day course that dispenses with all the (well, most of the) talking and writing about writing … to get to the writing itself. Course materials include:

  • Goal-setting exercises, which I will consult on if necessary.
  • Daily minimum-writing-time goals, with e-mail reminders.
  • Optional membership in a private Getting Real About Writing Facebook group to exchange tips, complaints, and support with fellow writers.
  • Weekly downloadable inspiration and practical exercises to keep you on track.


One easy payment of $29.


If you’re ready to put in the work, it will. This is not a course about how to write — you have that covered. (Seriously, you do.) This is about making yourself into a writer, about doing the actual work. It’s about setting goals and achieving them, sticking with a writing routine, and finding the time to do it all despite your “if only …”s. Yes, we are going to make time. We are going to find it where you thought there wasn’t any. WE ARE GOING TO BEND THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM.

Are you ready to Get Real About Writing?

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R.I.P. Vance Publishing: A Tribute to My First Magazine Job

110913-Residential-Lighting-magazine-1500G_1024x1024Many of us have weird stuff on our resumes from the early years of our careers, times when we were still figuring out what it was we were going to do with our professional lives. I was a daily newspaper reporter covering local politics in the very earliest years of my career, which is a pretty generic “future journalist” job. But my favorite early-career respite was the two years I spent looking at slides of beautiful lamps and throw pillows as managing editor of Accessory Merchandising and Residential Lighting magazines. So I felt a little nostalgic when I heard this week that the company behind those magazines, Vance Publishing, was dissolving after 75 years in the trade magazine business. (But don’t worry, Beef Today and Daily Herd Management will live on under new owners.)

It was an awkward time in my life, a time of transition, and this job was perfect for that. I had written one too many lame newspaper stories updating readers on the status of plans for a new Walgreens or protests over adding a 170th mall to Orland Park, the mall-infested Chicago suburb I covered for The Daily Southtown. My editor asked me to “look into what’s going on with the City Hall parking situation,” and I just thought: NO. I cannot. So I started looking at job listings, which included an opening at a group of home decor trade magazines. I had always wanted to be in magazines, and many people had advised me to consider trade magazines. They may not always cover the most glamorous of topics, these people said, but trade magazines will teach you how magazines work. You’ll learn so much.

They were, it turned out, right. The topic wasn’t bad: I got a lot of nice freebies and discounts, plus an infusion of taste in my heretofore tasteless 20s. I learned how magazine production worked because there were only a few of us making the magazines every month. I was part of everything: coming up with stories, writing them, editing them, laying them out, and shipping pages. I was at least tangentially involved in advertiser relations. I went to trade shows. I spotted trends.

Best of all, the job had pretty regular hours; it wasn’t like I was taking home images of Tiffany lamps to sift through on weekends. We quit at like 5! This was good, since I had a commute that could last from 45 to 90 minutes, depending on traffic. But it also allowed me some breathing room during a critical time for me. I had just broken up with my longtime boyfriend, whom I’d been with for nine years, since my sophomore year of college. We were constantly toying with getting back together while I tried to date other people. Meanwhile, my high school boyfriend, Dave, had just come out of the closet and become my best friend. (My main memory of Vance, to be honest, is spending hours with Dave on my phone — just sitting there, on my headset, so my coworkers couldn’t even tell — while both of us worked. We would just type away, and occasionally talk to each other when the mood struck, as if we were working in an office cubicle together. This was before IM was pervasive.) I was also dabbling in freelance entertainment writing for VH1 and MTV online. I would often spend my lunch breaks on my ancient cell phone in my car, interviewing upstart pop stars like Aaron Carter.

This job always felt like a bump in the road when I would recount the trajectory of my career to young aspiring journalists seeking my advice. Like, obviously, don’t go get a job at a group of home decor trade magazines if your main goal is to become a pop culture writer. But I realize now that, in a lot of ways, I owe my career to Vance. Obviously I did not become a world-class lamp journalist or anything. But it allowed me some breathing space in which to rethink my direction, build up some solid entertainment-writing clips, and learn how to run a publication — which I did, for eight years, with my partner Heather Wood Rudúlph, when we ran SirensMag and Sexy Feminist.

I left Vance just before 9/11 — like, four days before — to move to New York City. I knew now that I wanted to be in magazines, and the best place for that was Manhattan. Here, I worked at Entertainment Weekly for ten years. I got engaged to that college boyfriend, broke it off, dated a bunch, and found my current partner of six years. I found my career as an pop culture critic and author. You never know what role a job will play in your your overall career arc. I thank Vance for its pivotal role in mine.

Halloween Week Open Mic in NYC!

Pretty purple Daisy Rock guitar.

Pretty purple Daisy Rock guitar.

The open mic night I cohost in NYC’s East Village, Rock ‘n’ Roll Poetry, will be at Otto’s Shrunken Head for another installment at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Music and poetry, originals and covers, beginners and pros welcome. Come out and watch, or sign up now to perform. Costumes welcome (but optional)! I’ll be there doing some George Michael and/or Taylor Swift.

SEINFELDIA: The Official Cover

SEINFELDIAThe official cover for Seinfeldia is here, and I love it! Something about book covers makes the author feel like she made it, because what’s inside the book inspired the cover, even though obviously I had nothing to do with it. I guess it also makes it feel like a real book. It will actually be a real book in summer of 2016. For now enjoy the wonderful graphic design from Rinee Shah, then visit her site for even more delicious Seinfeld-related illustrations: Her Seinfood series, all based on food plotlines from the show, will make you want to decorate your entire house in Seinfeld references.

The Soundtracks to Our Writing

record_player_03There’s a lovely piece on The Millions exploring the benefits of listening to music while one writes. Writer Jacob Lambert basically concludes that listening to some nice music while you write might get you in the mood, psych you up, or make your time at the keyboard a little more pleasant, but it won’t actually, you know, do the writing for you or instantly turn you into a genius. Darn.

I asked some of my clients and friends yesterday whether they listen to music while writing. Some of their favorite tunes of the moment include ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” Electric Six’s “Danger! High Voltage!”, and music by Explosions in the Sky and Pinback. I don’t listen to music that much when I write, but I do use it for inspiration: I like to create playlists for projects that I listen to as I go about my daily business. It helps me keep the project on my mind at a nice low level, perfect for creative mulling. Anything can make it on the soundtrack if it speaks to some aspect of the project for me. Lots of the selections come from the era I’m writing about, in the case of Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted in the ’70s and Seinfeldia in the ’90s, but other selections are more thematic. I’ve gotten more good ideas than I can count this way.

Here are some selections from my Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted “soundtrack”:

Joan Jett’s rock version of the theme song, “Love Is All Around”

Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”

Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”

Carly Simon and James Taylor’s “Mockingbird”

Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move”

Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”

The Guess Who’s “American Woman”

James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain”

Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”

Joni Mitchell’s “River” (I am convinced that Mary Richards listened to James Taylor and Joni Mitchell in her “off screen” time)

Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire”

Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song”

The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”

The Rubinoos’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”

Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

Tom Waits’ “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You”

Building Your Brand: Writing and Speaking Workshop with Me and Melissa Collom in October!

Are you sick of hearing about how you “need a platform”? We’re here to help! In just one (fun) day, speaking coach (and opera singer!) Melissa Collom and I will give you all the info and steps you need to write and speak your way to a higher profile, no matter what business you’re in. We’ll cover blogging, article-writing, pitching, speaking, and presenting and send you home with a clear plan to build your unique brand.

Our first workshop is Oct. 3 in NYC. Sign up now or click here for more details!

Join Me for Rock ‘n’ Roll Poetry Open Mic Sept. 28 in NYC!

RNRP1 copyI’m cohosting an open mic at Otto’s Shrunken Head in the East Village at 8 p.m. Sept. 28. It’s our official launch party, so please come by whether you want to perform or just watch. It’s our debut at Otto’s, which is the perfect venue, and we want to make a big impression … which means lots of people buying drinks! As for performers, musicians and spoken-word welcome — all levels, covers or originals, we love them all. I’ll personally be doing some Hole, 10,000 Maniacs, and naturally, a selection from the original motion picture soundtrack Coyote Ugly. You can get info and even sign up for a slot online here.