Struggling to Find a Work-Life-Book Balance?

Struggling to Find a Work-Life-Book Balance?


I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be giving a Craft Workshop talk called “Going the Distance: Craft and Practical Advice” at Barrelhouse’s Conversations and Connections Conference right here in Pittsburgh.  In my proposal, I told the organizers that hearing Aubrey Hirsch speak last year was a highlight–and while I missed Roxane Gay, the fact that she signed up to deliver the keynote really speaks volumes about the conference’s excellence.  I also appreciate that the conference is geared towards the practical, gritty, nuts-and-bolts of writing.  I’ll post more about the talk and the conference later, but here’s the proposal they accepted:

Dear Conversations and Connections Organizers,

I have attached a proposal for the Conversations and Connections Pittsburgh, and while it’s probably a little different from some other proposals you’ve received, I hope it’s a good mix of new and unique.

As someone who’s taught creative writing for 10 years now, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why certain students publish regularly while others don’t find the same success.

My craft workshop is aimed at students writing longer (think book-length) projects. Obviously, learning how to write is difficult enough, but if a student can’t figure out how to create a work-life-book balance to finish a project–or if a writer doesn’t cultivate an immunity to rejection, then all that work might not serve the writer’s biggest goal.

Drawing on my experience as a writing teacher at the University of Pittsburgh and at Chatham University’s MFA Program, as well as my own writing career (I weathered 39 rejections in 3 years before publishing my first novel) and my experience as Fiction Editor and Web co-editor of The Fourth River from 2010-2013, I’ve designed this craft workshop, which combines practical (and proven) time-management strategies, theory, and an interactive component where students design their own timeline and path for a successful project. In terms of audience, this workshop is useful for beginning and advanced writers of all genres.

As I was writing the proposal, it struck me that this is a talk I’ve been wanting to give for years–and it might actually be one of those talks that I need to give.  Putting it together is going to be a lot of fun, and I’m doing my best to make sure that everyone walks away with something practical and sustaining.



The seeds for my latest TC article “22 Indisputable Reasons Pittsburgh Is The Perfect City for Writers” were planted back in late June, when I was in NYC visiting with Chris Lavergne and Mink Choi.  They thought a piece about Pittsburgh would be great for Thought Catalog, and I started working on it as soon as I got back to town.  Ultimately, this article became an unwieldy beast, much like everything I write, and it took a while to pare things down.  (For example, the list originally had 28 items.)  I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out, and it’s been great to hear from writers all over the country who have a Pittsburgh connection.

Perhaps the neatest thing to happen was a shout-out from the man himself:


If you can’t get enough, here’s a link to my research notes.  I was bummed that I had to leave so much out.

New Creative Writing Post up at Thought Catalog: The Graceful Flashback

New Creative Writing Post up at Thought Catalog: The Graceful Flashback


In part two of my series on Celeste Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You, I talk about different ways to use flashback in your writing.  There’s also a writing prompt at the end if you’re so inclined.

P.S. this painting is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online collection.  It’s George Calem Bingham’s “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri,” and it seemed appropriate enough for a post about flashbacks and destinations.  I do think “Look at that Unhappy Dog” is a better title, though.

Best of the Best:  An Addendum to my Podcast Post on TC

Best of the Best:  An Addendum to my Podcast Post on TC

So, I wrote a post called “10 Podcasts That Are Way Worth Adding To Your Next Playlist” on Thought Catalog yesterday.  For each podcast, I list two good episodes for newbies, but I didn’t have space to list the best episodes, so I’ll do that here:

  1. Reply All:

Because it’s such a new podcast and because it’s been rock-solid so far, it was very hard to pick a “best” episode, but I finally settled on “Hack the Police,” which tells the story of a hacker who decided to use his skills for illegal social activism—and how he got caught.  There’s an unlikely romance involved, but for me, the most fascinating part is that, per his parole terms, this former hacker “is not allowed to use any internet connected device” and must invent clever workarounds to continue his career as a programmer.

Runner up: “The Fever.”  This episode shows what it’s like to be on the wrong side of an unhealthy fetish, and I appreciated that an Asian woman had the (pitch-perfect) last word.

BTW, I just did a GIS for “Asian Girls,” and the results are basically the same.  Lots of young women standing in meadows:

Asian Women standing in fields

  1. 99% Invisible:

Somehow, I only found out about 99% Invisible recently, so I don’t feel qualified to suggest a “best” episode.  If you want to nominate one, let me know in the comments!

  1. Death Sex Money:

What can I say?  I still like football, but articles about CTE (including this groundbreaking one by Jeanne Marie Laskas) make it hard to watch.  Even with what we know from endless behind-the-scenes football coverage, “The NFL Made Me Rich. I Won’t Watch It Now” is an eye-opener, told from the first-person perspective of former Broncos Cornerback Domonique Foxworth.  He talks about race and relationships in college, the business aspect of the NFL, and life after his pro sports career.

  1. The Memory Palace:

If I had to sit everyone in America down and make them listen to one podcast for 3 minutes and 29 seconds, it might be “We’ve Forgotten James Powell,” an urgent meditation on race and the way individuals get swallowed up by history and violence and symbols. But in terms of story, production values, and writing, I think “Nee Weinberg” is the best The Memory Palace has to offer: it’s the origin story of a charming con man, and it’s ultimately the story of how he lost himself in one great final role during a robbery.  It’s lyrical, outrageous and somehow still grounded: all the best hallmarks of this podcast.

  1. Planet Money:

This is a tough one, since a lot of their shows are tied to economic events—while episodes about subprime mortgages are still interesting, they’re not quite as relevant as they used to be.

Here are the two best Planet Money episodes: this one tells the true story behind the Luddites, an often-violent group who destroyed machines that threatened the Luddites’ livelihoods.  It’s an interesting story—Ned Ludd himself is cloaked in fear and myth—but it’s especially relevant today because there are still people who want you to believe that wealth created when workers are replaced by technology will somehow trickle down.  This podcast shows what actually happens.

“When Women Stopped Coding” is a depressingly ever-relevant episode that shows the repercussions of seemingly small decisions made largely by marketers and parents.

  1. The Moth Podcast:

This is my last “tie,” but to make up for it, and for what it’s worth, both episodes contain snakes.

Snakes, Electric Shocks, and Afghanistan” is probably the better of the two, as the stories in the episode are all strong and explore heavy themes such as fear, fulfillment, and father-son relationships.

But did you hear the one by the blind man who decided to confront his fears by attending the world’s largest rattlesnake festival?

  1. Risk:

This is from one of their Halloween shows.  I’ve been listening to Risk! for years now, and Heidi Galore’s story is the one that’s stuck with me the most vividly.  It’s the story about three female cops doing a “wellness check” on an apartment with a strange leak.  It’s a great piece of storytelling about blind spots, rookie mistakes, and cries for help that go unanswered for too long.

  1. Welcome to Night Vale:

I like Cecil, the radio host of WTNV, but the September Monologues opens things up by letting some of the town’s other inhabitants speak for themselves.  The episode is a little uneven, but the monologue by The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home is without a doubt one of the most chilling moments in the history of the show.

  1. Stuff You Missed in History Class

An oldie, but…Why Did Henry Ford Build a City in the Amazon?

  1. The TED Radio Hour:

While the “Happiness” podcast might be more useful somehow, I think the “Success” show is the best.  It offers a number of different, smart viewpoints, and I appreciated the no-nonsense way that Mike Rowe challenges the podcast’s other segments in a conversation that’s both thought-provoking and inspiring.