Gutkind blocks out several exercises: short, easy-to-practice “assignments” intended to get a writer going.


I’m reading You Can’t Make This Stuff Up by Lee Gutkind. I’ve read what feels like volumes of advice about writing, but this is the first time I’ve given thoughtful action to what I’ve read.

Gutkind blocks out several exercises: short, easy-to-practice “assignments” intended to get a writer going. One of my favorites is one that I put into practice earlier today: Go to a favorite coffee shop (I’m paraphrasing here) with laptop or pen and paper. Go several days in a row. Spend an hour watching, listening, taking notes.

I did just this earlier today. Nina’s in St. Paul was crowded, thus giving me the anonymity I needed to watch and listen. Here are the notes I took:

Thump of a bass on the sound system; clash of dishes behind a swinging door; muted mumble of voices, primarily female. Woman with beautiful white hair styled in a pageboy–comfortable in her own body in a way that seems to come with age. She and her friend laugh often and heartily, lean back, grin….

“…comfortable in her own skin in a way that seems to come with age” is the phrase that grabbed me. Where did that come from? I’m certain I never would have created it if I hadn’t tried Gutkind’s exercise.

If you’re a creative nonfiction writer, there are many other reasons to like this book. It’s one that’s well worth keeping on hand.

I’d love to hear what bastes your roast. Where do your ideas come from?


In Away, author Amy Bloom asks a question i’ve been noodling around with for a couple of years: “What do you take and what do you leave?”

Is this a question of the positive vs. the negative? Are the memories that we choose to leave as just as powerful as those we take with us?

I’m working on a memoir and I’m surprised at the tangents my memories are sent on as I explore something that seemed so clear and so isolated. That trip to the Dairy Queen turned a metaphorical corner to the memory of an angry father who stood by the front door, grip packed, threatening to leave. Writing about the oral surgery I underwent the summer before I started ninth grade threw me into the memory of my mother’s best friend’s suicide.

My question, with a nod to Barbra Streisand, is this: Can we choose to forget what’s too painful to remember?  Should we?

What memories do you take with you, what memories do you leave? And (how) do those memories reflect upon the kinds of ways we perceive the world and the people in it?


I took part in one of the Loft Literary Center’s workshops a few weeks ago during which I heard a bit of advice that works for me more than any writer’s blocks prompts ever could: Think of your daily writing in the same way a musician or a sports pro thinks of daily music or batting practice.

Put in that vein, I found that I no longer felt that every sentence had to be potential Pulitzer Prize material. And surprise surprise…through daily writing I’m starting to see some improvement! By golly, if daily practice isn’t beneath Yo-Yo Ma, who am I to sneer at its value?


My husband and I are frequent (OK, make that almost daily) visitors to N.E. Minneapolis’ #Spyhouse. It’s at the edge of Minneapolis’ Arts District; they serve the best darned coffee anywhere to my way of thinking. I’m always impressed at the numbers of folks who are busy at laptops, apparently writing. #Nina’s in St. Paul is another location that so many folks have found to be conducive to writing, so much so that they feature a sign: “If you’ve written all or part of your book here, sign here.” Maybe it’s due to #subTextbooks downstairs, a favorite privately owned bookstore. #JJ’s Coffee and Wine Bistro shares space with Minnesota Center for Book Arts and The Loft Literary Center, a nationally renowned resource for writers. The collection of handmade books alone in MCBA’s shop is enough to inspire even the most blocked writer. I love sitting in these places. I think about writing. I brainstorm ideas. Sometimes I even jot them down! But write? Nope; I need the non-interruptive solitude of my desk at home. So, the question remains: Why am I blogging when I should be working on my book? Alas, the eternal question of the Professional Procrastinator.


I returned in 2010 from a vacation in Mexico filled with trepidation. Forty-eight hours prior to that return flight, I’d experienced a sudden and alarming change in my vision; “wonky” is how I described it to the team of specialists I’d soon see. CageB&W is available through, and if I can figure out how to format it, it’ll be available as an e-reader shortly after that. It’s snarky and funny because that’s how I get through trying times.  Here are a couple of comments from folks who agree with me (bless their literature-lovin’ hearts): 

“An engaging telling of a life changing event. Beautifully written with a sense of humor and purpose. Judy paints, with words, exactly how a couple gets through some terrifying times.”      ~~Kathleen Daughan, painter

    “A truthful and gifted writer, Judy shares her world shattering journey as a woman with a brain tumor in a way that made me laugh, cry, cringe and smile. It’s a memorable and ultimately, life affirming story.”      ~~Donna Tabbert Long, writer