Curation Saturday: If You Can Talk, You Can Write

One of my favorite recent purchases [August 2017 is recent for me] is the book, If You Can Talk, You Can Write by Joel Saltzman. [Not an affiliate link. I just couldn’t easily find how own website.]

Here are a few points I’ve revisited today in my reading session:

  • “Whether you’re struggling with a single sentence or polishing a book-length manuscript, let progress be your guide, not perfection your nemesis.”
  • “Along the way, you’ll develop technique, stamina and—if you’re lucky—the ability to make your next effort better than the last.”
  • “Conquer your worry about not writing by writing every day—either by counting the minutes or counting the pages.” In my case, I’ve been counting the words. I’ve done so ever since the January 500 Word Challenge.

500-Word Challenge: The Final Day–A ‘Conversation’ with Jon Acuff

finish lance-grandahl-435209

A Conversation with Jon Acuff

Today’s Challenge Prompt from Jeff Goins is about finishing this 15,500 word adventure. More than likely more than that.

And so I chose to bring in a guy who is currently on the forefront of finishing, Jon Acuff, who published Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done.

I bought the book and it is the most recent one I’ve, uh, finished.

A worthwhile investment, I have to say.

Moving on…I selected some quotes—in italics—from the book [thank you, Goodreads] and will apply them to my 500-Word Challenge experience.

Here goes…

[By the way, I’m not counting the quotes as words toward my total. That would be flat-out cheating, right?]

“The harder you try to be perfect, the less likely you’ll accomplish your goals.”

Jon, you did a nice job picking apart perfection and it helped me rip through my challenges without listening too intently for ‘the voices’. One hundred word bursts were often the norm and that felt good. What else felt good? Clicking ‘post’, even though I knew the writing wasn’t a third draft product. I will admit there were times when I spent a little too much time editing, and even adding an image to spice things up, but all in all, it was nice to have that feeling of ‘my work here is done’.

“But more than just analysis, perfectionism offers us two distinct distractions: Hiding places and Noble obstacles A hiding place is an activity you focus on instead of your goal. A noble obstacle is a virtuous-sounding reason for not working toward a finish. Both are toxic to your ability to finish.”

These two concepts tagged along throughout the month. Much of the writing certainly didn’t address many of my main goals, such as developing an online course as well as completing stories in a series I’m working on. And while I benefited considerably from the month, I wondered if I leaped into this as yet another side trip, yet another ‘hiding place’. I think those terms are essentially other words for ‘rationalizations’ and I could easily rationalize my participation—building consistency, rising above perfection, exploring new directions and voices, even. But at the end of this month, what will I have to show for it? A corollary to your chapter on hiding places and noble objectives—the more we delve into those side trips, the more of a burden we face…not only in playing catch-up with the projects we really want to finish, but in somehow justifying our decisions to veer off-course. And we not only at times have to justify it to ourselves, but we might also have some stakeholders we might have to convince. No easy feat.

The bigger rule was “For something to count, it has to be difficult.” A lot of high performers carry that sort of secret rule along with them. If an exercise is enjoyable and you have fun doing it, it must not count.

Bravo to me for not falling prey to this secret rule. The 500-Word Challenge was rarely a grind. And when it felt that way, it was more a product of stupid annoying technology. It was fun to come up with new directions and new formats for the daily challenges. I enjoyed the Q and A from imaginary readers and will continue to play with that. For the last year, I’ve for the most part played it straight in my blog and this challenge often enabled me to cut loose a bit. Uh-oh, confession time. I strayed from this challenge to ensure I quoted you correctly: Make It Fun If You Want It Done. And in the process, I ran across your Finish workbook. That baby is printing out as I’m completing this sentence.

All you have to do is win more today than you did yesterday and repeat the whole thing tomorrow.”

Okay, I’ve passed my 500-word goal already, but I’ll close by addressing this quote. Love it. And the challenge absolutely cemented this philosophy. So what’s next? Staying the course set by this final quote and building a focus on fun, halving my daily goals, keeping an eye on data [even if it’s words per day…or productive habits practiced], and dodging the ever-present hiding places and noble objectives.

Image courtesy of Lance Grandahl/Unsplash

500-Word Challenge: Six mini-lessons

never a failure always a lesson
a. When I finished the longer piece, I gave myself five minutes to do a light edit. Yes! Finished with 30 seconds to spare! 
b. During my 30-minute exerbike sessions, inspiration generally kicks in after ten minutes of pedaling and reading. At that point, I’m generally reaching for a pen and notebook and the ideas really do flow.
c. I spend too much time looking for/inserting an image to accompany my writing.
d. In spite of ‘c’, I do appreciate Pixabay and Unsplash.
e. YouTube has lots of good 90-120 minute videos of instrumental music.
f. My eclectic’s journal has consistently launched me into rapid word surges.

Stepping in for Jeff Goins…Writing Prompts.

nose and glasses

Okay, since Mr. Goins has not delivered the writing challenge prompt for today, allow me to step in.

Here goes.

But first a word from our unnamed [but still gathering data on your browsing tendencies] sponsor…

Have you noticed that the only difference between ‘donut’ and ‘don’t’ is ‘u’?

And now back to our regularly-scheduled programming…

  • Write about the time when you wanted to take over a class you were attending. Yes, include the parts about laying siege to the administration building. And when you planned to change your grade in the class you were failing. And the grades of anyone else who was willing to pony up for your newfound side hustle.
  • Speaking of side hustles, write about a side hustle you would like to try. Yes, include the start-up costs, including the condo on Maui, the Lear Jet, and your sales conferences in Aruba.
  • Write about the dossier you collected on your neighbors. No, not the slimy, distasteful stuff [that’s for a whole different writing challenge], but the ‘what they do that you should be doing but will never get around to doing, like painting their house during this millennium, and thus you hate them for making you look like a slothful parasite. Yeah, that kind of dossier.
  • Write about the stuff you immediately look at when you enter a thrift store. [Some of you might need to first fess up that you even visit them.]
  • Describe your ideal writing setting. Include the aromas Fresh-brewed coffee? Sea mist from nearby crashing waves? Both of those simultaneously? [Yeah! Way to dream!], the needed ambient noise, your essential writing tools [blender and recliner included].
  • Tell about how you will celebrate the completion of the January writing challenge. Feel free to include climbing the steps of a local civic building, turning, jogging in place, and raising your arms in victory. [Just don’t tell Sly Stallone.]
  • Share some predictions of the aftermath of the January writing challenge. Maybe your description of the ideal writing setting will send you on a shopping spree. Perhaps your discussion of the side hustle will lead to a few phone calls with off-shore realtors. It could be as simple as a new set of pens. [For me, it’s one of those multi-packs of Flair pens, which guarantee a result from the inspired scrawl sessions in the pitch black of 3:00 AM. I don’t care if these brainstorms are in hot pink, I just want them recorded.]
  • Write a tribute to your writing life cheerleaders. Detail their qualities and those special moments when they lifted you up or drilled you with a solid dose of reality or treated you to a bacon breakfast burrito to launch you on your next project. [Yes, I know, ‘bacon breakfast burrito’ is getting pretty specific, but I want you to home in on their specialness.]
  • Make a list of ten products or services you wished existed for writers [or for folks with other avocations, life circumstances, or community service obligations]. Come on, stretch that thinking and have fun. Seriously, don’t you think all of us writers—in the midst of an inspirational surge— need an on-call personal assistant to cook the arroz con pollo, toothbrush that annoying tile grit in the shower, and give Barkley his afternoon romp? [For me, it would be an editor of my first-draft tirades and a typist of the acres of material from my notebooks. Oh! And someone with discretion and taste to sift through that stuff once it is typed up. I haven’t yet come up with a title for that poor shlub.]
  • Okay, so I’ve covered for Mr. Goins. If you haven’t already started your Jan. 27 challenge, there you go!

As for me, I just finished mine. [I hate ‘smug’, don’t you?]

Aiming for Justice–Part II

Reminder to readers: This is a continuation of the ‘assignment’ to write an ending. Here is Part I of the ending.


We both stopped and looked at each other.

“Really?” I asked.

“We at least need to check,” said Maeve.

We slid the rolled up banner away from the office door, which on a normal day, would be wide open. Today, closed. Mrs. Dooling and Mrs. Taylor probably needed a break from the thousands of parents and kids trooping in and out with cupcakes and party supplies and who knows what else.

“We’re down to about two minutes!” I said. We unrolled the banner and—sure enough—instead of the usual ‘Have a great summer!”, the words ‘bummer of’ were taped over ‘great.

“That is totally the work of the Jamisons,” said Maeve.

I raced into the teachers’ supply room and came out with the widest, fattest black marking pen I could find.

“This banner needs just a few more words and it’ll be complete,” I said.

Maeve stood watch as I finished my work.

I tucked the pen in my pocket. “You go back first and I’ll come in right after.”

Just as I entered Room 13, they were lining up for the awards assembly.

“Mr. Beane, glad you could join us in time,” said Mr. Franks.

“Mr. Shoemaker asked me to help him with something,” I said. Lying, not my favorite escape strategy, but at the time, my only way out.

Maeve caught my eye and gave me the thumbs up.

The rest of the class trooped out, with Mr. Franks in the lead. Nice guy, but he never learned. A teacher at the front misses way too much elbowing and hip-bumping by kids who probably need four recesses a day.

Luckily, Room 13 was the last class leaving so there were no straggling kids to mess things up. I trailed the rest of the class and saw Maeve stop to tie her shoe.

I caught up to her. “What do you think? Ten minutes?” I asked.

“Should be about right,” she said. “I kind of remember they start with fifth-grade awards.”

“Sounds good.”

We walked together into the cafeteria entrance and I took a hard right turn into a supply closet as Maeve joined the rest of the class.

I could only hope Mr. Franks wouldn’t notice I was missing.

Once the cafeteria doors closed for the beginning of the assembly, I slipped back toward the upper grade hall. I settled into a corner for the wait and within a half-minute, I popped up.

The primary hall, I thought. That’s the place. But I needed to avoid the office.

I headed down the ramp, hopped the metal railing, and slipped behind the bushes that lined the front of the school.

It wasn’t as if it was the first time I had used guerrilla tactics to move around the school and I knew the ins and outs of these bushes. I ducked lower at the thinner areas and relaxed and stretched upwards when branches were thicker.

Finally, I made it to the primary classrooms.

I looked around. All was quiet. I stepped forward to get a closer look at my target. And then I saw a playground ball tucked into the far corner.

If I was a decent aim, that ball might give me a headstart back to the cafeteria, I thought. And I was about to hit the ten-minute mark Maeve had set for me.

I gave another quick glance, listened for any other possible interruption, and sidestepped to the ball.

I picked it up, took in a breath, took aim, and heaved it right for my target.



The alarm rang through the building.




Aiming for Justice

Today’s challenge: Write an ending.

This is the first half of the ending.


“But what are you gonna do about it?”

I hated when she asked me questions like that. They made too much sense. And they put me on the spot. And I had to take action.

“You’re not helping, Maeve.”

“I am and you know it. So, time for revenge?”

I looked off. “Not exactly revenge,” I said.


“I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”

We were down to our last ten minutes. The school year would be over and both of those shrubs would march off to summer vacation convinced they had beaten us. I couldn’t—no, WE couldn’t live with that.

Other kids were crowding around us, for whatever reason.

“Let’s get to the oak tree,” I said. “I can’t even breathe here.”

We stopped and started and bolted through a dodgeball game and bobbed and weaved through kids on the monkey bars.

Once at the oak tree, Maeve and I were able to sit and think.

“Okay, we know they’re leaving early. And we know their parents are coming to get them. And we know they’re expecting to receive the ‘Best Behavior’ awards,” I said.

“And we know they’ll be crushed if they don’t get those awards,” said Maeve.

“So, we at least have something to work with.”

From our vantage point, we watched the twins roam the playground with their usual band of followers.

We were both quiet for about a minute.

then we looked at each other.

“I think I have an idea,” we both said at the same time.


Our ideas didn’t match.


Because we would need both to make up our grand plan.

What we needed now was some alone time, as in while the rest of the school was in one place, we needed to be somewhere else.

With the upcoming awards assembly, we were halfway there.

The trick was to never actually join everybody else in that steam room they call the cafeteria.

The lunch bell rang and in we trooped toward Room 13.

“So, do we have our timing down?” I asked.

“I think so,” said Maeve. “I think there are about ten minutes till we all head over.”

“Okay,” I said. “I ask to hit the bathroom first. Two minutes later, you do the same. We meet at the end of the primary hallway.”

“Why there?” asked Maeve.

“Because everything and everybody is innocent down there. There’s no reason why Mr. Lundquist would be patrolling down there.”

It was starting to come together. Maeve and I would have about five minutes to track down whatever evil, annoying plan Emma and Ella Jamison had come up with.

Like clockwork, we met by Room 4 and started our search.

“You start at one end of the upper grade hall and I’ll start at the other. If we’re walking together, for sure we’ll get nabbed.”

“You mean,” said Maeve with a smile, “that if we’re within five feet of each other, people expect trouble?”

“On the last day of school, any two fifth-graders within five feet of each other might as well be wearing a sign saying, “Up to no good.”

“Okay, then, here we go.”

We headed out and within minutes we met in the middle of the upper grade hall.

“Anything?” I asked.

Maeve shook her head. “Not a thing.”

I sighed. “There has to be something they’ve done. Otherwise, why would they even bother to leave early on the last day of school?”

On our way back to Room 13, we approached the office. Rolled up against the wall was the banner Mr. Lundquist always hung out across the front as everyone left for vacation.

List Your Fears

fear and sweatshirt hood tight

Today’s 500-word topic: List your fears.

So I fear that I’m not going to finish this January 500 word challenge.

I fear that I won’t finish the projects I’ve started and that Jon Acuff will send out his procrastination police to drag me in front of a vicious, closed minded tribunal that will throw me into a dank, dark motel room on the outskirts of Bumwiddle, Wisconsin in the middle of winter and force me to finish all my started projects.

I fear that the entire state of Wisconsin will turn against me because I happened to choose their fine, cheese-laden state as the locale of my fictional town, as if to suggest that it represents the hickest, most outlying place in the universe, which isn’t at all true.

I fear that they won’t believe that I actually used a random number generator to determine the number of the state I would choose.

I fear that I will never get to eat cheese again because of my unfortunate choice of that fine state.

I fear that I’m running off the road, in a writerly sense.

I fear that I will never get around to watch Tim Ferriss’s TED talk on fear setting.

I fear that, because I’m not Scandinavian, I will never get around to Swedish death cleaning.

I fear that I’ll never make it to the rescue shelter and give another dog a chance at a life of no training, regular meals and walks and car trips, comfortable naps on the bed, and lots of love.

I fear that I won’t talk myself into buying that MacBook that I ceaselessly pine for in 84.6% of my posted writing.

I fear that anyone who reads this will lock in on the cheap, tawdry word-count-cheating tactic of repeating the words, “I fear that…”

In my attempt to nail that exact quote from the dad character about Swedish death cleaning and decluttering in general, I fear that last week’s episode of The Middle will never come up on another screen in Chrome. I fear that I’ll be watching these buffering dots 


on ABC’s website for the rest of my life.

I feared that I would never climb out of the suffocating Internet rabbit hole/search for the above-mentioned quote.

I used a handful of kettle corn to snap me out of it.

So I fear that I will rely too heavily on kettle corn to solve [or salve] any future bouts with the Internet’s multitude of distractions.

I fear that you will all find out that I am listening to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass while writing this. [Something magical about instrumental music and cranking out meaningless prose.]

I fear that I now have less than ten words to, as slave driver Jeff Goins, the evil mastermind behind this 15,500 word challenge, suggests: “do something with this fear.”

I fear that my math might be off.

I fear that Professor Goins may not accept ‘fear spewing’ as a productive first step in my attempt to “do something with this fear.”