Poem of the Week, by Molly Brodak

Check out our slew of spring workshops beginning next month, including our five-week Building a Story workshop. 

Me to a friend who claims spell check is the only reason he can spell anything: So before spell check what did you do?

Friend: I would say the word out loud and then look through the dictionary trying to find it by first letter. So a word like psychology? I would begin with S and not find it, then I’d look through all the C’s even though I knew that it couldn’t begin with C. It was slow and agonizing. And all my papers came back with low grades and comments like ‘You really must learn to proofread.’

It hurts to think of this friend trying so hard on his papers and being met with scorn. This same friend will envision a 12’x20′ painting, build panels to paint it on, gather brushes and air compressor and broom and whatever else it takes to make it, then build a block and tackle to haul it up onto the wall.

When it comes to spelling, I’ve never had to work at all, and my essays usually got A’s, but if I ever made a painting it’d come back with “you really must learn to paint.”

Why are so we hard on others? Why are we so hard on ourselves? Dear Molly Brodak, I will be reciting this poem for the rest of my life.

How to Not Be a Perfectionist, by Molly Brodak

People are vivid

and small

and don’t live

very long—

For more information about Molly Brodak, please click here.
Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by CAConrad

Oh, this poem. When I first read it my long-ago friend Marty shimmered up in my mind, small thin Marty who came to the creative writing classes I taught at the Minnesota AIDS project when I first moved to Minneapolis. I used to bake muffins to pass around and Marty loved them, blueberry especially.

Once, when he and I were in the parking lot talking after class, he reached out and filched a third muffin from the basket. It wants to be free, he said, with that sly smile of his, I’m just liberating it. You’re long gone now, Marty, along with so, so many others from back in those pre-medicine days, but I promise I still see you, and every time I bake blueberry muffins I think of you.

72 Corona Transmutations (excerpt), by CAConrad

                                                my friend

                                                Rex told me

                                                when he was

                                                dying of AIDS

                                    promise me every day of 1993

                        will be the best day with or without me  

                                                27 years later

                                                the promise

                                                still kept 

For more information on CAConrad, please visit their website.

Words by Winter: my podcas

Spring 2022 Words by Winter Writing Workshops!

One-day Workshops: Could your creative spirit use a recharge? Come join me on my (virtual) porch for an exhilarating, fun, intensive workshop! All my three-hour workshops are taught via Zoom and designed for writers of any and all experience. No preparation or skills required. Workshop offerings are regularly updated (check out the brand-new The Intuitive Leap class), and I’d also be happy to design one specifically for your writing group. Each workshop requires a minimum of five participants and is capped at ten.

Building a Story five-week workshop: This spring I’m offering another session of my ongoing Building a Story workshop on Tuesday evenings: March 22, 29, April 5, 12, 19, from 6-9 CST. Building a Story is strictly limited to eight participants, with detailed weekly individual feedback from me. This five-session class has filled almost immediately each time it’s been offered in the past, so if you’re interested I encourage you to register soon. Scroll down for details. Building a Story fee: $400 (no discounts).

One-day workshop fee: $75. Note that I also offer a pay-as-you’re-able option to participants under financial duress (I’ve been there myself), from $10-$75, no questions asked.

Registration and payment: To register for either the five-week Building a Story class or an individual workshop, email me or simply send payment and note which class you’re registering for. Registration is tentative until payment is received. You may send payment via Venmo to Alison-McGhee-1, via Paypal to alison_mcghee@hotmail.com, or by personal check. Please email me with any questions.

SPRING 2022 SCHEDULE AT A GLANCE (scroll down for detailed descriptions of each workshop)

Building a Story, an Ongoing Workshop: Tuesday evenings, March 22, 29, April 5, 12, and 19, 6-9 CST (be sure to check time zone)
The Transformation of Trauma: Friday, February 25, 1-4 pm CST (Note: this class is free)
Creative Writing Kickstart: Saturday, February 26, 1-4 pm CST
Writing from the Body: Friday, March 18, 1-4 pm CST
*The Gift of Words: Friday, March 25, 1-4 pm CST(new class!)
Memoir in Moments: Writing Your Life: Wednesday, March 30, 6-9 pm CST
*The Intuitive Leap: Thursday, April 7, 6-9 pm CST (new class!)
The Freedom of Form: Friday, April 8, 1-4 pm CST

Building a Story: An Ongoing Workshop
Tuesday evenings: March 22, 29, April 5, 12, and 19, 6-9 CST (be sure to check time zone)

This five-week class is designed for fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, and poetry writers. (It’s not designed for picture book writers, but what the heck, you might like it anyway.) Each week will focus on a different, essential craft of good storytelling, from character development to dialogue to narrative arc to the creative process itself. We’ll examine both published work and class submissions. Participants are welcome (but never required!) to share their work with the class as a whole. Everyone will receive weekly detailed feedback from me. Bonus: I’ll send out a weekly writing prompt every Friday for the month following class.

Fee: $400 (no discounts for this class).

One-day Workshops (three hours each)

The Transformation of Trauma
Friday, February 25, 1-4 pm CST (be sure to note time zone)

Are you haunted by the memory of trauma? Maybe someone assaulted you, or abused you over a long period of time. Maybe as a child, or adult, you struggled through domestic violence or emotional manipulation. If your life feels compromised by these memories, and you’re looking for ways to work through them, welcome to this workshop. Note that I am not a trained therapist and this class is not therapy. I designed it as both a human being and lifelong artist whose own experience shows that the making of art, in all its many and varied forms, can be a profound way to absorb and translate past experiences that were unfair, unwanted, and cruel. In our time together, we’ll do some brief writings, read and discuss a few short readings, and find ways to unlock your own power. Note: this class is always free. To register, just email me.

Creative Writing Kickstart
Saturday, February 26, 1-4 pm CST(note time zone)

Have you always wanted to write but aren’t sure how to begin? Or, are you a writer in need of an energy boost and a fresh start? This three-hour intensive Kickstart workshop will recharge your writing energy and help you develop a regular writing practice. We’ll do several brief writings and talk about various aspects of craft and process –maybe language, maybe flow, maybe dialogue, maybe tense and point of view, maybe some other things– in terms of what makes great writing great. The class is designed for writers of all abilities, experience levels and genres – so I forbid you to worry if you’ve never written before! Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class. 

The Art of Writing Picture Books
Tuesday, March 15, 6-9 pm CST (note time zone)

Do you love picture books? Have you ever wanted to write one? Are you curious how to go about it? Welcome to my one-day picture book writing workshop! In our intensive, fun class, we’ll deconstruct some classic picture books, talk about ideas for new ones, and go through all the nuts and bolts, such as how long can a picture book be? What’s the relationship between writer and artist? How do you write a picture book that children will love and adults won’t mind reading ten thousand times in a row? We’ll come up with ideas, draft a basic outline for one or more picture books, read aloud some favorite passages, and provide instant feedback on anything you come up with. 

Writing from the Body
Friday, March 18, 1-4 pm CST (note time zone)

Our bodies hold within them everything that has ever happened to us. We may not consciously recall events from long ago, or even recently, but our bodies do. Ask your body to recall a moment of great joy, of great sorrow, of exhilaration or trauma, and physical memory will come washing back over you. Writing from your body, instead of your mind, is an intuitive and potent means of connecting both with yourself and readers. Brief in-class writings and discussion of short published works (provided) will focus on the power of physical memory as entry into powerful writing. Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class. 

The Gift of Words
Friday, March 25, 1-4 pm CST (note time zone

Think of the people you love in your life. Picture them in your mind. Recall conversations you’ve had with them, times you’ve watched them in motion. The sound of their voice, their laughter, tears, songs. The way they touch their pets, their children, their flowers. The way they touch you. Everything about those nearest and dearest to you is specific and particular and unique to them, and so is the way you love them. In this three-hour workshop, we’ll draw on memory, the senses, and deep observation to create three gifts of words. (Hallmark is great, but you’re greater.)

Memoir in Moments: Writing Your Life
Wednesday, March 30, 6-9 pm CST (note time zone)

Maybe you’re at a new stage of life, looking back. Maybe you’re thinking about your family, or your children, and all the stories they might not know about you. Maybe you’re looking back on your childhood, the things you wondered about back then, the conversations you had, the places you went, how all of them were pieces of a much larger life puzzle. Think about that T-shirt you wore all the time in seventh grade. Think about your favorite dessert when you were five years old. Your favorite song as a senior in high school. The secret you’ve never told anyone. The dream that came true, and the one that didn’t. The unexpected turns your life has taken, and how they placed pattern to everything that came after. We’ll focus on memoir moments in this class, brief, specific writing prompts that shine up from the page and give readers a perhaps unexpected window into who you are. Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class.

The Intuitive Leap
Thursday, April 7, 6-9 pm CST (note time zone)

Let’s play! Forget your conscious self and see what your subconscious has to offer you instead. It’s stunning how the being who lives deep within you can twist and turn and open up your words. This class is based on my own experience with the artist I refer to as my underground writer, who is always working on behalf of me and my writing. Sometimes I give her assignments, such as “Please come up with a picture book that’s pure joy, about the love between a father and his baby,” and then let her go to town, which is exactly how I came up with my forthcoming book Baby Be. Through a series of short prompts and discussion, we’ll learn how to let go and let your subconscious show you the way. This is a brand-new workshop and I’d love to see you in it. Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class.

The Freedom of Form
Friday, April 8, 1-4 pm CST (note time zone)

When you’re stuck in a piece of writing, feeling lifeless, what do you do? Grind through, hoping desperately that a window will open? Give up? Take a break? Declare yourself a failure and slink off to drown your sorrows? I’ve taken a shot at all these methods, and none of them work as well for me as re-framing the work itself. I give myself seemingly arbitrary rules to work within, e.g., Write this scene as a series of text messages, or, Write this novel as a series of one-hundred-word passages. The freedom of assigned form is real, people, and it’s why novels usually have chapters, and picture books are usually under 500 words. It’s why enduring forms of poetry like haiku and sonnets and sestinas are still alive and thriving. In this workshop, which is designed for writers in all genres, we will play with form as a way to open up your writing, your mind and your heart to the freedom and creativity inherent in all art. Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month following the end of class.

Comments from past participants

New and experienced writers alike who are lucky enough to take an Alison McGhee class will find their writing explored and uplifted, examined and celebrated, but always, always improved, in her skilled and gentle hands. (Tara G.)

Alison’s writing programs have been a revelation. I’ve taken writing programs in the past that made me swear I would never write another word, but Alison has a knack for bringing out the very best in the writers who study with her, even when “the best” is something they never knew they were capable of. Her teaching is fiercely intelligent, fiercely gentle, empathetic, deeply informed, and never patronizing or condescending. Take a leap of faith and try one of her classes. You’ll never look back.  (Janet M.)

Alison’s teaching has this amazing after-effect, an echo, a vibration, that comes from her voice, her sympathy, her encouragement of good words. (Tim N.)

Alison brings to her role as teacher an impressive combination of skills – passion, knowledge and depth of experience in the craft of writing, expert facilitation skills that creates a safe space for participants, and a seamless ability to keep the group moving. But what sets Alison apart is her unique ability to support people in their frailty as they explore sometimes difficult material in their lives or the lives of their characters. Alison’s immense humanity never makes a writer feel like they are going somewhere entirely alone. There’s always the feeling that she’ll catch you if you fall, and guide you back to the work at hand – the gift of storytelling.  (Tessa V.)

The only thing better than reading Alison’s blog posts or listening to her podcast is spending time with her in the writing workshops. She quickly helped me generate material which later became a short series of poems. Sharpen your #2s and get to writing. (William B.)

Prompts that prompt you to stretch your thinking, tips that you can use beyond the class, and discussions that lead to insights make Alison’s workshops worth every minute you spend with her. (Pauline C.)

I’ve taken several of Alison McGhee’s workshops and have loved every one of them. Alison is not only a wonderful writer, she is a terrific teacher. Alison has a true gift of connection and of helping her students tap into the deepest, juiciest parts of themselves and their fictional characters and share those parts on the page. Take any–and all–of Alison’s offerings! (Diane G.)

Alison is so very kind and responsive.  Her prompts are the most inventive I have ever seen. She gently guides you into new territory and eases you into taking writing risks without you realizing it. Take one of her workshops and reap the benefits. (Keyan K.)

Poem of the Week, by Lucille Clifton

Photo by Holly McGhee

Once, at a book conference overseas, the women at my table told me they felt sorry for American women like me, that I not only had to work so hard at my writing career but also at home, cleaning and cooking and doing laundry and taking care of my children, while they had cooks and drivers and housekeepers and nannies. I’ve thought about that conversation ever since. Thought about what it says about the systems of racism and sexism most of us struggle within. Thought about famous people and all the people behind them in the shadows, overlooked, overworked, underpaid. Every time I read the last line of this poem the entirety of our country’s history comes over me.

study the masters, by Lucille Clifton

like my aunt timmie.
it was her iron,
or one like hers,
that smoothed the sheets
the master poet slept on.
home or hotel, what matters is
he lay himself down on her handiwork
and dreamed. she dreamed too, words:
some cherokee, some masai and some
huge and particular as hope.
if you had heard her
chanting as she ironed
you would understand form and line
and discipline and order and

For more information about Lucille Clifton, please click here.

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by C.L. O’Dell

Ever tried to imitate someone else’s handwriting? It’s hard and fascinating and full of speculation. What’s up with this big poofy T? Is this long straight line at the end supposed to stand in for the last five letters of their surname?

Trying to form letters the way someone else does makes me think how we breathe each other’s air but not quite, walk in each other’s footsteps but not quite, know our dearest ones so well, but…do we? I love this poem.

, by C.L. O’Dell

I think about time.
The forsythias
and the man singing
in the car ahead of me.

When I enter the space
the same shape
he made a moment
before me,

where is the music,
the taste of honey
in his mouth and now
mine, the thought

of kissing his wife good-bye
and the words of a song
lifting off my tongue
as if from memory, but his?

What is mine stays with me,
my heart in the glitter
of his heart. My dreams
have no bones. Love

is never saved in layers
of rock. So much of me
will never be found
on this earth.

For more information about C.L. O’Dell, please visit his website.
Words by Winter: my podcast