Episode 20 is live, and it features some awesome listener feedback

Episode 20 is live, and in it we debut our new check-in segment, “Everything is Terrible/What’s Working Now.” This week, everything is terrible for Olivia, and Meghan shares what’s helping her with revisions.

We also revisit jealousy, and share some of the conversations we’ve had with y’all over the last week. The show ends with a pep talk: we got a wonderful voicemail from a listener, and we share it from you all. We love hearing from listeners, so keep the comments and voice memos coming!

Full show notes are here.

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This, too, is my life

gal gadot as wonder womanFriday night, my family settled in to watch Wonder Woman for the zillionth time. I love that my boys love Wonder Woman and argue over who gets to be her when they play Justice League. I have wistful memories of my childhood best friend (and inspiration for my current novel) and the Wonder Woman mittens of hers I coveted fiercely. I love the anti-war message of the latest incarnation.

But I also find myself wrestling with other feelings. As I sat watching Gal Gadot, in awe of her strong legs and body, frustration with my own slide toward 40 and 5-years-post-partum body set in. Again (like I said, this is the zillionth time we’ve watched it). I’ll never be Gal Gadot.

In this week’s episode, Olivia and I talked about jealousy and how to deal with it. It’s such a common part of life, and it sucks. Not only is it unpleasant, it can spoil the good things, too.

I’ll never be Gal Gadot. But she’ll never be me, either.

We recorded this particular discussion on Thursday, so as I lay in bed that night after the movie, I decided to just sit with it. And I realized, yes, I’ll never be Gal Gadot. But she’ll never be me, either. So take that, Wonder Woman.


madeleine l'engle's summer of the great-grandmother (crosswicks book two) and yellow index cardsLast week, I also finished reading Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle. Listeners know how much I love the woman I call St. Madeleine, in all her complexity — much has been written on her revisionist approach to truth and memory, and it was sad to read her version of her children and know how different it is from their version of her (Gabrielle Zevin wrote in The New Yorker of her children “who love her deeply, but with a kind of desperate frustration spliced with resentment.”). She rewrote herself.

Anyway, I finished the book, and made some notes, feeling a little disappointed. Summer of the Great-Grandmother is about the summer of her mother’s death and decline, and is full of family history and storytelling, which while pleasant, wasn’t illuminating or inspiring to me right then. I wanted her to tell me a different story, to give me her life, but differently.

Madeleine looked back at me and said, not just “It was hard,” but also, “This, too, was my life.”

I tell a story often of a podcast I once heard. The host shared what was to her a devastating interaction with a long-time hero: She was in the process of trying to write while also raising her small children. At a book signing for one of L’Engle’s books, she asked L’Engle, “How did you do it? How did you write and take care of your family?” L’Engle looked at her for a moment then said only, “It was hard,” then went back to signing books.

This is a favorite story of mine because my reaction is one of joy and intense relief. If it was hard for Madeleine effing L’Engle, how in the world do I expect it to be easy for me?

As I was copying down passages from Summer on yellow index cards, I realized I had been reading the book for advice and motivation as a writer, and Madeleine looked back at me and said, not just “It was hard,” but also, “This, too, was my life.”


And it hit me — these things too are and will be my life, and that’s good. I don’t know what Gal Gadot wants from her life, but as I look around at mine, I would not trade it for anyone else’s. You can’t give up the bad without giving up the good, because they’re entwined. Nothing in our lives is wholly good or bad — kids are going to bring sleepless nights and fragmented workdays, but they’re also going to bring knock-knock jokes and spontaneous hugs and so much wonder. That delicious cake? Probably not helping me look like Wonder Woman, but SO DELICIOUS. A period of intense loneliness many years ago has wound its way through my current work, and allowed me to write about someone who isn’t me doing things I’ve never done, but feeling things I have felt.

This, too, is my life — not L’Engle’s, not Gal Gadot’s — and I’m the only one who makes it what it is, and it makes me.


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Episode 19 will make you jealous

Ha, not really! It is all about jealousy — what makes us jealous, what it means, what we do about it — and we get really honest about friendship and communication. Check out the full show notes over on the episode page, where you can listen and find links to subscribe.

What makes you jealous? What do you do about it? Let us know here in the comments, and don’t forget to share your responses to the January writing prompt (or any of the previous ones).

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Meghan’s December writing response with Olivia’s comments

Here’s Meghan’s prompt response, with Olivia’s comments. These were aired on Episode 18, in case you want someone to read it to you. (I love being read to.)

It’s not too late to join in — just head to the open thread for December to share yours, or send us an email.

First, here’s the prompt:


And here’s Meghan’s response:

“Yes Mama, ok. I will. Yes, I love you, too. No, just because I’m not looking for a husband doesn’t mean I want you to find one for me.” Sharon brushed her bangs out of her eyes and turned around. “I have to go. There’s someone waiting for the phone.  zài jiàn. Bye Mama.” She hung up the pay phone and heard the clunk of her quarter landing somewhere in its metal belly. “Sorry,” she said, turning to the boy waiting in line.

He was Asian, and she wondered if he was Chinese, if he’d understood what she had been saying to her mom, and her face burned. The boy smiled. He was cute — his eyes crinkled up at the corners and his black hair was gelled up in the front. Sharon fiddled with her earring, a long turquoise feather, and cleared her throat. “Well, I’ll let you use the phone.”

She knew he had understood both what she’d been saying to her mom, and what she felt about it. She shifted her backpack up on her left shoulder. Maybe she wouldn’t go to the studio after all. The light was fading anyway, and she had time to finish her painting later. She got a Coke from the machine and settled in at a table in the student lounge. With her sketchbook open, she studied the boy at the payphone, the back of his neck tan, with a strip of lighter tan around his hairline from a haircut. His scuffed Doc Martens didn’t quite match his button-down shirt and pressed gray trousers, and she wanted to know more.


Olivia’s comments:

As Meghan already said, this was a hard one for us, but we still felt it was a meaningful and helpful critique session. I have posted our usual mix of positive and constructive comments. This time, I felt that my constructive comments were a little unfair – basically asking for her to do more than what a normal person would do for a writing prompt – but Meghan made the good point that these comments are supposed to tell you where you can go with it if you want to continue.

Here we go:

  • I liked the sequence. There were relatable late teen or early 20s feelings, and they felt both universal and unique; they felt real.
  • Meghan always has good details on the people she describes, which place them in a place/time and also give you a feeling for them. In this case, I liked the turquoise feather and the crinkly eyes.
  • She also didn’t have any obvious cliché words.
  • At the same time, I felt I she have gotten more out of the scene – everything feels sort of squashed into these three paragraphs. I don’t mean that negatively, just that splitting up the action or taking us more deliberately through it would have given us more.
  • I wondered as well if she could hint a bit more at what they learned from or about each other? Or what will happen? Some foreshadowing or linkage to the fate of these people? It felt like it was sort of hovering in space, in some senses. Again, that’s what happens in a writing prompt!
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December writing prompt: Olivia’s response and Meghan’s comments

Monday’s episode was our monthly critique session, and as promised, here’s the first of two posts sharing our responses and comments. It’s not too late to join in — just head to the open thread for December to share yours, or send us an email.

The rules are short — note something positive, and make sure suggestions for improvement are constructive. Simply put, don’t be mean.

So here’s Olivia’s response, and my comments below. Remember, these are first drafts written in 15 minutes or so, not polished submission-ready material.

Gareth glanced over his shoulder before talking. Later, he’d remember that glance and wonder who or what he was looking for. He’d left his wife at home – that was smart. She’d hate this whole thing. Maybe he was checking she hadn’t followed him. Not that she would do that.

Maybe it was just living in Moscow for so long that had made him paranoid. And that feeling had followed him here, to New York.

“Don’t you worry about being sued?” he finally asked.

“Sued?” Gabe’s face looked like he’d uncovered a horrible smell. “Why?” He reached up to straighten his tie, then squared his shoulders back.

“What was that saying you Americans have? I always admired it. Something like not eating where you –”

Gabe’s head lolled back his mouth open in a dramatic imitation of laughter, but the sound was controlled. “I love the Americanisms you know, Gareth.” He slapped his hands on the table, again with a surprisingly muted sound, as if all his movements were performed through a thin film of cotton gauze. The opposite of projecting from a stage. “No, I’m not worried. To answer your original question.”

“You’ve never had any complaints?”

“Not in that department.” Gabe tore open the crusty roll that had been dropped on his plate. He tilted his head towards the wall, as if his exploits had happened in the next room. “Times have changed, man. They’re so ambitious, they’ll do anything.”

Gabe picked up his knife, spread butter on one half of the roll. “And they don’t have all those prudish hang-ups your generation, and even mine to some extent, had. The young ones need to sow their wild oats, as much as we did.”

Gareth felt a pang of, what?, not exactly jealousy, but something else – regret, maybe, like he always did when he heard men bragging about their sex lives. I could have that, he thought. And then, as usual, something inside him shrugged. He took a long drink of his beer, letting it wash into him. It tasted flat, or old.

“Anyway, that’s not why we’re here, right? Didn’t you want to ask me about someone? Are you poaching one of our people?” Gabe waved at the waitress to get her attention, holding up two fingers to sign for more beer.

“Oh yeah. I almost forgot.”

Gabe did his quiet chortle again. “Business really is doing well. Before, you definitely couldn’t compete with our salaries.”

“I’m not. She left you guys a while ago, the girl we’re talking to. She won’t say why.” He paused, letting that phrase hang there, then lifted the corners of his mouth into a smile. “Anna Davis – know her?”

Gabe clinched his jaw as the waitress put the beers on the table.

Meghan’s comments:

All in all, this was a tough exercise for both of us. Working with characters we already know so well, and outside the confines of our establishes stories, we both felt like we didn’t want to speculate too far afield. However, it’d be great for digging into a new project, and it was still really great to stretch ourselves here.

  • I like the way it leads up to the end, giving just enough information to keep the scene moving, and the ending is satisfying and fits.
  • The scene-setting at the beginning is also good. Not too much background, but enough so we’re not floundering.
  • Gabe is also really gross — well done.
  • I also liked the flat, old beer — it clearly refers to Gareth himself.
  • It could be smoother. This is pretty normal for a first draft, though!
  • Also normal for a first draft — there are a handful of phrases you could polish (“glanced over his shoulder”, “pang of jealousy”). I think I noticed them more than I usually would because this is something I need to work on in my own writing!
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Episode 18 has the January writing prompt!

Episode 18 is live! Show notes are here. In it we read through our December writing prompt responses, and then we introduce our January prompt, which is to browse some CV or resume pages, find one person, and write about their job interview experience. It’s adapted from the helpful book Writer With a Day Job, by Áine Greaney.

We’d love to hear your responses.  Send your response and let us know if you want us to share it on the air!

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Is it too late to follow my writing dreams?

Did you read this advice column by Roxane Gay in the New York Times? The one that says this:

The older I get, the more I have to say and the better I am able to express myself. There is no age limit to finding artistic success. Sometimes it happens at 22 and sometimes it happens at 72 and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. No, you are not too old to have a writing career, no matter your age.

I did read it, and then forgot it completely (I haven’t been online much the past couple weeks). And then one of our listeners sent it to me again, and reminded me that I wanted to write about it.

In the conversations Meghan and I have – on the podcast but especially off – we often talk about feeling like we have started late, or that particular nostalgia-for-what-never-was feeling (there must be a German word for that) of reading about a writer who is 22 and accomplished and amazing. That feeling that makes you feel like it’s not worth trying.

Which, of course, logically: what?? First of all, we aren’t old. Second, if it took me 70 years to tell a really good story, that would also be okay. But a lot of celebrity writing culture glorifies the young writers. Every year, it seems, an entire generation of new writers is born, at age 20-whatever, and they are breathlessly hailed as the “new [insert famous writer here, like Nabokov or Roth or whoever].”

(By the way, that is also completely okay. It’s awesome if you figure out what you want to say and how to say it when you’re 20-whatever, and I love being in awe of so many talented people.)

One part I liked of the column was this: “The writing world was passing me by.” Because that’s what it does feel like, right? That there is a writing world, and they don’t even know you want to get in, and if they did, they’d completely laugh in your face.

That’s why I especially liked her advice, which was to measure your success in a way that doesn’t depend on other people, on the people in the writing world (we could call it a writing bubble):

Sometimes, success is getting a handful of words you don’t totally hate on the page. Sometimes success is working a full-time job to support your family and raising your kids and finding a way, over several years, to write and finish a novel.

Let’s all just chant her last line to ourselves and each other every day this year:

You are not a late bloomer. You are already blooming.

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Goals, resolutions, mantras or words?

Episode 17 is live here. In this one, we talk about our hopes for the next year. We don’t really love the terms “goals” or even “resolutions,” and we talk about why. Then we talk about our preferred approach – Olivia chose mantras for the year, while Meghan chose a word.

We really enjoyed having a good discussion about how we think about the future, and how we are trying to focus more on magic, serendipity and just being with our projects.

We wish all of you a very happy New Year, and a 2018 full of joy, fulfillment and peace.

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What are you giving & getting this year?

We know gift guides are everywhere this time of year, but that’s because they’re the best! For all those listeners out there who were wondering what to send us for your year-end holiday of choice, all your questions are answered in today’s episode! For real, though, we’ve put together an extensive list of great gifts for writers, beyond just the usual pens and writing books (though we do love those). Giving a writing-related gift to a writer is an excellent way to show them you believe in their writing, that you recognize them as a “real” writer, even when they don’t (whatever “real” writer means). There are enough ideas here to help you out all year.

You can listen to the episode and see full show notes on the episode page, but we’ve put the list below too. We also shared some favorites in Episode 4 (like my typewriter t-shirt), so check that out as well.

We’d love to hear what other gifts you come up with! We’ll be sharing pics of our own favorites from this list all week on Instagram using  #marginallypodcast — we’d love for you to join in!

(By the way, all brands named here are here because we like them; we have no sponsorship or any other agenda.)

gift guide


  • Fountain pen (Meghan loves hers – it’s the Pelikan Souveran M400 here)
  • A bunch of their favorite pen (Olivia loves the Staedtler triplus fineliner)
  • Notebooks (too many to link to here, but you should check if the person you’re buying for likes to write with or without lines)
  • Notebook covers (this one from Foxy Fix is on Meghan’s wish list; the No. 9 will fit a full-size composition notebook)
  • Writing books – we will put some inspiration the blog & Instagram, from our collections, a bit later and add a link here
  • Pencils (Meghan likes the Target dollar spot ones with no erasers, and also these and these from Get Bullish. CW Pencil Enterprise seems to be the place for fancy-pants pencil-related fun, though we have no experience with them, so this isn’t an endorsement)
  • Pencil sharpeners (Olivia loves vintage ones like this one, probably because she doesn’t use pencils a lot; Meghan’s mentioned her basic X-Acto XLR electric one more than once)
  • Fingerless gloves
  • Index cards
  • Post-it notes


Tech gifts

  • Web-blocking tools to help them focus, like Freedom
  • Scrivener (a license is $45)
  • Bluetooth headphones
  • Bluetooth speakers to let you play music out loud
  • Their own domain name
  • Volunteer to help as tech support, offer to clean up their computer or help with other skills they may need (bookkeeping, organization, etc.)
  • Print their blog and print it out


Inspiration & self-care

  • Get them a yoga class or a pass to their studio
  • Send them into the world for inspiration – maybe a membership at a state or national park, a local museum, etc.
  • Get them a writing class at your local university (most, including community colleges, will have continuing education), a class at a writing institute if you have one nearby, an online class or even something like The Great Courses
  • You could even plot out your favorite walk(s) nearby, draw them a map or describe the route so they notice the things you really enjoy
  • Make them a playlist – old-school like a mix-tape, or new-school like a 42-hour classical Spotify playlist.



  • Tea accessories – Teapot, tea cozy
  • Candles (possibly a cliche, but we love them, so whatever)
  • Incense and other things that smell nice
  • Tea and coffee subscription boxes
  • Make them a homemade collage, or an illustrated quote (from their writing, or someone else they like)
  • A gift from Quotabelle – a site that focus on researching and publicizing inspiring quotes by women
  • Make them a bulletin board or give them other decorative things for their writing space


Time gifts

  • Watch their kids or pay for babysitter – and pick a specific time if you can, so they don’t have to even do any work to take you up on it
  • You could splurge for a night in a nearby resort or hotel, if you want to go all out
  • Or offer them a weekend at your house when you’re out of town
  • Or even your spare room when you are there – and promise to let them write uninterrupted
  • If cooking for themselves or their family takes a lot of time or energy, you could try food subscriptions or a nice meal
  • Or even just do a chore they complain about doing, to make their life easier (like putting away the laundry)



  • PEN International – advocacy for writers
  • Scholar Rescue Fund
  • Wish lists for adjuncts and other educational professionals
  • Donors Choose – support underfunded classrooms (in the US)
  • Youth outreach or creative writing programs in your local area (or someone else’s)
  • International educational foundations like the Malala Fund
  • Local libraries and Friends of your local Library – you could donate books or money
  • Literacy foundations
  • Little Free Library – donate or buy it for someone else
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Open Thread: December writing prompt

Hey hey! In case you haven’t figured it out, we really love seeing your writing. It’s so cool how people interpret the same prompt so differently, and we’ve seen some very clever responses. SO, we totally respect wanting to keep your responses private, and get it if sharing them with just us is putting yourself out there enough, BUT just in case some of the rest of y’all want to get in on this writing prompt every month, here’s the open thread for posting your responses and critiques.

As a reminder of how this works: We do what most people do with writing prompts – i.e. use them for 10-15 minutes to get warmed up. That means we don’t edit them (we write by hand, so when we type it up there may be some basic changes, but we resist the urge to do real work on it).

Otherwise, the rules are simple — note something positive, and make sure suggestions for improvement are constructive. In other words, don’t be mean.

While it’s ok to offer critique without sharing your response in turn, we’d like you to really think hard before doing that, and let it shape your comments.

Ok, enough chatter. The prompt:

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