November writing prompt: Meghan’s response and Olivia’s comments

This is Olivia, here. I am gonna come clean: I have a problem with procrastination. We talked about this writing prompt in Episode 12, and I am only posting these notes now. Sorry. This is the time of year that I can only say I hope I’ll be better in 2018. Let’s all toast to that.

Anyway, moving on to what I’m actually here to write about – here is the prompt from November:


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.

(Note: We’d still love to hear from you if you wrote anything in November and want comments on it!)

Here’s Meghan’s response:

Ellis stood back and surveyed the room with satisfaction. It had taken years, but she had finally done it. Green tendrils hung down from above her head, swaying in a gentle breeze. The air was humid and warm with the scent of the black earth that lay in soft mounds under her feet. She took in a deep breath and smiled. 

They hadn’t believed her. That’s the way it always goes, isn’t it? You have an idea, and if it’s new, or if you’re just not the sort of person they’re used to listening to, it’s no good. Well, it isn’t up to them anyway.  

The grass had been the easiest part, of course. Just spread compost and seed and make sure to water. It was replacing the walls and ceiling that gave her trouble. Ellis didn’t want to just build a conservatory. No, that’s what they didn’t understand. This was something entirely different. 

She started with the hardwoods. She would have preferred to get right down to the fruit trees, but she needed more protection and they weren’t strong enough. So she started with oak, of course — something native would be simplest — and a few chestnuts. Then the softer things. Ivy, muscadine, other vines. Snowdrops that year of the blizzard, when she spent three nights worrying about ice.  

Violets were a late idea, but the narcissus was planned from the beginning. They wouldn’t understand that either, but Ellis would. The trickiest part had been the spring. It was only a stroke of luck she’d found a source so nearby, though it was shocking really how deep she’d had to dig. That was when she thought it might be all over, when they might lose patience and all her work would be for nothing. Well, let them try now, anyway. 

A rustle as something scampered through the undergrowth reminded her it was done now. No more worrying. Ellis patted her hair, gone white ages ago. 

She stepped in and closed the door behind her. 


My comments:

  • I really liked the tone and the feel of the piece. The beginning sets the atmosphere – a calm and earthy environment – so well, and her strong knowledge of some plant names help to continue this. I liked the scampering at the end.
  • Similarly, it had a really strong voice – introduced in the second paragraph. I liked you feel and understand the person talking and their emotions. A cranky old lady-dreamer, and I wanted to get to know her more.
  • (I also like the name Ellis.)
  • I thought whether this sentence could be rephrased: “They wouldn’t understand that either, but Ellis would.” It made it sound like there had been another person involved in the idea – probably because of “Ellis would” (i.e. she’d understood someone else’s idea). So that could be tweaked.
  • I also pointed out a couple of potential cliche/normal words – swaying in a breeze etc. It seemed that she used those types of phrases at the beginning, but later in the piece, it was more like she found her stronger voice.


If you want to send us your prompt, email us or write us on Instagram, or leave us a comment!

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Episode 15 is up, and don’t worry — it’s short

Episode 15 is live, and you can listen in 10 minutes or less! We have a quick chat about where we are in our work and writing lives, and share December’s writing prompt.

Do you have an update in your work or writing life you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments on this post.

Show notes are over here, and you can listen on the show notes page, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever get your podcasts.

Have a question you’d like us to answer? Let us know here or by email!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter for extra behind-the-scenes content (fill in the box on the right side of this page), and if you enjoy the podcast, please leave us a review and/or rating in Apple Podcasts, or tell a friend (or both!).

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Episode 14 is up, and we’ve decided to ditch writing for yoga (kidding! Mostly)

For this episode, we sat down with Divya Kohli, Olivia’s yoga teacher and friend, to talk about how the practices of yoga and writing relate to each other.

Divya teaches yoga and meditation for “the whole being”, a practice which can enliven  our bodies, minds and consciousness and help us throughout our path in life. London-based and a dedicated practitioner since 2000, she’s been a full time senior level teacher since 2006 offering community classes, retreats and bespoke tuition. A former newspaper journalist, she has a continued passion for writing… and using words like we use the breath in yoga, as a way to connect more fully.

As always, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, as this helps other listeners find the show.

Full show notes are here.

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Episode 13 is up, and we tell you how Thanksgiving really went

We were on holiday last week, celebrating American Thanksgiving with our families, so we’re bringing you a quick mini-episode with check-ins from the week. We’ll be back to our regular schedule next week, when we kick off a month of self-care for writers. Listen here or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever get your podcasts.

Have questions you’d like us to try to answer? Let us know in the comments, or send us an email.

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November writing prompt: Olivia’s response and Meghan’s comments

As promised last week, we’re posting our responses to November’s writing prompt, with comments. 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 (Meghan’s) comments below. Remember, these are first drafts written in 15 minutes or so, not polished submission-ready material (although I was super impressed with Olivia’s).

Grace froze when she heard the knock on the door. One arm was outstretched, her hand grasping the hairy-barked pine log she had been feeding into the dark mouth of the fireplace. She was glad she hadn’t lit the fire yet. She propped herself up on the other elbow.

The knock came again, harsher this time. Impatient. It knew she was inside.

Both of her arms were starting to shake. She ease the wood onto the sooty stone hearth, silently, then dragged herself across the floor. Her thick skirts picked up twigs, beetle carcasses and small clumps of mud, leaving a clean-swept trail behind her.

Another knock. Not even waiting to listen.

As she moved, she searched the sparse room again, pointlessly scanning the dusty surfaces for a girl-sized crevice. Even the kitchen had only shelves, no cupboards.

The metal latch clicked but did not give itself up. And so the cheap door began rattling in its frame, asking for entry at first, then demanding it. Fierce.

She pulled herself up onto the austere wooden chair behind the door, arranging herself into her most natural position. This always took time, otherwise something about her angles were wrong. Gave her away immediately.

But she didn’t have time. Her leg dangled awkwardly as the door gave way. A panting bearded man swept in, blue moonlight and frost swinging in on his cape.

And the comments:

  • I loved the tone — it’s so creepy from start to finish
  • The ending! It is a surprise, but a logical one. The signs are there, but I loved how they were only clear in retrospect. The whole piece moves quickly and is full of tension.
  • The only thing I noted for revision is the way the intruder’s actions are given to the door, the door latch. I do like how it masks all details about the intruder, but it is a bit distracting.
  • The language itself works really well — beetle carcasses, hairy-barked pine log, and my favorite, blue moonlight and frost swinging in on his cape. Just lovely.

Did you write something for this prompt you’d like to share? Email us, or leave it in the comments!


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9 tips for being a writer at Thanksgiving (or any holiday)

Thanksgiving is tomorrow in the United States, and that means travel, family, friends, houseguests, late nights, and lots of food and drink — all things that can wreck your writing routine. In this week’s episode, Olivia and I talked about ways you can make sure you don’t feel like you’ve been derailed but don’t have to lock yourself away in a hermitage (unless that’s your thing — it’s totally my dream life, so I’m not judging).

So whether or not you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, whether or not you’re closing in on 50,000 words for the month or are stuck at 500, all of these can help you stay connected to your writing when life around you gets out of control.

top tips for being a writer at thanksgiving or holidays

1. Stay engaged with the craft

It’s hard to stick to a firm schedule when you’re traveling or tired. Instead of pushing yourself to write during down time, try reading or rereading your favorite book on writing. We love Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is great for quick shots. In episode 11, Alicia de los Reyes recommends On Writing by Stephen King.

You could also try a podcast or two. We cover our favorites in episodes 3 and 12, and you can check out a handy list on Instagram.

2. Take notes

Keep track of those great ideas! I carry a notebook with me most places, but always at least have an index card or some post-its. You can also record a voice memo or take a quick note on your phone. Even if you don’t have time to do anything with the idea right away, you’ve saved it for later.

3. Use jet lag

Waking super early (or up really late) because of jet lag? Take advantage of the time when others are sleeping and use that time for yourself and your writing.

4. Decide ahead of time

Be honest with yourself about how what you’ve been able to do in the past, and make a choice about how much — if any — you’ll write during the holiday period. Not writing feels a lot better if you are doing it on purpose. Making a plan ahead of time can also help you get back to your routine after Thanksgiving.

5. Whatever you do is enough

Even if you don’t decide ahead of time, that’s okay. It’s totally okay to do nothing, and it’s okay to change your plans. You are okay.

6. Help out your future self

Write a note to yourself about where you are so it’s easier to re-engage after a break (planned or unplanned). This is a helpful practice to use every day, and you’ll feel less overwhelmed by what you haven’t done yet.

7. Be gentle with yourself

Holiday gatherings are hard, even with the happiest of families and friends. Don’t add more stress by beating yourself up over what you are and aren’t writing. You don’t need to catch up if you miss a day or three — just start where you are and do the best you can. You’re doing great!

8. Honor your feelings

If you’re finding yourself getting anxious or desperate to get some words on paper, sneak away for 15-20 minutes. Take a walk, or go find a quiet room. No one will notice, and even a short break can be all you need.

9. Only share what you want (and don’t apologize)

We’ve all been there — the well-meaning (or not) question about your writing. “Are you published yet?” or even just, “How’s your writing going?” Think about what you want to say and direct the conversation there. Chances are, the person is just trying to connect with you, and not looking for all the details of your agent hunt. Even if they are, it’s okay not to answer and change the subject. You don’t have to apologize.


That’s it! What’s your best advice for balancing writing and holidays? Let us know, and if you try any of our tips, we’d love to hear how it goes!







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Episode 12 is up, and we try to help you (and us) survive Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving week to those in or from the United States, and happy penultimate day of November to everyone else. We’re so grateful for each and every one of you!

This week, we give some podcast recommendations in response to a listener question, and we do a mini-critique session for this month’s writing prompt. Then we wrap up with nine tips for surviving Thanksgiving (or any busy or disruptive period). Watch this space for the full set of tips later this week, as well as our writing prompt responses.

Click over here for the full show notes, and as always, you can get Marginally on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever get your podcasts.

our favorite advice ever.
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Episode 11 is up, and we talk with Alicia de los Reyes about DIY writing retreats, rejection and what it means to be a writer

If writing really is a practice, then finishing something should be important. You should be a writer, not a starter of books. Alicia de los Reyes.

Today, we have the pleasure of talking to writer Alicia de los Reyes about making time to write no matter what your circumstances are, and how she was able to take the rejection of her first novel and use it to grow as a writer.

writer alicia de los reyesAlicia is a writer based in Seattle, WA, where she lives with her husband, son, and cat. She has her MFA from University of New Hampshire. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Archipelago, The Billfold, and others, and her fiction has been published in Best New Writing 2015. She is represented by DGLM and at work on a novel.

You can find out more about Alicia at, and as @likesoatmeal on Instagram and Twitter. Listen to her podcast Scratch Paper on iTunes or on Stitcher, or at her website.


Full show notes are here. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever get your podcasts, and rate and review us — you’ll never miss an episode, and you’ll help others find the show!

If writing really is a practice, then finishing something should be important. You should be a writer, not a starter of books. Alicia de los Reyes.

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So… how’s your NaNo?

It’s been a week of NaNoWriMo, and so far I have found it super tough to really get into my book the way I need to if I’m going to, um, finish it this month. Or, indeed, this year. But I am making time to write every day, and I think I’m doing the thinking that I need to do to write the book, even if the writing itself is hard.

So Meghan and I really liked this post, How Not To NaNoWriMo, which totally fits into our ethos on the podcast – not forcing things too much, living up to your idea of success (not others’) etc.

And, if you’re needing more inspiration, this Independent article summarizing 22 lessons from Steven King about writing novels and short stories (and, really, doing art in general) was good.

Next year, I think I’m going to do NaNo for real – get a new project, start and (hopefully) finish it – and see what happens. I actually do like to see all the words everyone is getting onto the page!

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Episode 10 is up, and we talk NaNo progress and share this month’s writing prompt

This mini-episode is an update on our NaNoWriMo rebel progress and our draft revisions. NaNo details are in our blog post, and full show notes are here. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever get your podcasts, and rate and review us — you’ll never miss an episode, and you’ll help others find the show!

Focus on the experience and not just the results.

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