The Short Form

The short form crosses the skills of puzzle solving with the compression of poetry

The short form crosses the skills of puzzle solving with the compression of poetry

For the past seven months, I’ve been writing, publishing, broadcasting and posting short form essays at a rate of more than two a week. This has been gratifying work, connecting with my various audiences who listen to my broadcasts, subscribe to my blogs, and read me in The Rutland Herald.

Even my pen-for-hire work tends to be in the short form, from 400-word profiles to 700-word essays.

I’ve come to love the short form, which forces me to choose the exact words I need and to arrange them in the most effective order. The short form requires clear emphasis to establish a sharp focus all while telling a very short story. I think of the short form as a hybrid that crosses the skills of puzzle solving with the compression of poetry.

I like the short form, and I think I’m good at it, at least most of the time. But I long for the long form.

I have two book-length projects in different stages: an incomplete rough draft of a novel and a rough idea for a long piece of non-fiction.

I long to write in the long form of books.

I long to write in the long form of books.

These two long thoughts keep me company like imaginary friends. They comfort me at the oddest moments: in the shower, in traffic, in my dreams. When I can, I jot down notes of ideas and tuck them away for later. If later ever arrives, I’m not sure I’ll be able to find them, but I don’t worry about that. I still have the ideas. What I haven’t yet found is the long time in which to write the long form.

The short form suits my current life, which has been interrupted by both duties and delights. The long form requires more consistency than I’ve managed lately.

I’ve managed the long form before, so I know I can do it. I even know how: rise and write – before breakfast, before chores, before coffee. But I’ve been resistant, which is normal; now I’m tired of that, which is good.

I'm setting off to hike the Long Trail along the spine of the Green Mountains, the length of Vermont.

I’m setting off to hike the Long Trail along the spine of the Green Mountains, the length of Vermont.

In need of a kind of reset so that I can double down by getting up early to work at length before pounding out short form pieces later in the day, I’m setting off on a long walk. Walking never fails to help me find my writer’s voice, so I’m looking forward to listening for it as I hike The Long Trail, which follows the spine of Vermont from Massachusetts to Canada.

I’ll be carrying a tent, a sleeping bag, and a camp stove, as well as a pen and paper. I’m sure I’ll be writing, but I’ll be offline for a month. I’m looking forward to being unplugged. Before I leave, I plan to schedule some reruns of favorites, both here and on my personal blog.

Barring bears, broken limbs or other unforeseen mishaps, I expect to plug in again in mid-September. In the meanwhile, I wish good words to you all. –Deborah.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin hikes and writes in Vermont and on the web at





My DIY Writing Retreat

Recently Deb talked about creating your own writing residency. *Sigh* a whole WEEK devoted to writing. Oh I get all a twitapated just thinking about it, but for now, with two active kids and a husband with an insane travel schedule, a week away devoted solely to my writing is just not feasible. For now, I squeeze my writing getaways in where I can.

Last spring, I attended the New England Romance Writer’s Conference and stayed an extra night to write. It was lovely. Last month, the only week my husband was home, I traveled to Detroit for work. I extended the trip by a day and a half and devoted that time to writing. I’m thrilled to say I added more than 8,000 words to my work in progress. There were a couple of key factors that make these little writing retreats work for me.

My writer's perch (a long couch in the hotel room, my "view" of the parking garage, an original Olga with fries and wine with cookies.

Location, location, location!

Both of these retreats took place in hotels that cater to business travelers. One was located in a business park, and most recently, I stayed at the Detroit airport.  There was no beautiful scenery to draw me away, no tourist attractions that I “really shouldn’t miss.” Basically, I had permission to just hang out in my room guilt-free.

The other side of the location coin, is picking a place that isn’t so isolated that you go stir crazy. Yes, I need to focus on my writing, but the four walls of a hotel room can start to close in after too much time and crush your creativity. The conference hotel was in an office park but it was near a mall so there were a number of dining options (and a Starbucks) within walking distance.  Detroit has a public transportation system that runs to and from the airport. With a few quick swipes, I was able to find a bus route that stopped at a nearby mall. Even better? I found a an location of a restaurant chain (Olga’s Kitchen) that I hadn’t eaten at since I was in high school. Triple play? There was a Target across from the mall that sold beer and wine this allowed me to stock up on motivation and rewards (I’ll explain that later).

Set Goals

For both of my getaways, I set goals that weren’t cakewalks, but weren’t so ridiculous I’d be stressed out or ignore them completely.   Last spring, I was plotting, This time, I was just flat out writing. I set my goal at 5,000 words on the day that I was supposed to have the full day to write (again more on that in a minute) and 3,000 for the half day.  I ended up writing until I was halfway through my flight home, BUT, I made my goal with a little padding.

Expect the unexpected (and roll with it)

I was supposed to have all day Friday and half the day Saturday just to write, heh, yeah, best laid plans and all that. I ended up having to attend to a few work details on Friday morning, so I didn’t start writing in earnest until after lunch. Saturday I also ended up working on tasks that needed to be completed on site. Since that’s why I was there in the first place, I couldn’t exactly say no. However, this is where creating goals that were a bit of a reach but not overwhelming worked well.

Plan ahead

As Deb mentioned in her post, plan a head and clear your desk before you leave, so when you come back you aren’t playing catch up.

I didn’t do as good a job at this as I could have. It would have been better if I could have cleared my inbox(es) before I left, but that just didn’t happen. Instead, I finished my original onsite commitments a little early, so I took the time to wipe out my emails before I sat down to write. When I did finally sit down to write, it was with a clear conscience.

I *could* conceivably have stayed until Sunday, but I knew that would throw off my weekly routine of meal planning and grocery shopping. So, coming home later Saturday afternoon made more sense for me.

Motivate and reward yourself

Plan a head and build in times to reward yourself for your efforts. Since I got such a late start on Friday, I set a goal of 2,000 words before I left for my dinner adventure. That way when I stopped, I felt like I’d achieved something.

While I was out, I stopped at Mrs. Fields Cookies and bought 5,000 word reward. When I was at Target I bought a bottle of wine as a little motivation (plus it was cheaper than going to the hotel bar).

All in all I was pleased by the outcome of my mini writer’s retreat and I can’t wait to do it again.

How do you fit in focused writing time?


Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at She has been a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

The D-I-Y Writing Residency

My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night.

My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night.

For creative types with demanding day jobs and hectic lives, a writing residency can offer much needed sustained quiet in which to work. My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night, is just such a creative who’s ceaselessly busy, if not with work or writing, then with some other demanding pursuit, like supporting his friends’ creative endeavors, cooking with intense focus, or sea-kayaking in San Francisco Bay.

My brother is also tremendously generous, and as soon as he learned he’d

Jonathan, writing.

Jonathan, writing.

been awarded a month-long writing residency at Djerassi, he called me up and said, “Hey, Deb, do you want to use my apartment for your own writer’s retreat?” And so the Do-It-Yourself Writing Residency was born.

When I had two jobs and three kids under four, I applied and attended formal writing residencies. Both RopeWalk and the Vermont Studio Center gave me weeklong escapes from the chaos at home, These residencies were terrific – until I returned home and had to play catch-up. It was after a second residency at the Vermont Studio Center, where I was given a ten-by-twelve studio with a window overlooking a river, that I wondered if I could recreate that kind of physical and psychic space at home.

Deborah Lee Luskin writing studio

The desk in my writing studio.

In 2011, my husband built me a ten-by-twelve cabin, where I’ve worked hard to maintain a retreat-like writing practice. But life happens. Writing assignments pile up. I don’t even have time to apply for residencies, even if I were interested in them.

But one of my children recently moved to California; I haven’t seen her since May. I started to imagine a retreat where I could write by day while she worked, then meet to talk, walk, sightsee and dine. The clincher is that I’ve been gathering steam on a new book for which I’ve done a lot of groundwork, but I’ve been too busy with my day-to-day writing to give it the concentrated, uninterrupted attention it requires at this point.

So, I’m going! I’m even writing and scheduling this post before I leave. It feels great to clear my desk ahead of my departure – something to keep in mind for when I return. I’m taking just the one project with me, to give it my full attention. [Check out Diane’s recent post about The Joy of Focusing on One Thing.]

This is my cousin's cabin in Maine where I wrote this summer, sidelined by my broken ankle.

This is my cousin’s cabin in Maine where I wrote this summer, sidelined by my broken ankle.

Meanwhile, why not try a Do-It-Yourself residency? Use a friend’s house or apartment on weekends they’re away, or during designated hours they’re at work. Check into a motel for a weekend – or a week. Locate a rustic cabin with a wood stove before it gets too cold, or use someone’s beach house before it’s closed for the winter.

These DIY residencies provide work time and solitude. Some artist colonies do the same, and some provide communal meals and social hours – which can be fun and/or distracting. If going off solo is too lonely, there’s always the possibility of finding a few writing buddies and renting a place together, with a plan for meals, solitude, and social time worked out in advance.

Writing residencies can be extremely helpful in providing the time and space for unfettered creativity. Established ones can be found online: Amazing Writing Residencies and Poets & Writers Conferences and Residencies are just two lists of the many established residencies available. But you can also Do-It-Yourself.

Have you ever borrowed a house, apartment, or private space in which to create your own writer’s retreat?

I’m Passionate about Writing!

Back when I did Master Coach training with Martha Beck, in 2008, she said something that still resonates with me: “Whatever you are passionate about, you should be doing something as a coach that relates to that topic.”

I am passionate about many things but one of the things I am most passionate about is writing. I write on life coaching topics but hadn’t thought about coaching about writing at that time. I started doing writing retreats with my writing group in Maine many years ago, and have continued to do them with groups of writing friends and local writers I hadn’t met yet. I’ve hosted “Write-In’s” for NaNoWriMo and, when I think about it, I’ve coached people during every writing event I ever hosted.

So now I’m taking this idea for a writing retreat and making it a little more formal. I’ve created a one-day writing retreat, in a very comfortable setting, with all the amenities available (coffee being the most important.) The retreat I envision is mostly about writing but there’ll be a little coaching in there, too, to help us all write more and write more authentically.

I wrote the agenda over a year ago (when I was dreaming of doing a writing retreat.) And I’m finally doing it. I’m hosting a writing retreat on September 20, 2014, at the Radisson Hotel, in Nashua, NH. We’re taking over a beautiful conference room and we’ll have comfy chairs, lots of plugs, and lots of coffee, which is good because we’re going to start at 8:30 AM!

Just creating this retreat and putting it out there feels wonderful to me, so I know the day will be a success, whether I have 1 participant or 12.

If you are interested in joining me, please click here for more information.

And whatever you are passionate about, think about how you can incorporate that into your life in some way in the next few months.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, mother, stepmother, family physician, and a life coach. I also seem to be doing a lot of vacationing this summer. I’m currently writing this from the cottage my sister and I rented with our kids overlooking St. Peter’s Bay, PEI, Canada–one of the most beautiful places on earth, in my opinion.