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Resist Through Writing

Dear Wide Open Writers,

While on the beach today a gust of wind lifted one of those gigantic pink flamingo floats up into the air and deposited it on the water's surface, just beyond reach. The entire beach stopped to watch the big pink bird twirl like a ballerina, dancing quickly across the makeshift water stage before us. The flamingo glided quickly across the surface; complicit and maybe even gleeful in the escape.  

Among the people watching, there was a collective and felt moment of, "Now what?"  

I was further along on the beach, down wind. Hating the thought of more plastic in the sea, I calculated my chances of recovering the float. If I acted right then, making my way quickly across the rocks stones and pebbles to charge my way into the cold English Channel, I probably could have caught it and returned it to the squealing child. I envisioned myself doing just that but didn't move an inch. Instead, I watched as a woman photographed the float, seemingly entertained. There I was, distraught, paralyzed about what to do, while she was accepting there was nothing that could be done. Maybe she figured she'd at least get a good Instagram shot out of it. 

By the time I completed my thoughts, the float was too far gone to be recovered. It cartwheeled into the distance. I watched it long after everyone else had gone back to their regularly scheduled beach life. As it grew smaller, I felt a slight sense of guilt and regret. I wished I had acted when I'd had the chance. Instead, all I could do was watch it until it became a tiny pink speck on the horizon before it finally vanished.    

This scene feels like a metaphor suited for so many things, especially right now with mayhem and mistrust going on in the world. We’ve heard this, by now, ad nauseum and it's true: as writers and artists, more than ever, we must seize the moment and take action while we have the chance. It is in creating that we do our part, in writing that we contribute.  

I will admit that it has been difficult to find the energy to carry on writing when everything feels like it's tumbling farther and farther into a distance beyond reach. I will admit that I haven't felt much at all like writing and so, well, I will admit, I haven't. Not much. But feeling that guilt and regret today was enough to shake me into remembering myself and my place. From where we are, hard as it is, we can and we must do something. We have to take action. Resist through writing.

Will you join us? Feel free to respond to this blog and tell us what you're writing. 

Write on,
Regina and Dulcie


How it happens


Usually it starts like most things do. First as a distant idea, then maybe dismissed as a pipe dream or a passing fancy until it reemerges as a spark that lights a question:  

What if?

That’s the question from which most WOW manifestations are born. We wonder quietly inside ourselves then we raise the question out loud to hear how it sounds.  


What if Dulcie and Regina met up in Iceland? 

What about doing a retreat on a colorful, sandbar island in Mexico?  


What if we went to a tiny Mediterranean island in Italy?

Yes please, to all the above.

One of the most thrilling parts about what we do is discovering the magic as it emerges when we start tinkering with ideas. Whether it’s in locating the perfect retreat accommodation, designing the content for the week or fashioning a webpage around what we’re doing, conjuring is definitely one of our favorite pastimes. The biggest thrill, though, is when people say yes to our yes. When strangers who’ve never even met us are brave enough to join us in our willy-nilly, wild writing adventures.    

So much of what goes into the making of our retreats is about what we want for our own Writer Within. We think of all the things we consider ideal or essential to our writing practice and we go out and see where we might find them. We love evocative views, sky and nature in abundance, being outdoors, the sense of being ‘remote’ yet without too much travel hassle. And usually, where we end up has a bit of cultural mystique, like our Italian and Marrakech retreats.  


Oftentimes, we don’t have to go out searching too hard; retreat locations find us. Like when Nancy and Dulcie were on vacation in Isla Holbox a few years ago or when Regina was traveling with her family in Marrakech this past February. We find ourselves falling in love with a setting and wish our way back so we can re-experience a place in the company of other writers. We want to experience a place as artists, not just tourists.    


So, aside from the obvious, why do we do all this? Besides wanting to write out in the world, we believe in the power of writing and the creative process. We believe that the practice and process of writing are as important and relevant as the end result it. Whether that result is just to get it out on the page and out of the body or to create a polished, finished piece, we want to make space for people to feel supported and encouraged to write whatever emerges. We believe that when the urge to write arises, it’s because there’s the need for whatever comes to be written, to be outside of us, in whatever form.    

We are excitedly mapping out much of 2019. Just this past weekend Nancy and Dulcie checked out a coastal gem, an old Inn in Boothbay Harbor, Maine as a potential location for June 2019. And next month the women of WOW are all headed to Walloon Lake in Michigan.  We hear Hemingway liked it, so we probably will too. We hope to scout out the perfect place for you to fill your pages and ignite your writerly spirits.

Of course there will always be Tuscany (and by the way, there are a few spots still available for this year), then there’s Marrakech in November and next March there’s two weeks to choose from in Isla Holbox. And for those of you who are interested in US retreats, we’ve got a few more ‘what ifs’ brewing. So stay tuned and keep writing.  

With love,

The WOW tribe   

Water/ by Laurin Bellg


This prose poem is from the prompt Water we received on the second day of the retreat on Pantelleria. I brought a struggle with me to the gathering, a pivotal decision to be made about my future. And there on that sparse, volcanic island – closer to Tunisia than Italy – I was able to see more clearly through Water than I was ever able to do with the charts and statistics I’d laid out neatly and collated logically to help me decide. The logical charts hadn’t helped me at all and kept bringing me back to the same thought that to follow my heart makes no sense at all. I had to go halfway around the world to understand my dilemma and sort it out. The WOW retreats do that – take you to places where you have no choice but to unplug, and thus unfettered, allows you to look at things differently and see what’s really there. I am not a poet at all. Far from! But, even having words come out of me in a different way in a different place with different people was useful to render clarity.

Laurin Bellg

Appleton, Wisconsin



I’m in control until I’m not. And when I’m not I struggle,

fighting the water; gasping when it rushes right into me.

I’m reminded I forgot to breath before it hit. Damn.

I drown. I go down. Now thoroughly and completely down,

I find out – what’s down there. What’s down here,

where I am now. Down in the layers of muck and sediment,

among fossils of the non-living, who once lived but now

they just don’t because they can’t.


Their choice of fuel was always going to be self-depleting,

and once it’s gone, well – it’s gone. That’s it then.

There’s nothing left to do in that fuel-less place but die

and become shells of ourselves. And I do that.

I die, but I will not be committed to fossil and shell.

I decide. There is nothing left to do but sever bindings.

So, I grab them. Rip them. Leave them there and float up.

And it’s easy. I’m surprised that it’s actually – easy.


I’m amused that it took that long to realize, to know I had that –

that shell. A shell, it turns out I don’t even need. I thought I did,

but now I know. I don’t. Funny, I did not even see it –

did not realize, until I lost it, that I ever had it in the first place.

That’s how the sheer weight of the thing – that confining,

limiting shell – can go unnoticed, or if I do notice, how I

convince myself of its usefulness to me. How maddening.

What a stupid construct, really, that somehow

I thought I needed it, but now that it’s gone I am so light –

Light and light – a self-illuminating, auto-renewing


luminescence in water floating up


from deep and pressing water to something I can actually tread.

Once I know that, I can move in any direction I choose. And I do.

I choose – to move. Away. Away from the safe shore I’ve sold myself

as logical to that one – the one I feel is out there, just beyond sight.

I am certain it’s there because, having dwelt in water for so long,

I’m an expert. I know water – how it moves, how I fight it, how it

flows around me when I let it. So, I find the path, that synchronous current

that I don’t have to fight to navigate. It moves me forward with ease,

with a hum and a flow. A flow that I know

would move away from me if I tried to control it.


So, now that I have died, escaped the shell, left it there and floated up,

It’s clear that I’m not really moving away from but going toward.


Laurin is a critical care physician living and working in Appleton, Wisconsin since 2002. Medicine is her heart, but writing is her soul. She is married to a poet (not his day job), who is looking forward to attending his own WOW retreat in the near future, since Laurin – the test case – made it back alive. He noticed she was changed after WOW, but decided it was for the better. They have two daughters, a rescue dog, a feral cat, a hamster too pedigreed for its own good and a few fish. Laurin is an award-winning author of the medical memoir Near Death in the ICU and continues to throw short stories and essays at contests, because, well, you know – deadlines. That’s the trick she plays on herself to hoodwink a regular writing schedule. Occasionally, they win – the contest entries and the hoodwinking. Next goal is to try her hand at journal submissions. She went to Pantelleria fighting the urge to peruse an MFA in creative writing for the pure pleasure of it (as the answer to a long-time dream and a gift to herself so her writing soul won’t rot), but it’s never made sense on paper. She came back from Pantelleria thinking – we live, we work, we die, so get an MFA and see what happens. Could it be that simple? The WOW writing retreat was pure magic for her and felt like home. She can’t wait until the next retreat, thinking she may have found her writing tribe among these fine, creative folks – many of whom seemed to be the same kind of creative crazy that she is.

Laurin is a critical care physician living and working in Appleton, Wisconsin since 2002. Medicine is her heart, but writing is her soul. She is married to a poet (not his day job), who is looking forward to attending his own WOW retreat in the near future, since Laurin – the test case – made it back alive. He noticed she was changed after WOW, but decided it was for the better. They have two daughters, a rescue dog, a feral cat, a hamster too pedigreed for its own good and a few fish. Laurin is an award-winning author of the medical memoir Near Death in the ICU and continues to throw short stories and essays at contests, because, well, you know – deadlines. That’s the trick she plays on herself to hoodwink a regular writing schedule. Occasionally, they win – the contest entries and the hoodwinking. Next goal is to try her hand at journal submissions. She went to Pantelleria fighting the urge to peruse an MFA in creative writing for the pure pleasure of it (as the answer to a long-time dream and a gift to herself so her writing soul won’t rot), but it’s never made sense on paper. She came back from Pantelleria thinking – we live, we work, we die, so get an MFA and see what happens. Could it be that simple? The WOW writing retreat was pure magic for her and felt like home. She can’t wait until the next retreat, thinking she may have found her writing tribe among these fine, creative folks – many of whom seemed to be the same kind of creative crazy that she is.

Wave/ by Kristen MacKenzie


“Holbox” means black hole, and I came here to feel again. During the first group circle, the theme of the retreat was explained: exploration through the five elements – water, earth, wind, fire and void. I began without much expectation, just held on to a willingness to show up for whatever might meet me on the page. What arrived was a startling alignment with the chosen energetic space.

We all come here through water: womb to world/ ocean to island, and so that’s where we started. Monday was the day for water and I passed through a personal rain storm that kept me curled up in child’s pose long past the end of yoga on the beach. By the end of the first writing exercise, I understood that there was a tidal wave sloshing around inside of me that needed to smash through; there were walls I was ready to have broken down. This is what I wrote:

"I feel like a slow-moving insistent wave, pushing past and over and through anything that rises up in front of me. It isn’t a greedy wave or a selfish one. It feels like a gentle force but it isn’t asking. I’ve given it permission to be here, to start and to keep going until its met the end, whether that’s a limit of space or time or resource. And wherever that end is, it’s okay.

I live on a beach but rarely go out to it. I seem to always choose to be near water; near but not in. I move from one island to another. I take the kayak out but only push hands and paddle through the surface then splash ashore and go back inside where I can watch the waves again.

If water frightens me, it’s because I don’t want to get swallowed up or overtaken. But yet when I’ve reached my own limit, it’s the all-encompassing nature of water that I want to surrender to. I want to be crushed and absorbed, washed around and away until all trace of me, and whatever made me want to go into the water, is gone.

All day here I feel the strange water of being sweeping over and through what I think of as me. It seems to be washing away the buzz and the grind, the push and the edges. And what’s left behind is something fragile and mute that’s beautiful, perfect that way, like an empty bird’s nest or a shell.

This isn’t a numbing or a stupor or an absence. It’s an enormous wave and the unfamiliar space of surrender. I can rest here in this place that has nothing to do with whatever normal life was, but has the same stars shining overhead, as if I’m at home, dreaming."

Kristen MacKenzie lives on Vashon Island in a quiet cabin where the shelves are filled with herbs for medicine-making, the floor is open for dancing, and the table faces the ocean, waiting for a writer to pick up the pen. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Rawboned, GALA, Extract(s) Daily Dose of Lit, Maudlin House, Cease, Cows; Crack the Spine, Eckleburg, Referential, Bluestockings, NAILED, Knee-Jerk, Minerva Rising, Mondegreen, Prick of the Spindle, Crab Fat, Wilderness House, Poydras Review and Diversity Rules. Her short story, Cold Comfort, placed in Honorable Mention in The Women's National Book Association's annual writing contest.


Interstitium: Looking into the space between


Knock knock.

Who’s there?




I don’t know Interstitium.  Go away.


Knock knock.

I said go away.

I can’t go away. I’ve been discovered.

Well, I guess you’ll have to come on in and justify yourself then.


The last day of our writing retreat on Isla Holbox was dedicated to the fifth of the Five Japanese Elements -  Sora or Void. We’d written with Water or Mizu, Earth or Suchi, Wind or Kaze, and Fire or Hi.  We’d written of love and loss and dreams and bodies.  We’d shared stories of death and love gone right and wrong. Through prose and poetry, memoir and fiction and essay, we explored what it meant to be alive and to be given time and space to write about it.

And then we came to Void, to Soru, to what could now scientifically be called Interstitium – the space between. I could have written all day, maybe all weekend and still I suspect I would have felt much like I do now, like I’m just getting started and I don’t know where I’m going and I don’t know how to get there.

When I am at my best, there is nothing that turns me on more than setting off into the mystery. I love to wake up into a day that belongs to me knowing there’s no telling what’s going to happen. I trust myself to accept with gratitude the gifts that I am about to receive.

But when I am off kilter, when I am hungry angry lonely tired or any of the other array of uncomfortable options, the Void can be a scary place to set off into. I think I am not alone in this.

We came to the end of our week together and faced the Void. We all recognized that it is a place you have to go by yourself and that as humans (and maybe even more so as writers) we float in the midst of nothingness and search for meaning, for truth, we search for the something in the nothing. And then we put words to it. And we share that with trusted others. The experience is both humbling and exhilarating, at least for me.

I came home from Isla Holbox to the news that scientists have identified Interstitium as a new organ in the human body, an organ that bears the qualities of Void, the space between.  I’m interested to see what we will do with this as humans. 

Me and the other writers from Isla Holbox already got a jump on it.

Redefining “Writing,” and doing it every day/ by Nate Chang

I’ve heard a lot of writers over the years thumping the “write every day” bible. While I applaud their dedication and zeal in the service of our craft, I have a few issues with the daily writing philosophy. I tried writing every day last year. I got about six months in before I simply couldn’t do it anymore. I’d cranked out two rather expansive novels and got halfway through a third before the muse in my head started throwing empty vodka bottles at me and shouting at me to knock it off and let her rest for a little while. While your muse may be a bit more taciturn than mine, I have met few other writers who were willing or able to write 180,000 words in six months. Why? Because we burn out. Because the human brain can only sustain a good creative bender for so long before we either start cranking out garbage, give up, or something much worse happens.

Does this mean you can’t or shouldn’t write every day? Of course not. I only suggest that we reconsider what “writing” means to us.

Writing is Rewriting

Any editor, good friend, beta reader, or killjoy will tell you that while the first job of every writer is to write, the second job of said writer is to rewrite. Unless you just plan on letting your stories collect dust – a terrible waste – you’ll need to do some rewriting/editing/revising/whatever you want to call it. As I tell my students, “nobody just shits literary gold.” Not you, not me, not J.K. Rowling, nobody. Nobody gets it right the first time, and so it falls to us to go back through our work and make it better. Utilizing the axiom that writing is rewriting, our new definition of writing must include rewriting.

Writing is Brainstorming


Sometimes we need to stop and consider what it is we’re doing. It’s all too easy to get lost in a moment that we love, blinded to the fact that we may be writing something that nobody but us will ever want to read. Maybe our writing has gotten stale, we’ve hit a wall, or one of a million other things has come up and rendered us creatively inert. In such times, it’s helpful to stop working on the main project and do a bit of brainstorming. Use a new document, that leather journal you bought but haven’t written anything in yet, or that scrap paper you’ve got here and there. Take a step back and let your mind work out the kinks in the big project, then go back to it when you’re ready. Fair warning: this may take a while.

Writing is Self-care

As writers, we often let our creative minds get the better of us, and we forget to take care of ourselves. We neglect going to the gym so we can get that extra 500 words in, or we “forget” to eat right because we can keep writing a little longer if we order a pizza so we don’t have to stop to cook or clean. We bail on family and friends because we procrastinated all day, and it’s only at 11pm that we start the day’s writing. It’s tantalizingly easy to shirk our needs and responsibilities for the high that fulfilling your creative needs brings. What’s worse, we may be working long and/or arduous hours in a soul-sucking job we hate that has left us naught but husks of human beings. Trying to write in such a husk-like state is, in my experience, ill-advised, as what comes out of my brain is embittered and anything but useful. Of course, all things in moderation. If “self-care” involves a pint of ice cream and binge watching Stranger Things again, it might be time to dial it back.

Writing is Publishing

I remember a scene in the film Amadeus where Mozart’s father Leopold asks him if he’s taken on any pupils.

MOZART: I don’t want pupils. I have to have time for composition.

LEOPOLD: Composition doesn’t pay.

While we’re not all teachers, the idea remains the same: if all we do is crank out story after story, how is anyone going to read them? Eventually, we’ll have to dedicate some time to writing query letters, working with agents and publishers, and the rest of what’s involved in sending our stories out into the world. Working toward getting your work to our readers is absolutely worthy of being called “writing.”

“Write” every day

Armed with our new definition of writing, we’ve got a much more manageable life ahead of us. While compositional “writing” is the cornerstone of what we do, living as a writer and “writing” must include something more. While I cannot advise writing every day, I heartily endorse writing every day.


Nate Chang is a genderqueer author and professor of English, currently living south of Seattle, Washington. Their work has appeared in The Pitkin Review Literary Magazine, Paper Tape, and Soul’s Road: a Fiction Collection (although you might not know it was them.) They enjoy musty old books, weird comics nobody has ever heard of, and model tanks.

Writing Prompt: 365 Days of Utopia/ by Shel Graves

One day I woke up and realized I had solved most of the world's problems — imagine my dismay!

I've been working on a writing prompt project, 365 Days of Utopia. Every morning I think of something wrong with the world. Then I write the utopia that would solve it.

It's an extremely satisfying five minutes. For a short burst, I have the power to do anything I can imagine.

My rules are:

·      Each utopia has a defining animal (it's not a utopia without animals).

·      Each utopia has a defining monster (it's not a utopia without conflict).

·      It must be a utopia, a path to a better future. The utopia works well for its citizens and does not slide into dystopia/oppression.

·      It must be a unique utopia. No repeats!

I began this writing prompt project in July 2017. After about six months, I was having difficulty thinking of new problems and utopias. I kept breaking my "No repeats!" rule.

So, I asked my Facebook friends for some problems — and it worked! Writing with friends in mind, even when their problems were similar, I envisioned new utopias. And their ideas renewed my creativity. Now, I have no concern about finishing my year of utopias.

What's the point of this project? I'm writing for myself. My utopias are impractical. They are fantasies filled with mermaids, fairies, sprites and impossible technologies. They wave magic wands over problems uncomplicated by the work of actual social change.

There's no point, really. It's a writing exercise. Yet, I believe imagining a better future to be a powerful and necessary act.

While writing my utopias, I began slow reading Dr. Alan Marshall's gorgeous book, Ecotopia 2121: A Vision for Our Future Green Utopia — in 100 Cities (see my blog post: Hope and Desire: Slow Reading Ecotopia 2121). Every day, I read one or two of Marshall's utopias.

In Ecotopia 2121, Marshall looks at 100 cities' current problems and imagines solutions. The book is science fiction. However, with ingenuity and engagement, some of Marshall's utopias are possible. 

This is why I love science fiction (see my blog post: Why I Only Read Science Fiction!). In it, people imagine wild futures and sometimes those stories inspire inventions — science fiction becomes fact. We create our future.

I get frustrated with dystopias and their prevalence. If we only imagine the worst, is that what we'll get? Recently, I've read some wonderfully well-written dystopias (see my blog post: Thoughts on Feminist Dystopias and the Book of the Unnamed Midwife).

But I believe we need to imagine more utopias. As part of my MFA in Creative Writing, I studied feminist literary utopias and realized I was not alone. There's a wonderful community of writers doing this work.

Right now, there are many exciting conversations about possible futures happening in optimistic science fiction — call it afrofuturism, ecofeminism or solarpunk.

This summer, my story "Watch Out, Red Crusher!" will be included in the anthology Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers edited by Sarena Ulibarri of World Weaver Press.

1Glass and Gardens Summer Front.jpg

It's a collection of 17 optimistic science fiction stories that imagine a future founded on renewable energies.

It's so satisfying to be a part of this book. This is why I write! To engage in a conversation about better futures.

Why does it matter? From a historical perspective, a long series of events may slowly shift systems and cultures from undesirable to desirable patterns. When envisioning the future, the difference between dystopia and utopia becomes a cataclysmic and dramatic chasm.

However, in our present, the line between utopia and dystopia strikes quick and thin as a paper cut.

One event — an illness, accident or loss — takes life from better to worse. One law, one election tilts the moment toward utopia or dystopia.

Suddenly, our perception shifts. We are OK. We are not. We are free. We are oppressed. We are mindless. We are mindful.

Of course, it is not enough to imagine the future. We must engage, take steps. As one of my favorite organizations says, "Stand up. Speak out. Get involved." 

However, imagination sparks that needed action.


As Marshall says in Ecotopia 2121, "Hope and desire, mixed with a rich social imagination, can work together as potent antidotes to the complacency of accepting the status quo."

We must see possibilities, solutions and ways forward, which offer life, community and alternatives to despair.

To many of us, this feels urgent.

As I write my daily utopias I feel expansiveness, creativity and freedom. My land of utopias grows. Beings apply to the Council of Utopias to create the worlds they imagine. A Union of Utopias builds them. Citizens immigrate and emigrate between utopias. Animals and monsters roam. Each utopia has its own leaders, rules and priorities.

One day, I could set a traveler loose in the 365 Utopias to explore them. Then, there would be stories...

Fellow writers, are you imagining the future you want to see?

Are you putting it down in rich detail? Are you making maps?

Imagine waking up every day in a world with one less problem and one better way forward. Imagine what we might do.

Shel Graves is a reader, writer, and utopian thinker who lives by the Salish Sea. She works as a caregiver at Pasado's Safe Haven, a non-profit on a mission to end animal cruelty.  She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. She keeps her writer's journal at  shelgraves.blogspot.com . Talk to her @Utopianista on Twitter and see pictures of her furry companions @Sheltopia on Instagram.

Shel Graves is a reader, writer, and utopian thinker who lives by the Salish Sea. She works as a caregiver at Pasado's Safe Haven, a non-profit on a mission to end animal cruelty.  She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. She keeps her writer's journal at shelgraves.blogspot.com. Talk to her @Utopianista on Twitter and see pictures of her furry companions @Sheltopia on Instagram.

'Bullet Journaling' could be your thing/by Icess Fernandez Rojas

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 5.15.41 PM.png

Let’s face it. Organizing the writing life is probably not your strong point. You’ve probably Google calendared and Day Planned your life within an inch of itself and yet that book or project is not done.

There’s a reason for that. You haven’t found your “thing” yet.

By thing I mean you system, your process, how things are getting done – other than at the last minute.

A year ago, I found out about this thing called Bullet Journal. If you’ve seen this before on social media, you’ve probably seen the colorful art projects of some very talented people. Seriously, their journals are beautiful. And when you’ve seen them, you probably thought that that system wasn’t for you.

What you didn’t see was the original way of doing things, the get-er-done lists and system of keeping track of your life that gets lost in pen type and marker color.

Let’s take this bullet journal thing down to the studs.

Bullet journaling is a system that incorporates lists, appointments, trackers, and notes all in one notebook. It’s like putting your brain on a page and keeping track of it. It can incorporate your Google calendar that you love so much and your grocery list. It can be a place where you keep track of your novel or where you’ve sent out work for publication.

Yes, bullet journaling is all this. And what’s great is all you need is a pen and a notebook. That’s it. The pen you use and the notebook you want is up to you. The best part of this system is that it’s individual to the user. What you need is what you’ll create in this journal.

For a quick primer, go to bulletjournal.com. For ideas on how to use bullet journaling for writing, keep reading.

Keep a writing to-do list.

Rapid logging is going to be helpful for this. I know if I’m working on a long project, like a novel, there are quick notes that I want to make to myself to make sure I do. Things like, make sure that this character’s eyes stay the same color or revise the scene where the monster eats the princess.  For me, those things are as important as a grocery list. Once they are on paper, they exist in the world and they must be acknowledged.

You can also organize a longer project using a Rapid Logging list.

A brain dump is awesome

So, what about those ideas that you have in the middle of the meeting? Or that plot twist that’s so good you don’t want to lose it?  The Brain Dump section is brilliant. It’s literally what the names says it is, a place to dump things from your brain. Its items that don’t really belong any other place in your journal so you dump them there.

This page can be as organized as you want or as messy as you need it to be. It’s whatever you need.

Future Log/ Monthly Log

Think of the future and monthly logs as the actual calendar part of this system. It has dates and next to those dates are things you need to keep track of like when your book needs to be sent out to your agent or when you need the draft of that story done for a revision.

And yes…if you need to remember birthdays you can do that too.

Habit tracker

I find the habit tracker probably the most useful thing. It’s literally how I keep track of habits I want to create or excel at, like, I don’t know, writing. If my goal is to write for 45 minutes a day, it’s on my tracker and I check it off when I’ve done the thing.

You can also create a habit tracker for your writing process. For example, if you write one chapter in the morning and revise in the evening, that can be on your tracker.

Other habits to track – reading, researching, journaling, submitting, and exercising. Yes, you can chug coffee all day and not think that would impact you somehow.

Books I Want to Read List

This one is simple. It’s a list of books you want to read. Yes, we have books on our nightstand or Kindle, but when you write them down and really focus on why you are reading what you’re reading – research, entertainment, curiosity, etc, then you are using the book list as a focused activity rather than listing your personal library.

But can you journal in this thing?

Yes, you can use it to journal. If you’re into Morning Pages, this is a great spot to write everything in.

You can also write notes from writing workshops as well. It all goes in the same spot.

The next thing you’re thinking is probably whether you should have a separate bullet journal for your writing vs your life. It depends. I personally like everything together so I can avoid conflicts. It also helps me protect my writing time.

Hope this helps you organize your writing life. Happy bullet journaling.


Icess is a writer, professor, and blogger. She is a graduate of Goddard College's MFA program. Her work has been published in Rabble Lit, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, and the Feminine Collective's anthology Love Notes from Humanity. Her nonfiction has appeared in Dear Hope, NBCNews.com, HuffPost and the Guardian. She is a recipient of the Owl of Minerva Award, a VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation alum, and is also a Kimbilio Fellow. She's currently working on her first novel.


The Time I "Lived" in Pantelleria



What do you call something that comes from Pantelleria, that tiny Italian island closer to Africa than Italy?



  1. Of or from Pantelleria.


That’s one of the first things I learned when I lived there.  


Did I just type “lived”?  The word flew out of my fingers like a truth my mouth hasn’t caught up to telling.  I’m not going to erase it, though.  I’ll keep it because, actually, now that I think of it, it’s true.  I lived on that volcanic, simmering thermal rock of an island for a brief but wondrous four days.  In October, I went on a whim, a last second attempt to catch the final weekend of the summer season before everything closed for winter.  I wanted to get the lay of the land for our upcoming retreat this spring.  After furiously foraging for flights -- six separate tickets: London-Rome, Rome-Palermo, Palermo-Pantelleria and back again I was on my way.  I arrived and promptly decided it was easier to fly from New York.  I hear New York has direct flights to Palermo.  And from Palermo it’s just a forty-five minute puddle jumper.  But for however tricky it might be to get there, it’s well worth it.  

Specchio di Venere

Specchio di Venere


Totally off the radar, Pantelleria is one of those paradoxical places that feel unreal because it is precisely that: real.  Almost completely devoid of traditional tourism, there are no mega resorts, no chains or franchises and even shops are hard to come by.  When you arrive and rent a car, they’ll make it sound like they’re doing you a favor and hand you the keys to their “newer” model Fiat Seicento which turns out to be a banged up old gray clunker, ratty tatty from roads that aren’t kind to cars, full bladders or people who have a problem with heights.  


That’s what strikes me first aside from the landing: the roads.  They’re the only tangible thing you’ll find tethering you to Earth or whatever you once thought of as reality.  Being on the island made me feel like I’d suddenly grown taller than the whole wide world.  Its landscape of lowly pruned grapevines and the way the earth’s surface seems to swirl off into nowhere left me feeling teetering and unbalanced and curiously delighted.  From the second the plane lands on a sweeping plateau just above the island’s mythical blue-green lake, Specchio di Venere or the Mirror of Venus -- I won’t tell you the details so you can experience the oddness for yourself -- the place catches you off guard.  Near, far, up, down: all points of reference are up for grabs.  It’s a willy-nilly wild place, not at all manicured yet always holding your attention.  


Day One I feel totally on edge, because I am.  I have to remind myself to breathe as I make my way down between what are beyond being classified as potholes -- mostly in first, trying not to think about the absent guardrail -- to the island’s most ‘accessible’ rocky “beach” from which to fling my snorkel-wearing self into the shimmering emerald green blue water.  While the rest of the Mediterraneans were mourning the end of summer, Pantelleria was relishing in the season’s last borrowed hours of golden warmth.  I was one of less than ten other lucky humans toasting themselves like lizards on the warm, black rocks that slide off into the sea.  


Day Two I’m still edgy with the newness of the island, a place so unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.  I’m electrified by the quiet, lulled by the multicolored sunsets, intrigued by the orange sliver of land marking Tunisia forty kilometers away in the distance.  Not far from the Tenuta, I decided to mosey on down to another beach, the closest to the villa.  I had heard it was a schlep to get down to but I was up for a hike so I drove down what would be considered a cliff in most parts of the world, parked then set off in my Birkenstocks.  I’m not normally afraid of heights and I like a good hike and yet still...had I known, I probably wouldn’t have gone.  When the path before me disappeared and air was all that separated me from the rocky beach hundreds of feet below, I figured I’d gone off course until I spotted a rope.  I clambered down clumsily, startled that in some places there was nothing to hold onto at all.  The path wasn't below me, it was either above me or at eye level.  At various points I held onto twigs from scrubby shrubs that seemed more rooted than I was.  Once safe on the rocks below, I snagged a spot to sit, secured my snorkel, perched myself on a rock and dove in.  Just before I did, a local man hoisting himself back up the rocks gave me a tip. “Swim back into that cove,” he said, “and you’ll get the warmth of the thermal pockets.”  He was right, the warmth against the regular water temperature made the regular temperature turn icy against my skin.  I was mystified by the blurry heat that could be seen seeping from hidden vents underwater.  Like everything else on this island, it was all as pleasant as it was strangely unsettling in its uniqueness.     

The precarious path down to the "beach."

The precarious path down to the "beach."

Hot pocket

Hot pocket


My last day some of the locals who had adopted me took me to the place to be on a Sunday for lunch.  A hip, hodge-podge white washed wooden porch overlooking the small port of Scauri.  They served local specialties with sardines, cold local beer and I was the only one who didn’t know everyone.  I quickly learned that even the Italian-speaking locals weren’t native but implants -- they touted the island as their own but like me, they’d also come from elsewhere: Milan, Palermo, Venice.  As you do when you fall in love with a rare, little-known treasure, they scoffed at each other behind one another’s backs, each feeling an entitled sense of propriety to their beloved Pantelleria.  It made me chuckle because I was no different.  No one is immune to this island's magic.  Pantelleria knows what she’s doing.  She makes you feel special and chosen as if she has saved everything she has to offer for you and only you.  The island invites you to enter into a relationship with the landscape.  An invitation that feels precious, precarious and unpredictable, one which elicits all kinds of opportunities for surrender.  Here, I discover there's nowhere to hide because it is the hiding place.  No wonder Giorgio Armani bought a chunk of her hillside and carved out a home for himself here.  I hesitate to tell you that because it implies that the island is like that, only it isn’t.  Pantelleria is the epitome of unassuming beauty, the only thing tethering you between sky, air and sea, a place that’s very much the only thing it can be: itself.  Pantesca.  I part consoled only by the fact that I’ll soon be back.




6am, 11pm, Whose Fault is It? /by Natasha Oliver


How changing my relationship with sleep helped my anger.

The school year is underway, and 6am and I are getting reaquainted. I’m not a fan of 6am or anything that happens at that time. And because I’ve told him as much, 6am doesn’t like me either. I’m convinced he arrives early just so I can begin my day cursing him.

I didn’t always hate 6am. There was a time when I didn’t even know he existed. Well, I’m sure our paths crossed once or twice. I mean, we must’ve attended the same party at some point — after all, I am a mother — but I’m certain we never spoke or acknowledged one another’s existence. And I was happy that away, and I think he was too.

But then my second child was born a “morning” person, and I started to notice him. I want to tell you that 6am is evil — the way he just pops up when you least expect or how he’s always there even though you’re actively trying to avoid him — but I’m told there are some who don’t mind his company. I actually know a very successful person who begins his day with 5am! He and 5am meditate and exercise together. Because this person is someone I admire, I wondered if 5am was different than 6am, and decided that I should try to get to know her.

After 21 days of hanging out with her, I must say that 5am is a real bitch. Look, I was the one who approached her, and so you should know that I went into that relationship committed to making it work. Think of all the writing I could get done with her! I could finally finish the edits to my novel. And if we exercised together, I would shed those last 5kg (11lbs) that are just sorta hanging around, literally. It would also mean that I wouldn’t start my day nagging my kids to get out of bed. But it takes two to tango, and she wanted nothing to do with me. I could tell by her attitude.

5am was abrupt. She woke me up from a deep sleep and forced me to get going whether my brain liked it or not. She didn’t care what kind of night I had, whether my kids were sick or if I had a bad dream. She wasn’t interested in my sob story about how from 6am onwards my day was full or how I needed this relationship to work because I was feeling lonely ever since I ended things with 11pm. She just watched me whine and cry and drift back to sleep at my desk until it was 6am.

I know you’re thinking I went about this all wrong. First of all, 5am is a hard core, intense kinda friend, and so if I couldn’t handle 6am, what on Earth made me think I could cope with 5am. Not to mention that I just ended things with 6am, and I shoud’ve spent some time getting to know myself, perhaps train in 15-min intervals because one has to work up to a 5amlifestyle. Well, I realized the same thing, albeit 10 days later. So I started hanging out with 5:45am, and while she wasn’t as bad as 5am, I realized I didn’t like her anymore than I did 6am.

So, like many who are in a bad relationship they’re thinking of ending, I turned to the internet to find out what to do. I can’t begin to tell you the weight that was lifted off my shoulders when I came across this article, “There’s a Scientific Explanation for Why You’re a Morning Person […]”. It showed me that there was a good reason why I disliked 6am. And 5:45am. And 5am. Basically all the ams.

After reading it, I took the rest of the day off and napped. And I didn’t feel guilty about it. I was tired and that was okay. After I woke up, I was able to think about this entire thing rationally for the first time in a month. I had to accept I was not a morning person. I enjoy the evenings. I was, afterall, genetically programmed that way, and then also, my lifestyle supported that.

I realized that my problem wasn’t with 6am. My problem, all along, had been with 11pm. He and I had a lot in common, but when we got together, it always resulted in a disastrous next day. Recognizing that he had been sabotaging all my other relationships was an eye opener.

Ending it with him took time. We did the whole dwindling thing, you know, break up, but then get back together only to break up once more. Then we slept together, which brought us closer until I realized that I was only falling into the same destructive pattern. 11pm wasn’t going to change. If I wanted things to be different, I had to change.

And so I did. But if I’m honest, he’s not completely out of my system yet; I still yearn for him some nights. But I’m keeping strong and starting new habits. I now set a bedtime alarm so that I don’t lose track of time. I have two hours in the evening to relax and handle household necessities. I’m more accepting of that time limitation than being angered by it.

I recently pulled 6am to the side and apologized. I was honest. I told him that I seriously doubted we’d ever be true friends, but I was committed to being civil and would stop cursing him. He didn’t make any promises to me, but that was fair enough. Time is consistent, and I need to accept that.

Since then, things have been… well, they are what they are. My alarm goes off to remind me it’s time to go to bed. I’m tired anyway, and I’ve stopped fighting it. Besides, whatever I’m doing can wait.

My alarm goes off again at 6am, and I get out of my bed to start the day. I’m not happy per se, but I’m definitely not angry anymore. And that’s a huge improvement.

Natasha Oliver grew up reading, and so writing seemed like the obvious next step, until it wasn’t. Like many people fresh out of college, Natasha had no idea what she wanted to do. So, she accepted the highest-paying job offer and journaled on the side. She wrote short stories because there was something in her that demanded to be expressed in unspoken words. For many years, she made her living in Human Resources, working throughout Asia and “trying out” the various HR specialties until she could no longer deny her desire to write. After earning her MFA in Writing, she moved (again), switched careers and gave birth to two children. Natasha currently resides in Singapore and is a freelance ghostwriter and editor. Her short stories fall into the fantastical realm, and she’s currently working on a novel about the challenges a middle-aged woman faces when seeking her true identity. You can follow her on medium and twitter (@natashaoliver) and www.peaceandcenter.com

This post originally appeared on Medium.