Monthly Archives: March 2019

Dear Vincent

This quotation by Vincent Van Gogh inspired me today: “I long so much to make beautiful things. But beautiful things require effort and disappointment and perseverance.” 

Here’s the Afternoon Pages prompt it inspired:


Dear Vincent

Write an open letter to Vincent Van Gogh, describing your experiences in writing your UGP. Tell him about your efforts and your disappointments. Ask him for advice on how to persevere. As a fellow artist, conclude your letter by proclaiming the step you will take next, right now today, to progress toward making your UGP into a “beautiful thing.”


As if often the case, I’ve written a prompt that I need to respond to myself. I’m writing a UGP of my own it turns out, in the form of a proposal for an award that I really, really would love to get, but that’s highly competitive. So the stakes are high and the chance of a reward is low.

I’ve decided to go for it anyway, and I’ve made efforts toward doing the research that will help me write the proposal. I’ve gotten 3 references to agree to speak up for me, I’ve talked to experts in the field that will inform the proposal, I’ve inquired more about the format, but beyond making a bulleted list to make it through the first round, I haven’t done much actual writing.

(Wait! That’s not true. At a workshop last week, I wrote for 10 whole minutes. 10.)

And I’ve done a whole lot of thinking and hoping and doubting (lots of doubting) that the proposal itself–much less the project–will ever come to be.

Dear Vincent, how can I persevere without losing an ear in the process? What did you do? Earn nothing but keep painting anyway because you needed to answer the call of your longing. What can I learn from you? Maybe just to follow the call of proposing work that matters and is in some ways the next step in the trajectory of work that I’ve tried to do since I became a teacher.

Next step: E-mail former recipients and write for 25 mins. without stopping. Lofty goals indeed!



don’t write, gallop

play by your own rules

What are your rules for working toward flow as a writer? How will you enact them right now, today, as you work on your Teacher As Writer badge? How do you help yourself just “shut up and get on with it”?

You know how you teach what you most need to learn? Well, sometimes you write Afternoon Pages prompts so that you can address them yourself. Ah, the joys of being a teacher.

This one is perfect for today, though, because I have SOOOOOOO many writing projects on the burners that I’ve run out of burners to put them on. Although it seems like this is the perfect recipe for having lots of spaces to start, it can actually lead to overwhelm.

Yesterday, though, I went to a CSU Writes workshop on “Writing for Speed,” and I heard one of Virginia Woolf’s rules that I immediately took to heart, which is to “write a gallop.”

There’s a long story behind this advice, which she apparently delivered in a speech called “Professions for Women,” but the gist of it is that to move forward on any piece, you have to write at a gallop in order to outrun your inner critic. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re full-on sprinting at all times because horses actually gallop at different speeds, but it does mean you’re out then eir on the track, “unhinging drafting from editing,” as the workshop facilitator Kristina Quynn explained.

Then Kristina made us do it. Just sit and write for 5 mins. without stopping. She even suggested that we put a paper over our screen as necessary if we found the urge to edit.

Then we edited for 5 mins. later.

It was generative. I’m going to do it again. So should you.