Category: Personal

Writing tips for busy moms: how to balance writing and family

Writing tips for busy moms: how to balance writing and family

The latest episode of the Writing and Publishing Podcast comes to you from curbside at my son’s school on a Friday, with one minute to go until the bell rings. Why, you ask, am I recording a podcast at my kid’s school? Because the biggest challenge for many writers I know is how to balance writing and family. In this podcast, I talk about what works for me (until the bell rings).

Listen to “Writing for Busy Moms” on Spreaker.

Decluttering for Creatives: A Break-Up Letter to My Stuff

Decluttering for Creatives: A Break-Up Letter to My Stuff

Decluttering can be particularly difficult for creative people, especially writers.

Because we mine our own pasts for stories, we tend to hang on to mementos that feel significant. We are collectors of observations, but also of objects. We often are prisoner to the notion that the things around us will spark ideas. And while sometimes they might (having just the right pen really does encourage me to write), there is deeper inspiration, I think, in sparsity. When the clutter is cleared away, when our surroundings become more spacious through the absence of unnecessary things, we can think big. This month (the month of my birthday), I begin my journey to decluttering. I hope you’ll follow along (you can get posts delivered to your inbox), and offer your own ideas and questions in the comments section. On my first day of decluttering, I begin with a break-up letter to my stuff.

Dear Stuff,

It’s not me, it’s you. You’ve been around too long. Don’t get me wrong; you have (mostly) served me well. I have loved you (sometimes). I have needed you (on occasion). But our relationship must come to an end.

You know who you are. The clothes I have lived in, the shoes I have walked in, the plates I have eaten from, the coffee cups I have drunk from, the books I have read (and not read), the notebooks I have failed to fill, the toys my son played with when he still played with toys, the clothes he wore when he still liked piggy-back rides, the hats that made his head itch, the $32 organic sunccreen that made him sneeze, the basket of perfume samples that make me sneeze, the pans I don’t cook with, the bread maker I’ve never used because who has self-rising yeast, the timeless LBD I never wear because the last time I wore it, 14 years ago, I got drunk in front of my husband’s boss and shouted, in a room full of very respectable people, “Where’s the wine?”, the papers I’ve never filed, the files I’ve never organized, the filing cabinet that is one giant junk drawer, the art I’ve never framed, the frames with broken glass, the Halloween skeleton I never manage to pull out for Halloween, the stained Christmas tree skirt, the plate that says “Cookies for Santa” that I can never find until Easter, the Easter basket I can never find until Labor Day, the old wrapping paper, the cords that were once used to power some device that has long since disappeared, the devices that have long since disappeared (I know you’re around here somewhere), the greeting cards I bought and never sent, the envelopes for which I can’t find the matching cards, the endless slips of paper on which I have scribbled notes to myself that I can’t read, the glitter, the half-bottle of glue, the pipe cleaners I bought for craft projects when my son was young enough do do crafts, though he never embraced crafts, the jumbo crayons that were on his desk the first day of Kindergarten, the pens with too fine a point, the pens with too felty a point, the sweatshirts (so many sweatshirts!) my husband bought me out of kindness, which have kept me warm for many years but which take up an entire large dresser drawer, the photo albums I never put pictures in, the lamp I never liked because the light it gives off is dingy…it is time for us to part ways.

Yo once made me happy (or most of you did, anyway), but now you just make me anxious. We had some great times together, but no longer. When I look at you, I find myself thinking, “Why are you here?” And yet, instead of letting you go, I just look away. Many of you are still here because of nostalgia (I cry just looking at you, crayons from Kindergarten), but plenty of you are here because of inertia (hello, old pens and dingy lamp), a few of you are here because you were expensive and it seems wasteful to say goodbye (poorly fitting designer silk dress in colors that skew “clown,” I’m talking to you), and some of you (mostly in the kitchen), keep insisting you’ll one day be useful (a history of culinary disinterest assures me that you won’t).

No matter the reasons, the effect is the same: you make me tired. It’s time. I imagine my home without you here?—?shelves where the books I cherish are easy to find, drawers where the new batteries I need aren’t buried beneath the old coasters I don’t, closets where nothing suffocates. When you are gone, I know I will breathe better. I might miss you for a minute, but I’ll deal.

Losing you will bring me closer to the person I want to be. Lighter. Less crowding on the page and off. More white space. Think Danish (the design style, not the pastry). So, dear stuff, goodbye. No need to make this harder than it needs to be. Go with grace.


This letter was inspired by Courtney Carver’s 21-Day Decluttering Challenge. Thanks, Courtney! It’s part of my series on simplicity and decluttering for a creative life.

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Michelle Richmond is the author of four novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Year of Fog, and two award-winning story collections. Go here to view Michelle’s current online writing classes.

If I Were 22: A Few Things I’d Tell Myself If I Could Go Back in Time

If I Were 22: A Few Things I’d Tell Myself If I Could Go Back in Time

If I Were 22:

A Few Things I’d Tell Myself, If I Could Go Back in Time

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If I were 22, I’d tell myself that all of those journals I painstakingly kept, scribbling away with colored pens while Enya’s voice spilled out of the boom box, would just end up gathering dust. I’d advise myself to get on with the business of writing fiction instead. I’d tell myself to study some really good stories, like the works of Grace Paley, instead of wallowing in Anais Nin, who always made me feel as though I was not having quite enough sex (although, in retrospect, I was probably having plenty).

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A record of one’s days is relentlessly and uselessly Jungian, while a pile of unpublished stories is an education, an apprenticeship, a step in the right direction. I’d tell myself that the sentences I thought were so pretty, with all the linguistic flourishes, were actually just really long. I’d tell myself that there would come a time when I would prefer Steve Forbert to Enya, In n’ Out to Wendy’s, Ismail Kadare to Anais Nin. I’d tell myself that the only passions of my youth that I would still be passionate about in middle age would be solitude, books, and writing.

I’d tell myself that the apartment that came with my internship with Whittle Communications in Knoxville, Tennessee, would be the last free apartment I’d ever have, so I ought to enjoy the two bedrooms, large kitchen, and brand new furniture, none of which I had to share. I’d tell myself that when I did start sharing an apartment, with a fellow former intern at a subsidized housing complex across the street from a police station, I should keep it cleaner. I should make greater effort to spend time with my roommate, a nice girl from Ohio, who was a lot of fun.

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My desire to be quiet and alone, punctuated by brief bouts of longing for conversations with strangers, would never waver. I’d say, “When you were 11 years old, you preferred to be alone. Now, at 22, you prefer to be alone. When you are twice as old as you are now, you will still prefer to be alone. Not existentially alone, not alone in life, but alone in the moment. It is your nature; embrace it. Don’t feel the need to go out just because young people ‘go out.’ If you want to stay home and write, stay home and write. There is nothing wrong with that.”

[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#282828″ text=”#848484″ align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”I might say, “Less makeup. More sunscreen.” And “Cable-access news is on its way out, faster than you can say pleated jeans.”” parallax=”on” direction=”left”]



I’d tell myself not to worry, that I would not always be poor and uninsured, that I would not always have to pay for necessary surgical procedures on my Visa card or agonize over the purchase of a pair of shoes from Payless. I’d tell myself that the cheap shoes, like the credit card surgery and the tanning salon job that paid $5 an hour and the cable-access news job that paid nothing, were minor bumps on the way to a more comfortable existence.

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Oh, I’d tell myself to stop after the third beer and the second shot. Definitely, I’d probably tell myself that.

When the elderly gynecologist patted me on the knee suggestively and whispered that I had a pretty cervix, I would assert that I had every right to slap him. There were a lot of people I should have slapped in those days, but, having been raised in a Southern Baptist church where teenaged girls were referred to as “righteous foxes,” I was conditioned to graciously accept shady compliments from men in positions of authority.

I’d tell myself to end the engagement to the sociopath sooner, and to be kinder to the next fellow, who was and is a very good man. I’d tell myself that the sociopath and the very good man would both soon be a matter of history, anyway, because in a couple of years I would walk into a stuffy classroom in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on the first day of my MFA program, and meet my life head on. I’d tell myself that this would be a good time to forgo the small talk and quote Grace Paley instead: “Hello, My Life.”

I’d tell myself to keep the shoes and the dress I wore on that irreversibly significant day, and to throw away a lot of other stuff, instead of carrying it with me from apartment to apartment, house to house, for many years, watching it expand, sponge-like, to fit whatever space I lived in.


[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#282828″ text=”#848484″ align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”I’d tell myself that a decade seems long until it’s behind you.” parallax=”off” direction=”left”]



That the shortest decade I would ever experience would be the one between my son’s birth and his tenth birthday. That on a spring day in 2015, the boy who once felt as light in my arms as a loaf of bread would look up at me and say, “I bet I can pick you up.” And then he would pick me up. And I would realize that the next decade would move even faster than the last, and I better hang on and practice “being in the moment,” a skill for which there would one day be many helpful apps.

Braum’s Ice Cream in Fayetteville, 1995; wedding in Yosemite, 2001; San Francisco, 2004; Little League, 2015


“What are apps?” my 22 year old self would surely ask. To which I would reply, “I really can’t explain it.”


[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#282828″ text=”#848484″ align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”I’d tell myself that the next twenty years would be okay. That all the places I couldn’t imagine going, I’d eventually get to.” parallax=”off” direction=”left”]


I’d tell myself that I would work in Beijing, and I would work in the Empire State Building, and I’d see the Northern Lights in Iceland, and I’d ride a bus through Patagonia to Ushuaia, the town “at the end of the world,” that I’d honeymoon in Budapest and take my kid swimming in Oslo’s public baths during a startlingly warm Norwegian summer, that I’d get lost on a mountain in a thunderstorm in Slovenia and be rescued by a troop of young boys who, many years later, would find me on a thing called Facebook, which was on a thing called the Internet, which predated those things called apps.

I’d tell myself not to lose the photograph my boyfriend took of me with my parents on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty in 1999, the last photo of the three of us together. In a few months my parents would be divorced, my boyfriend would be my betrothed, and we’d be on our way to San Francisco, the city of my dreams. In the photo, my parents, who have not yet told me about their plans to end their thirty-year marriage, stand on either side of me, and in the background, the Twin Towers rise up, so ugly and imposing, and yet, it seemed, so reassuringly permanent.

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Because the need to write would never go away, and through every bump in the road that desire would keep me going. It would always be what I came back to, my parachute in case of tragedy, my planned soft landing. Well, if A, B, or C happens, at least I can write about it. Though, deep down, I understood that, in the face of real tragedy, it was quite possible that I would cease to write. Because words can only take you so far. Because there is such a thing as the unspeakable.

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More optimistically, I’d remind myself that I was young: at 22, I couldn’t wrap my mind around that fact. At 22, I believed my time was very short, that I must do and experience everything as soon as possible. I’d tell myself that, one day, life would indeed be short, but for now, the road ahead was long and meandering, and scary and sometimes dangerous, and often not very easy, and yet, mostly wonderful. I would tell myself that the next twenty years would bring more happiness than I expected, less turmoil than I feared, and, blessing of blessings, nothing I couldn’t handle. I’d tell myself to stop worrying so much, and just get on with the ride.

This post was inspired by the #IfIWere22 tag on linkedin.

CLMP Firecracker Awards

CLMP Firecracker Awards

The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses has announced the shortlist for the 2014 Firecracker Awards, which celebrates small press and independently published books. Here are the finalists in fiction and creative nonfiction:


The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf Press)
Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio (Tin House Books)
The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson (Tin House Books)
Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye (Two Lines Press)
Surrendering Oz by Bonnie Friedman (Etruscan Press)


Hum by Michelle Richmond (FC2, an imprint of University of Alabama Press)
List by Matthew Roberson (FC2, an imprint of University of Alabama Press)
Search for Heinrich Schlögel by Martha Baillie (Tin House Books)
Sister Golden Hair by Darcey Steinke (Tin House Books)
Song of the Shank by Jeffery Renard Allen (Graywolf Press)
Songs for the Deaf by John Henry Fleming (Burrow Press)
Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard (Open Letter)
The Family Cannon by Halina Duraj (Augury Books)
The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov (New Vessel Press)
Us Conductors by Sean Michaels (Tin House Books)

I’m delighted that Hum received a nod, along with another FC2 title, Matthew Roberson’s List. View the complete shortlist for the Firecracker Awards here.

The Muse: Gray Cat on Gray Chair

The Muse: Gray Cat on Gray Chair

Wherein Phoebe commits an admirable act of camouflage, while lounging. Truth be told, she is no muse. When she hears the laptop come on, or hears me settle into my desk chair, she quits whatever she is doing (which is to say she quits sitting around looking impervious) and stages an intervention. She likes to climb on the keyboard, as she clearly feels that she has a great deal more to contribute on any subject than I do.

Gray cat on gray chair on sunny day #cats

A photo posted by Michelle Richmond (@michellerichmondsf) on

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