Learning to write


I took a writing class!  Yes I did.  I probably shouldn’t admit it, really, because now you’ll all expect me to have improved immensely, and that makes me nervous.

The class was with Stacey Solie (@StaceySolie), and it was fantastic. I learned a lot and here are a few of my favorite tips:

Freewriting: Every day, set aside a dedicated chunk of time to just write.  Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar, or anything.  It’s great for writer’s block: you don’t even need to start at the beginning or anything.  It just helps get the ball rolling and get you out of whatever funk you’re in.  I’m trying to do at least 15 minutes per day (minimum).

Read your work out loud:  Admittedly, this is one that I knew about before, but it bears repeating.  I don’t do it nearly enough and I really should because when I do, I always catch mistakes.

Stop apologizing for your work: It’s a terrible habit of mine and doesn’t really accomplish anything.  For example, when giving an essay to someone to proof-read, it’s pointless to say things like, “Oh, here you go. It’s really bad, sorry.”  It’s probably got some bad parts, and some good parts, and whoever is reading it will figure it out without you telling them.

So I’m working on building confidence in my writing…



Know when to stop:  Try to recognize when you reach the point when your ongoing efforts cease to result in significant improvements. The “sweet spot”.  Stacey talked about this, and so did one of our guest speakers, Katie Arkema.  Here’s my own interpretation, in graphical form:


Bonus materials!

Thanks to the terrific @realscientists followers, who pointed out a couple of important points that I missed before!

READ! Yup, to become a better writer, you have to read. A lot. I mean, you should read every day, and be critical about it, too.  Ask yourself, what is it that makes a certain piece of writing excellent or terrible? What techniques does the author use? Is there anything about their writing that could be improved upon? These observations will all eventually sink into your brain and make their way into your own writing. Hopefully not word for word though, because that’s not cool.

Practice. This sort of goes with the “free-writing” point above, but let’s give it a whole section unto itself. Because that’s how important it is. Like many skills, it’s more about hard work than innate genius. Have you read that book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell? In it, he talks about what all of these wildly successful people have in common. Sure, there are loads of factors that lead to success, but the one in common between them all was that they’d put a metric butt-load of hours into their craft. Ten thousand hours, minimum, to be exact. So put in your time!

Well there you go.  You know I’m not a writing expert, I’ve just listed/regurgitated things that I thought were useful or inspiring. Hope it helped! Feel free to add to the list in the comments. 🙂



Travel to Scotland

I made it!


My trip started yesterday morning when John dropped me at Seatac.  The security line was very, very long.  Maybe the longest I’ve ever seen it.  They even had an airport employee holding up a sign on a tall pole telling people where the end of the line was.  (they needed it.  everyone seemed very confused as soon as the line went beyond the regular sectioned-off lanes.)  A lady next to me wearing a hijab and carrying a very nice Coach bag declared loudly, “this is a LONG-ASS LINE!”  I agreed.  Of course, long-ass lines are not helped by people who decide to take ridiculous things in their carry-on bags.  Like CORDLESS DRILLS!

MWD (man with drill):  But they said back there I could take it!

TSA:  Did they actually see what you had?

MWD:  No, but they said tools were okay.  I’m going to miss my flight, come on!

TSA:  Let’s just pull your bags aside.  We’re gonna need to think about this for a minute.



Flight #1

The flight to Schiphol was long and uneventful. I spent the entire time working on my paper and reading journal articles.  OH WAIT.  No, I actually read a novel that I found somewhere on a bestseller list and then listened to two episodes of Radiolab.  Ha!  Also, I sat beside a nuclear engineer.  He gave me this math problem, which 10th graders can solve easily, while folks with advanced engineering degrees often struggle to find the answer.  Can YOU solve it?

Question: What is the area of a hexagon where the length of all sides are equal to 1?  (You’re allowed a pencil, a piece of paper, and a nuclear engineer looking over your shoulder.  OMG, basic geometry).


Scary Ronald McDonald statue thingee.  You know the one – life-size, sitting on a park bench, all yellow and red and white. The Ronald McDonald Charities do some great things for kids and families.  But, wow, I kind of wish their mascot wasn’t that guy. 🙁

Flight # 2

Slept the ENTIRE flight.  Arrived and my suitcase was busted.  KLM says they’ll reimburse me.

Bus # 1/Bus # 2

In a daze.  It’s Sunday afternoon.  I’ve slept one hour since I woke up Saturday morning.  Noticed the sky was super thick with gray clouds.  Remembered vaguely about the whole driving on the other side of the street thing.

Arrival in St. Andrews

Decided to walk to the B&B – allegedly only a 10-minute walk.  I took an immediate wrong turn, and lugged my busted suitcase and enormous backpack for 15 minutes until I realized I was lost.  I finally just asked a man and his wife who were walking their yellow lab.  I must have looked very pathetic because they bustled me into their minivan and drove me right to the front door of the guesthouse.  Wouldn’t take no for an answer.  When I relayed this to Alison, she commented that it was sort of like that time I got a ride to her parents place with a mormon bishop from Dundee.  But that is a story for another time.

Now, how would you like to see a photo of the living room at the place I’m staying?  It’s adorable.  And wow.  The decor is just… wow.  All of those patterns – I’m overwhelmed and charmed, all at the same time.


That’s it for now… if you want to see more pics, I’m putting them up here:  Mich’s Flickr Page .