on writing

Joanna Castle Miller – Writer and Producer

Joanna Castle Miller is a DC-based playwright and producer whose work has appeared on NBC, VH1, Food Network, and E! Entertainment. She is the founder of Wait Don’t Leave Productions and is currently writing a collection of monologues for women. These are her good things.

Good things to read.

Modern plays are a very quick read for the amount of storytelling you get. You can easily finish a whole play in a night, or over the course of a few rides on the train to work. Some of my favorites are laugh-out-loud funny. Try starting out with one of these: Theresa Rebeck’s Complete Plays (vol. 1 onward), Christopher Durang Explains It All for You, or David Ives’ All in the Timing.

I love returning to Pulitzer Prize Feature Writing winners. About once a year, I re-read “Fatal Distraction,” Gene Weingarten’s winning piece from 2010, as a powerful reminder that nothing is ever what it seems and that empathy matters.

Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (10th Anniversary Edition). I saw another writer on this site recently recommended this book. Great minds read alike? It’s an inspiring and down-to-earth memoir about writing, overcoming obstacles, and finding peace in your creative pursuits.

Good things to watch.

Live theater is the perfect conversation starter and makes for a killer date night or even family night out. It is unpredictable, exciting, and never exactly the same experience. Many theaters offer discounts for seniors, students, and 20-somethings. You can also look for pay-what-you-can (PWYC) performances, preview shows, and discounts online through sites like Goldstar. If you have kids, check out your area’s community theaters and children’s theaters for age-appropriate programming.

Ken Burns’ New York. This documentary covers the scope of American history through the microcosm of New York. I come back to it regularly because of its insight on immigration, urbanization, and political power. The story of the Big Apple is ever-relevant to America at large, and serves to prove history does in fact repeat itself.

Russell Foster – Why Do We Sleep? If you’re like me, you probably forget all the time how much sleep matters. I often don’t realize that whatever I’m going through is directly related to how much sleep I got the night before. Russell Foster realizes it, though, and his Ted Talk just might convince you to change your bedtime.

Good things to use.

A sunlamp. I suffer from acute seasonal affective disorder, and every winter I depend on sunlamps at home and work to help me get through the dark days. If you get the winter blues, light therapy may be able to help you as well. Use it properly, though, or you could get headaches and insomnia. Dr. Norman Rosenthal has a lot of great info on this subject.

Dyson Vacuum Cleaner. Investing in a Dyson was one of the best decisions of my life, after choosing to marry my husband and maybe deciding to grow my own basil. If you have a pet, get a Dyson. If you are hairy, get a Dyson. If both are true for you, get the equivalent of what we have: the DC65 Animal.

Vitamix. Another hefty investment, the Vitamix is a blender for the ages. It puts the pro in food processor. Ours was handed down to us, because they last forever. We use it to make healthy green shakes in the morning, hummus in the afternoon, pesto in the evening, and frosties for dessert.

Connect with Joanna on Twitter @jocastlemiller.

Patrick Rhone – Writer

Patrick Rhone is a writer who lives in Saint Paul, MN with his wife and six-year-old daughter. He says, “Writing is how I try to make the world a better, friendlier, stronger place.” These are his good things.

Good things to read.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp.  This is a must read for anyone who creates anything. Twyla is one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of all time and, here, she gives practical and inspiring advice on how to make creativity a exercisable habit. It’s full of personal anecdotes, wonderful quotes, wit, grace, and timeless wisdom. It is honest and raw.

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.  I’ll be honest. I’m not a big fan of Stephen King’s fiction writing. The genre he normally trades in is just not my thing. That is why I resisted reading this for a long time. It was only last year that I, reluctantly, picked this book up. But, as soon as I started reading it, I found I could not put it back down. Because, at it’s heart, it is a really well written, honest, and compelling memoir. A unique and personal look into the history and life of one of modern literature’s foremost contributors. Sure, there’s lots of practical and “no-duh” writing advice to be found here. But the manner in which it is delivered is heartfelt, on the level, and born of the trial and error he details throughout. It would seem every writer must, at some point, write a book about the craft. I have read far too many. This one is the most human and my favorite.

Choose Yourself! by James Altucher.  A current fave. This latest book by James Altucher is a straight forward kick in the pants to anyone who needs it. It makes a very strong case for what many of us already know (and many others suspect) — that everything we used to rely on for safety (College, Employment, Retirement, etc) no longer can be relied on. No longer can we wait for someone to hire us, invest in us, or pick us. We have to choose ourselves. Parts of this will challenge you and likely piss you off. I like that he pulls no punches about the whats, hows, and whys of what he believes we all should do. But, I think even more important is that this is the first book of this type I have read that stresses personal health and well being as essential tools for choosing oneself. The idea that proper sleep, a healthy diet, and daily exercise are requirements for doing your best work. That these things are the first step to take in choosing yourself. Highly recommended.

Good things to watch.

Classic Albums: Aja by Steely Dan 1977 – YouTube.  All of the Classic Albums episodes are great. But, this one is fantastic. Steely Dan’s Aja is a deep look into the process of making a perfect hit record. The only “official” members of Steely Dan at the time the album was made were Donald Fagan and Walter Becker. So, they set out to find the best studio musicians available for each individual track. In other words, hand choosing specific artists for specific instruments on specific songs. Even going so far as auditioning several people for a single guitar solo until they found just the right one. What I like most is the sheer amount of artists and talent it took to execute such a singular vision. Listening to the album, you would never know the amount of collaboration by dozens and dozens of musicians it took to pull it off. And, ultimately, the reason it works so well is that they took their time finding exactly the right person for the task at hand. Truly remarkable. The thing I like most about the whole Classic Albums series is that it is the actual artists, engineers, and producers sitting down at the mixing board and taking you on a journey of the process. So. Much. Win!

Webstock ’13: Mike Monteiro – How Designers Destroyed the World. There is so much to unpack here I hardly know where to begin. This barn-burner of a talk not only applies to designers, it applies to everyone and everything. The main theme is that we all need to consider the full consequences of everything we put out into the world. We need to take ownership of the things we do and why it matters. And, most importantly, we need to stand up and defiantly say “no” when we are faced with something we don’t believe in or know to be wrong. This one literally left me giving a standing ovation in an empty room alone with my computer. It’s that good.

A sunset or sunrise. They happen every day yet how many of us go out of our way to see one. Let alone a really go one. You don’t need to wait for a vacation. Have a nice lake, or hill, or park in town? No matter where you live there just has to be a good place to catch one or the other. Wake up early or have dinner a bit late.Make this your new favorite happy hour spot. Whatever you do, make the time to enjoy one or the other every now and then.

Good things to use.

A good pen. Actually, consider two. One good one that you can enjoy using every day. And, one really good one that you use for special occasions. Like signing a bonus check, birthday card, or writing a letter to an old friend. I have far too many in both categories so I won’t recommend a specific one here. I will say that I keep a Uniball Signo 207 Micro on me at nearly all times. It’s a good pen that is inexpensive that I don’t mind losing and replacing.

Hobonichi Techo Planner. I’m a big fan of mine. I use it as a diary and daily log of my accomplishments. It is the only journal I have managed to use every day, consistently, for more than a few weeks. In fact, I have not missed a day since I started mine on December 16, 2013 (pretty proud of that). The main reason for this success is that it simply is a joy to use. The paper is, perhaps, the best I’ve ever written on. It’s well designed, functional, and has little bit of whimsy thrown in here and there. It just makes me unreasonably happy every time I use it.

My Dash/Plus System. OK, this one may be a bit self-promo, but hear me out. I designed this system for marking up and processing my notes and tasks. It allows me to concentrate on capturing first and sorting out where things belong later. It really helps me. Many, many, others have adopted it too. And if you are more of an “app” kind of person — there’s and app for it too. Every one who reports back about having used it reports that it really helps them. Perhaps it will help you too. I hope it does.

Connect with Patrick on Twitter, @PatrickRhone.

Jonas – Storyteller, Creative Director, Tennis aficionado

Jonas pretends to work as a creative director in his daytime and squeezes out words onto pages in his night time. He has published two novels and is half-way into his third one. When he’s not at work or with family, he’s dancing around on a tennis court somewhere, trying to imitate Roger Federer.

Good things to read.

Independence Day by Richard Ford.  This Pulitzer and Pen prize-winning book made me want to become a novelist. A brilliant story without murders. Here the beautiful language and strong realism makes sure you keep turning the page.

On Writing by Stephen King.  It’s hard not to like Stephen King. He sells boatloads of books, yet is still true to his craft. This is his book on writing, which is truly a labour of love and very inspirational.

Choose Yourself by James Altucher.  A book that fits so well in with our chaotic times that I wish I’d written it myself. James’ brain is an exciting place and the honesty and clarity of his writing is both refreshing, thought-provoking and revolutionary.

Good things to watch.

Keeping Up With The Kardashians. (Nah, that was a joke…)

Star Wars.  I’ve loved the Star Wars saga ever since I was a little boy and I’m happy I’ve managed to brainwash my stepson (9) into liking it as much. Not the best dialogue in the universe, but the storytelling is top notch and the visuals give you goose bumps.

Shawshank Redemption.  More Stephen King, I know. But this is his best movie by far and I’m not alone in thinking this (best movie of all time according to IMDB). It’s difficult not to shed a tear at the end of it.

Mad Men.  Having worked with advertising in some form or other for most of my adult life, the TV series Mad Men felt like home. I’m also a nostalgic for a time when you could drink generously in the middle of the work day. Fantastic acting and storytelling.

Good things to use.

Evernote.  For many years I wanted a software that could keep all my notes organised and in one place. Evernote does this wonderfully. Makes me feel creative and calm at the same time.

Dropbox.  Every creator’s worst nightmare is that all his/hers hard work is disintegrated in a hardware malfunction or a wildfire. Dropbox allows me to pour water on my Macbook Air without worrying about data loss (disclaimer: don’t pour water on your computer!).

Kindle.  The perfect travel buddy. Since I used to type newspaper articles on the classic Psion3a, the e-ink screen gives me both nostalgia and less tired eyes. If you love books, but don’t want to carry the weight of them, the Kindle is the way to go.

Follow Jonas’ musings on Twitter: @jonaswrites.

Katie Tallo – director and writer

Katie Tallo directs and writes for film and television and these are her good things. 

Good things to read.

Stephen King’s On Writing for budding novelists.

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath for novels that never lose their relevance or edge.

Good things to watch.

CineCoup is a totally new way to finance feature films here in Canada. These guys are shaking up the sometimes safe and less-than-daring Canadian film landscape by allowing filmmakers of all strips to pitch their films via fake trailers. One team wins a million bucks. It’s pretty outside-the-box thinking. Your readers can become fans and vote if they want to get engaged in the process. So let me suggest three of my favourite trailers for your “three good things to watch”. There’s Wolf CopSlay to Rest, and The Dangers of Online Dating  – just three of my personal favourites among many others. Each trailer offers a unique glimpse into a film that hasn’t been made yet. Pretty cool.

Good things to use.

Something I use daily is Livestrong’s great app My Plate for easy food, exercise and water tracking.

Cinecoup’s fan platform to be a part of making a film come to life.

Your voice, speak up for what you believe in.

You can write to Katie on Twitter.

Tammy Strobel – writer and photographer

Tammy Strobel’s is a writer and photographer at Rowdy Kittens, a site about going small, thinking big, and being happy. She’s written three books and teaches classes on writing and photography.  These are her good things.

Good things to read.

This I Know by Susannah Conway.

The Best Care Possible by Ira Byock

On Writing by Stephen King.

Good things to watch.

Oprah’s Next Chapter is inspiring and interesting.

I’m fine, Thanks is a sweet documentary.

I can’t wait to watch Tiny; it’s a story about living small.

Good things to use.

The camera in your phone. I love iPhone photography because it enables me to capture everyday magic.

Zassenhaus coffee grinder. We recently purchased this coffee grinder for our tiny house and love it. It’s beautiful, durable, and it has a 25-year warranty.

A Fitbit. Get outside and start counting your steps.