How I travel back in time, hold myself accountable, and refrain from smoking

How I travel back in time, hold myself accountable, and refrain from smoking

Mrs. Cole Porter Writing

I’ve been blogging a lot lately, just not here on WordPress. I’ve been using Pinterest and Tumblr for quick posts. The interfaces are simple, and the stakes are low because not a lot of people follow me there.

What am I blogging about? Well, they aren’t “essay-like” blog posts, as you are used to here. These are more visual, like a bulletin board or scrapbook. Or they’re more utilitarian, like a ledger. That’s why I don’t think to share them here on the Big Thing.

A few years ago, I went to an exhibit at the Morgan Library on diaries. I was especially interested in how artists use them.

I spent a lot of time looking at the writing journal John Steinbeck kept as he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. Here’s a great post from Austin Kleon’s blog about that.

steinbeckI want to hold myself accountable, too, like Steinbeck did. That’s why I started this little Tumblr blog called Every Day I Write the Book.

I also use Tumblr (and Pinterest) like scrapbooks. A place to archive the images and maps I find.

Sometimes I just reblog a picture.

Sometimes I add a picture to a scrapbook I keep for Linda.

Sometimes I make digital scrapbooks comprised of images and maps of one particular place, like Villa Trianon.

The pages I’ve been writing this week are set at Villa Trianon, and I look at these pictures to sort of “will” myself into that time and place.

exterior villa

I suppose it’s no different from cutting something out of a magazine and pasting it down so that you can go back and look at it later.

If you’ve seen Somewhere in Time, you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes I do more than just clip images. I actually start writing about what they mean to me. Proto blog posts. Like this one on the so-called “classic” look.

In this article, Edwidge Danticat talks about how she creates bulletin boards so that she can see her ideas and the images that inspire her, as well as the overall plot structure.

That’s what I’m doing, too, I guess, except my bulletin board is digital. And share-able.

But this research can’t overtake the actual writing. Instead, I play with my bulletin board/scrapbooks as a way into the writing or when it’s time to take a break from writing–instead of smoking. (The urge to do so has been strong lately for some reason.)

I’ve also been watching period dramas to keep myself thinking in the past.

  • A Room with a View, both the 2007 and 1986 versions
  • Ridicule
  • Austenland
  • My Immortal Beloved
  • The Other Boleyn Girl
  • A Royal Affair
  • The King’s Speech
  • Agora

Another way that I will myself into the past isn’t digital at all. I read books that were published at the time I’m writing about. Right now, I’m reading a novel by the Duchess of Sutherland, who was a friend of Linda’s. It’s not very good, but the book smells old, the details are marvelous, and it definitely transports me into that milieu.


If you have any other suggestions for me, let me know. Good luck with your own writing projects. Thanks, as always, for reading.

[And so ends today’s writing warm ups. Time to start writing for real.]

Research Notes: Looking at Wedding Pictures

Research Notes: Looking at Wedding Pictures

Mrs. Cole Porter Writing


It should come as no surprise that during the school year, I blog a lot about teaching, and in the summer, I blog a lot about writing. Because that’s where my head is.

Last night, I did a little research on the technology that made it possible to print pictures in newspapers and magazines.

In a nutshell: for a long time, it was very hard.

But it got me thinking about how easy it is now. Think about how addicting Tumblr and Facebook are. Think about how addicting it is to be able to Google whatever you want to look at. I mean seriously, how do we even stop ourselves? How do we not gorge ourselves visually every single day? Continue reading

I was doing a little research the other day on Linda Porter’s very public divorce from her first husband. Here are some clippings (posted on my Tumblr) that tell the whole sordid story.

Further evidence of the fame and notoriety Linda brought with her into her marriage to Cole, who was pretty much a nobody when they met.

Back to the book…

P.S. This is the first blog post I’ve ever done from my phone. 

Thirteen years later…

Mrs. Cole Porter Writing

Birthday Cake with Number 13 Lit CandlesThree years ago, I wrote this post for my novel-writing students about my progress on my book about Linda Porter. At that point it had been 10 years. Sigh.

Finals are over. I’m back to the novel. I’ve got about 300 pages at this point. I’m not sure how many more I’m going to need because I haven’t made up my mind where to end it. I’ve got a notion. We’ll see if it works!

I’m going to try and go off the grid for awhile so I can get a lot of work done during May and June. Emphasis on “try.”

In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy reading this old post about the circuitous route writing a novel can take. May it inspire you to keep going with your own baggy monster.

This Blog is a Waste of My Time: Thoughts on the Three-Year Anniversary of The Big Thing

Teaching Writing

waste of timeI’ve been thinking a lot lately about this blog. Last week, I wrote about “lore” and informally trading teaching information vs. formally publishing teaching research.

This blog began because in 2010, I wrote an essay about teaching.  I realized that the default setting of all my classes–of most fiction-writing classes, really–was the short story. I wanted to tweak that default setting. Not just in my own classes. I wanted to inspire other people to tweak theirs, too. Continue reading

The Top 5 Most Popular Posts on the Big Thing–and Why


dems_top_5_101It’s almost the end of the year, plus I’m nearing the third anniversary of The Big Thing, a blog I started so that I could talk more about teaching writing.

I’ve been looking at my stats, seeing what I can learn.

Here are my most popular posts, according to Google Analytics:

This one about visiting Linda’s grave.

  • Why is it so popular? Every time someone sees De-Lovely, they Google “Linda Porter Rose” and boom, they find me. I get at least one comment on that blog post every other week. Continue reading
Is Gaming Bad for Fiction Writers?

Is Gaming Bad for Fiction Writers?

Teaching Writing

The other day, I was reading an undergraduate student’s novel in progress, and a thought occurred to me. As I often do, I shared that thought on Facebook:

I’ve never played a video game, but I recognize that it’s a narrative experience that lots and lots of people value. No judgement. But in my fiction-writing classes, I often read stories and novels that read as if I’m watching someone else play a video game. There’s plot, action, scene, all great, but virtually no interiority, which for me is *absolutely necessary* in fiction. My students have always used films and TV shows to talk about fiction, but now they also reference video games. “This is like Bioshock,” for example, and I have no idea what that even means. I wonder if other creative writing teachers have noticed this quality in student fiction or these references? I wonder if people who play video games could give me some tips about how to help my students make the transition from gaming to writing narrative. P.S. Over the last few years, I’ve read lot more genre fiction (George R.R. Martin, Suzanne Collins, etc.) so that I could at least be familiar with the kinds of stories students borrow from, but I really don’t want to start playing games.

I made the comment public and a great conversation ensued. As of right now, there are 80 comments–from gamers and non-gamers, from creative writing professors and students, from friends and strangers. The conversation was passionate. I invite you to read the comments here. Continue reading

Every Day We Write the Books: Please, Contribute to My Tumblr

Every Day We Write the Books: Please, Contribute to My Tumblr


Selfies + Accountability

During the summer of 2013, I wanted to keep track of how many days I wrote. Like making a big fat X on a calendar. Except I don’t use a physical calendar anymore.

So I hit the Photo Booth icon on my Mac and took a quick picture, and it was saved by the date. Here’s one from May 17.


It’s how I kept myself accountable all summer. Sometimes I took a picture from the POV of my computer, sometimes from my POV looking at my computer.

June 22, 2013

I used to use a lot. I liked sharing that a writing session had taken place, similar to how I can share an exercise session has taken place on MapMyRun. I liked that all my friends were using 750words. It felt like we were all in it together.

So at the end of the summer, I made a Tumblr that anyone can contribute to. It’s called Every Day I Write the Book.

Perhaps you think sharing info like this is bragging or narcissistic?

Well, screw you. This is for the rest of us.

This isn’t like Selfies at Funerals or Selfies at Serious Places.

This is like, Hey look at all these people who are writing! 

Writing Accountability Tools

There are many ways to hold yourself accountable as a writer.

I have many writer friends who post weekly or daily updates on FB about how many words they’ve written. Personally, I like getting this information. It keeps me motivated, and they do it, I imagine, because it makes them accountable.

But yeah, I know, it gets to be too much sometimes.


Then there’s the fact that this Tumblr is about WRITING ACCOUNTABILITY and SELFIES. At the same time!

I don’t do selfies much. I have complicated feelings about them.

I like sharing. I like offering support. I like seeing what people are wearing or that they’ve lost weight or that they’re happy or that they’ve developed a six pack or that they like their new haircut. Yay!

But yeah, I know it on the other hand, it all feels like too much sometimes.

The rules

Every time you sit down to work on your book, take a pic. Of yourself or where you’re sitting.

Keep it clean.

Be real. No sprucing or preening.

Don’t show off.

Use this to keep yourself accountable and motivated.

Submit here.

[Let’s see if this works…and how it works.]

Movie Marriage: Thoughts on my 4th Wedding Anniversary

Movie Marriage: Thoughts on my 4th Wedding Anniversary

General Writing

I’ve had marriage on the brain for the last few months. Here’s why:

  • Today is my fourth wedding anniversary.
  • We’re getting some marriage counseling.
  • I’m writing a novel, which is about–among other things–why people get married.

I read an article recently which said Year Four is when the euphoric stage of “passionate love” fades and “mature love” begins. Yep, I believe it. I’ve never been so blissfully happy in my whole life as I was during our first year or two together, and right on schedule, our marriage has been tested recently.

Before I Got Married

It wasn’t that long ago that I was 37 and single, and all I could think about was love and marriage, chance and fate. Why had my life turned out the way it had? Was there anything I could do to change it, or did it need changing at all?

I challenged myself to find out these answers, and then I wrote a strange little book about it: Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love. It’s about the Colts 2006 Super Bowl season, and about my season of dating. Imagine a mashup of a smart rom-com and an inspirational sports movie. When Harry Met Sally meets Hoosiers.

Sports metaphors have always resonated very strongly for me, and there was one that I kept going back to again and again. Vince Lombardi said:

There are approximately 150 plays in a football game, and there are only three of four plays in any game which make the difference between winning and losing. No one know when the big play is coming up. Therefore, every player must go all out on every play.

I felt there was a lesson in that. Maybe I’d already met the “right” three or four people, but I’d let them  go because I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe, in order to change my life, I needed to stop acting like I had all the time in the world and start paying attention.

So: that’s what I did. I went all out on every play, every day for a year, and holy shit, it nearly drove me insane. Here, I wrote about for

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset

This is the full story of how I met my husband.

We met the first time in 1990 and got along very well, but then we lost touch–as people did in the pre-email, pre-Facebook days. Flash forward 18 years. He heard me on the radio talking about Comeback Season and got in touch. I remembered him immediately, although I’m not going to say that I spent those years pining for him. But I did think of him as one of those important plays out of the 150.

before sunsetThe summer we started dating, the summer I was trying to decide if this man was the person I’d been waiting for, I happened to rent the Richard Linklater film Before Sunset.

Background: Jesse and Celine meet as twenty-somethings in Vienna in the first movie, Before Sunrise, and then nine years later they reunite as thirty-somethings in Paris in Before Sunset. They float down the Seine and reflect on the what-ifs. What if they’d exchanged phone numbers in 1994? What if? What if?

Celine says, “I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.”


They talk about the book that Jesse has just published about that night in Vienna, which is how they’ve reconnected: she read about him in a magazine.

Jesse: You want to know why I wrote that stupid book?

Celine: Why?

Jesse: So that you might come to a reading in Paris and I could walk up to you and ask, “Where the fuck were you?”

Celine: [laughing] No – you thought I’d be here today?

Jesse: I’m serious. I think I wrote it, in a way, to try to find you.

Celine: Okay, that’s – I know that’s not true, but that’s sweet of you to say.

Jesse: I think it is true.

And so, reader, I married him. Four years ago today.

It wasn’t just because of the movie, but yeah, it had something to do with it. Yes. And I’ll be honest: I’m a fiction writer, and I cannot deny that one reason why I married my husband is because I knew it was a great story. It’s like the happy ending of rom-com/sports movie. It gives people hope; I know this because people who’ve read the book write and tell me so. Here’s one I got the other day, as a matter of fact, from a woman who is getting married soon:

I was very much inspired by your real-life story…it gave me hope for my future too. And I’m SO glad to see that you two are so happy together!

Before Midnight and Mature Love

A few weeks ago, I saw the third film in the Linklater trilogy, Before Midnight.

before-midnight-ethan-hawke-julie-delpy-11Jesse and Celine are finally “together,” but things aren’t blissful. In fact, the movie contains a wonderful, 30-minute knock-down-drag-out fight. I saw the movie with a bunch of friends my age, and we laughed ruefully throughout. What fascinated me about the movie was its realistic depiction of a mature relationship. How do people stay together over the long haul? I really want to know. And sentimental rom-coms aren’t going to give me the answer.

As I watched, I thought about the people (mostly married) who told me when I was going through my Comeback Season phase six years ago that I was just idealizing marriage, that marriage wouldn’t necessarily make me happy.

They were right. And they were wrong.

Take This Waltz and Happy Endings

There are two kinds of stories about love: the kind that ends with the big kiss/the declaration of love/the wedding, and the kind that begins there and moves into mature love.  Happily-ever-afters vs. reality-ever-afters, and as you know, mainstream America loves the comforting, sentimental nostalgia of the former, not the big bummer of the latter.

But here’s the thing: our lives contain both of these stories.

When I was living the experience that was Comeback Season, someone close to me said, “You have to find love at the end of the book or nobody will want to buy it.”

[Remember, I didn’t meet my husband until after the book was published.]

I said, “But I didn’t meet anyone. No one special anyway.”

“Well, then just end the book at a moment when you are dating someone,” he said. “Give the reader some hope.”

This isn’t what I ended up doing, but the conversation did make me think a lot about where writers end “relationship stories” and why .

take this waltzOne of the best films I saw this year was Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz about a married woman (Michelle Williams) contemplating whether or not to have an affair. For most of the movie, I thought the dramatic question was “Which one of these two guys will she end up with: her husband or the neighbor?”[Spoiler alert!] Then she chooses the neighbor, and they embrace.

If the movie had ended there, it might have been your typical rom-com. But it doesn’t end there. It keeps going. You get a montage of Williams’s relationship with the neighbor, which moves from passionate to mature (slightly dull) love. I’m not sure how much time passes in this montage, but for fun, let’s say four years. Clearly, Williams isn’t sure if she made the right decision leaving her husband, and her former sister-in-law (Sarah Silverman) says, “Life has a gap in it. It just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it like some lunatic.”

Mind the Gap

Last week, I took my husband out for his birthday. We had a perfect day. And I said, “Can you believe that just one week ago, we were fighting so bad I thought we were going to have to get a divorce?” And he said, “I don’t even remember that.”

If you’d ended the movie of our marriage a week earlier, it would have been as depressing as the day the Colts released Peyton Manning, but a week later,  it was all Harry kissing Sally on New Year’s Eve/Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!/”You had me at hello.”

Being married isn’t one decision. Being married is deciding to stay married every single day. It’s hard. It’s boring. It’s not terribly cinematic.

A lot of people want to get married because they want to perform “Being Married” in front of other people–in real life and on Facebook.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

Maybe I’m guilty of this sometimes, too. I share our good moments, but not our bad. I don’t especially like admitting that my marriage isn’t perfect–there’s some shame involved in telling you that–but maybe if I tell you that I’m trying to mind the gap, it will help you mind it, too.

Maybe  the best way to give you hope–whether you’re married or not–is to tell you that my own love story has Happy Ending Days and Bummer Ending Days, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.