Ellen Blum Barish

Ellen Blum Barish

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the creative process, it’s that it’s so not linear.

Certainly the process can be broken down into steps. And those steps can be taken one at a time. At your own pace. In a very organized way, if you so choose.

But that’s about it, as far as planning goes. Those steps aren’t the mere up and down variety. More like the spiral staircase. Once in, the process takes over and your best bet is to try not to look down or up – you may get dizzy – and simply go with it.

The piece you thought you were writing somehow goes in another direction. You put it aside, go for a walk or see a movie, and a connective thread comes to you, maybe a theme. You decide to try a different approach. And it feels better, sounds better. You read it out loud and you don’t like it. You put it aside again and pick it up later to read it and you see something in it you didn’t before. Perhaps it’s in there already or there’s a space for it, calling to you to fill it.

The process is so unlike the rest of what we do in a day. Or is it? We may be washing breakfast dishes but then get distracted by a phone call or something on TV. Or we may move from one room to another completely forgetting what we left for.

I think that day-to-day life is very much like the spiral of creative process. Some days it may feel more like non-connecting circles, which may feel repetitious and not very meaningful. But imagine what a bunch of balloons might look like in the sky. Now there’s a bunch of non-connecting circles! Lovely, right? Even, maybe artful.

This is what I’ve taken away from the past several months. Months in which I’ve taken a break from blogging to dive into photography, music, storytelling under the lights and also, more long-form essay writing. It’s been a rich time that has confirmed for me how useful it is to cross-pollinate one’s arts.  If you get the chance, I urge you to try it. Take a break from your writing to express yourself in another creative way. Abstract painting. Charcoal drawing. Electric guitar. Patchwork quilting. Baking sweet confections.

Time away from blogging deadlines also allowed me some distance to formulate my ideas about how I teach, how I facilitate the writing process for others. This is what I’ve concluded: I think writers are usually hanging out somewhere within one of these eight pieces, which are are, appropriately verbs:

They are in some version of being or looking for stimulation; writing; printing; sharing; feedbacking; revising; tweaking; or submitting (or telling).

I’m giving these verbs a try this summer over the course of eight weeks in the form of a facilitated writer’s circle that encourages writers to move through these eight steps (perhaps not in this exact order). For more about that, click on the Workshops page of my website.

And I am also launching new private coaching options, four different approaches that respond to what I’ve been hearing from writers about what they need and want. Because that’s the other thing I learned from my time away: I love being  there for other writers, to nurture and support you through your own creative process. It is so delicious to be a part of that, for you and for me, too!

For more information about any of these options, and for fees related to them, just send me a line at

Private Coaching Options


Single Coaching Session: If you are just starting out and want to see what coaching feels like, or for guidance for the intermediate or advanced writer looking for next steps. One hour session.


Three-Session Throughway: You are looking for the right project to settle in on, or to select pieces to submit for publication. Or you may be looking for feedback on a small body of work already in progress. Three one-hour sessions.


Three-Month Roundup: This is your chance to dive into a project with support and guidance. Two, one-hour sessions per month, over a three-month period in person, over the telephone or Skype, or via email manuscript exchange. 


Year-Long Mentor Program: For the writer who wants support and direction for a longer writing project, whether it is a series of connected essays, a memoir, a family story or business history.  Two, one-hour sessions per month for a twelve-month period that also includes  email and phone consultation in between sessions.


Writers with whom I have worked, or whose work I have reviewed have had their essays or memoir pieces published in The Sun, More magazine, Shambhala Sun, North Shore Magazine, Blood Orange Review and have aired on WBEZ/Chicago Public Radio. Many have also had pieces  published in essay anthologies or self-published books. I have taught, or currently teach writing to journalism and marketing graduate students at Medill School of Journalism, graduate students in nursing at North Park University, undergraduates at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and adult learners at StoryStudio Chicago, Writer’s Workspace, Ragdale, Off Campus Writers Workshop.


Photograph by Ellen Blum Barish.












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