Ellen Blum Barish

Ellen Blum Barish

Writing may be a solo art, but that doesn’t mean writers write alone.

Beyond choosing to share our work with a partner, coach or circle of writers, many of us surround ourselves with other forms of support. For me it’s Bianco Forte Nespresso in my cone-shaped Women’s Rights are Human Rights mug, a glass of ice water with a slice of lemon, a box of tissues-throat-lozenges-pack-of-peppermint-gum within reach and an overhead fan on low.

And these are just what I need to BEGIN.

In the case of my memoir, I needed stronger reinforcements because a long-term project was a new kind of writing journey for me. I was used to swifter deadlines and so I needed comrades to keep me inspired and writing. It takes teamwork to make the writing dream work, so I’m sharing what I came to think of the keys that helped me make a joyful noise.

There were the quotes. I relied heavily on Maya Angelou’s “I hadn’t so much forgot as I couldn’t bring myself to remember.”Miriam Greenspan’s “We can’t heal what we can’t feel.” And Maggie Kuhn’s “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”

The frequently-paged books. Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl allowed me to think I might be able to write. Jean Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was close by to remind me how strong the desire to get words onto the page can be. Abigail Thomas’s Safekeeping and What’s Next and How to Like It were there to prove how powerful it could be to bust out of traditional structures. And David Ebenbach’s The Artist’s Torah bridged writing with Judaism and got me thinking that I might just be writing a spiritual memoir.

The two main cities in my story, Chicago and Philadelphia, became characters in my book, as did their topography (rolling hills versus flatlands) and food (corned beef on rye with Russian dressing and cole slaw and soft pretzels.)

Music helped illustrate the movement of time because my storyline traverses almost 50 years. In the 1972 chapter, my father put on a Sarah Vaughn album. In 1981, I went to a Grateful Dead concert. During the time I was writing in the late 10’s when the title of the book was Reunion, I found inspiration in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Transcendental Reunion.” 

If you are thinking about starting or returning to a long-form writing project, whether it’s a memoir, family history, nonfiction book or collection of essays, gather your supports in whatever form you may find them. You’ll need them. Because you can’t do it alone.

King-Size Kudos 


To Norma van Oss Tanner and Dr. Cheryl  Meola – two writers whom I had the pleasure of supporting this past year – whose books are now available to the public. The drafts of Norma’s family history and Cheryl’s nonfiction book were captured onto the page in twelve months!

An Invitation to a Writing Pod

Since it looks like we may be in this at-home working state for a while to come, I’ve been thinking about how to creatively get through.

  • What will help get us up in the morning?
  • Begin a project that we can dive into?
  • Make a plan we can actually stick to?

How about a monthly virtual writing pod to carry us through the year?

For feedback, accountability and community to work on an essay collection or memoir.

Protected by the outer skin of the pod, we grow together as writers and make a writing project materialize in twelve months.

Tuesday or Wednesday evenings (online), twice monthly, from September 2020 to March 2021. Limited to 8-10 writers. If this pod appeals, email me at for more information. Starts September 15.

Wednesday Writing Workshop

“Reading and Writing the Personal Essay”

Wednesday afternoons from 1-3 pm.

Eight weeks.

September 23 -November 11.

Email me for more information.

A Workshop on Pace

“Setting the Pace”

Story Studio Chicago

Monday, November 16, 2020

6:30-8:30 pm

Register here.











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