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Come Write with Us at OMEGA

At the end of this month, my dad and I will co-teach one more workshop together.

Omega workshop graphic

WHERE: OMEGA CAMPUS, Rhinebeck, NY (90-minute train ride north from NY Penn Station)

WHEN: May 30 – June 1 (Friday evening, Saturday, Sunday morning)

Over three days, we’ll explore writing as a craft and a path to personal development. You’ll also learn how you can apply insights gained to other creative arts and to the work-in-progress that is your life.

We don’t just teach you our way — we help you find your own best approach to craft, process, and self.

For information or to register:

845 266 4444

Comments from past workshop students:

The relaxing environment made it safe to share … very good practical advice … really liked the ‘roadmap’ presented. — Soshana Helman

Learning to ‘dream in dialogue’ was a game-changer for me … you have given me hope that I can finish a book! — Michael Schlichte

The delivery of this clear five-stage process and examples helped to integrate the learning … great tools. — Jessalyn Nash

I liked the easy give and take between Sierra and Dan. The pace and information were just right. The ‘What If’ exercise was both challenging and stimulating, practical and powerful … a good balance between lecture, dialogue, partner exercises and writing. — Marguerite LaDue

Your simple process provided the motivation … I’ve been wanting to start writing for over a year and this course was exactly what I needed. — Mike Muscari

What an amazing experience! I got much more than I expected … Your relaxed, open-hearted style of communication paved the way for sincere discussions. I found the partner exercises comfortable and worthwhile … ‘dreaming in dialogue’ opened doorways previously closed. The group continued to write and share even after you both excused yourself at the end of class. Everyone seemed inspired and charged. — Karen McMahon

Hope you can join us! As always, contact me with any questions.

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Nonfiction Writers’ Creative Compass

The cycle of five stages presented in The Creative Compass organizes my dad’s and my ideas and stories — not to mention those of dozens of other writers and thinkers — but this cycle doesn’t itself offer a formula or a blueprint for your words on the page. Instead, it captures the act of creation, the journey that a powerful idea takes from one mind out into the world.

Whether you write stories or not, you’re the protagonist of this story, the one who starts a new project, continues with it (or not), and eventually finds your way to a conclusion, often again and again, as you reread and reconceive what you’ve written, as necessary. You do the hard, creative work — even if it’s not always recognized as such.

Nonfiction writers may “drive better cars,” as the saying goes, but they’re often treated like grunts in an army that boasts an elite class of creative storytellers. And those who talk about “creative nonfiction” almost always mean memoir.

This month, I’ll be teaching my own creative nonfiction class. What do you think: Will my prospective students all be aspiring memoirists? I’ll report back.

Creativity Means Seeing More

In our book, my dad and I set out to explore the process we undertake no matter what we’re writing: fiction, nonfiction, story, non-story, long or short. The book alternates between instructional chapters and personal narratives. Both demanded immense creativity from us.

Our experience points to an unmet need for a broader definition of creativity. That definition would acknowledge the key roles played by organization and analysis, talents we may be more inclined to associate with expository and persuasive writers but that also serve storytellers. I’ll take a closer look at the role played by organization next week.

In the meantime, nonfiction writers often need reminders that their work is and must be creative — and that they too need to take time to dream, even when on deadline.

On this blog, my dad and I presented one model of the nonfiction writer’s progress through the five stages. What’s your experience? Please share your thoughts via Facebook, twitter or email.

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First Summer Workshop

On May 10 and 11, I’ll offer the first of my summer workshops at The Writer’s Center, this one in Bethesda, MD.

Here are a few reasons why you should sign up:


1. It’s a creative crossroads.

Whether you consider yourself a fiction or nonfiction writer, memoirist, playwright, or screenwriter, there’s a whole other world of inspiration just across the aisle. And it can be easier for you to build alliances, collaborate with, and learn from those who prefer a variation on your own theme.

2. A big-picture view expands the possibilities.

Writing a book on writing and storytelling gave me a structured opportunity to meditate on my own experience, derive the most useful ideas and practices, and organize them into a coherent model, a universal cycle of five stages that offer a unique road map to the creative path: Dream, Draft, Develop, Refine, and Share.

Because I wrote this book with my dad, also an author, I gained an unusual vantage point on writing as a collaborative act, and it informs my teaching style — I want to help you find your way to write, not some mythical best way.

The workshop aims to offer you an aerial view of the territory you’ll cover in every project and throughout your creative life. It aims to transform your perspective on writing as process and craft, so as to orient you and better equip you to confront inevitable challenges and reach your goals.

You can sample the flavor of my approach by reading one or more excerpts from the book here.

3. Discover the wisdom of your own experience.

New perspectives and techniques can help you to observe what works for you:

The What If? will help you to connect with sticky ideas, cultivate them, and stay in harmony with your source of inspiration as you draft.

You’ll make contact with a source of inner guidance by dreaming in dialogue, an analytical technique that will equip you to push through self-doubt and inertia whenever they arise, on and off the page.

Your master metaphor will also provide crucial emotional support. And you’ll learn how greater body awareness can help you to write more powerfully for the senses and stay at your desk for as long as necessary.

You’ll also have the opportunity to meet potential friends and collaborators — I know I have much to learn from you, as a teacher and a fellow writer. I hope that you’ll share the work that emerges with each other and with me.

Register and learn more details here.

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On Doing What Works

The Zeigarnik effect!

This past weekend, I stumbled upon scientific support for the method that helped me to draft The Creative Compass. In an earlier post (on drafting), I wrote:

At first, I aimed to complete one chapter per day, but I quickly fell back on an older strategy: In two to six hours of daily writing, I aimed to produce only the first 300 words of that day’s chapter, knowing that it would be easier to pick up from where I’d left off as I completed each draft the following day, producing about 1,000 words total [end of one chapter, beginning of the next] for the day.

This strategy worked for me, and it turns out to have a psychological basis in the Zeigarnik effect, which I read about on The Bulletproof Musician (via Harmonious Bodies).

Ph.D. performance psychologist Noa Kageyama describes how study participants who successfully completed a difficult puzzle in the given time “were far less likely to resume working on [any of] the puzzles in their free time than those who did not complete the puzzle.”

The bottom line:

[W]hen interrupted in the middle of a task, not only were participants more motivated to resume working on that task, but they also continued working on it for much longer.

Kagayama draws upon these studies to make some great suggestions for getting started — and his thoughts prompted a personal revelation.

Sometimes it’s easy to miss obvious connections — only now do I realize that it might help me to consciously draw on the Zeigarnik effect in each of my projects, whether practicing singing or guitar or even my daily workout. I’ve always thought I craved a sense of completion in each day’s work, but maybe I actually need the sense of a task undone to bring me back to it the following day (or sooner). More on this once I’ve tried it. (Or perhaps you already have? Let me know by email or twitter.)

In this case, I know this strategy works because it has already worked for me: it helped me to produce a published book. As I continue to document my own adventures in screenwriting, however, I’m going to be writing about untested strategies — and when I say untested I don’t mean that I won’t try them out myself and report back, but that it may be a while before I see the success that generally confers a halo upon any work that led up to it.

So, in the meantime, why should you try out any of these strategies? It’s a fair question.

My answer: You should do so only if the strategy intrigues you, and you should keep doing so only if it actually works for you. By ‘works’ I mean: Does it produce results? Does it make you want to keep going? Does it lead to new discoveries? Does it synthesize with other tested knowledge? If it doesn’t work for you, then that’s really all that matters — not whether it worked for Mozart or Michael Jordan or Meryl Streep. Or me.

Psst! It’s going to take me one more week to return to the question I raised here. Thanks for your patience.

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Five Stages of The Creative Compass


Just a couple of months ago, my dad and I wrote a series of blog posts in which we put our own model to work to describe the process of creating our book. If you’re new to the blog or just want to revisit the series, for your convenience:


Dan and Sierra’s First Collaboration

Collaborating on The Creative Compass

Beginning The Creative Compass


Dreaming The Creative Compass


Drafting The Creative Compass


Developing The Creative Compass


Refining The Creative Compass


Sharing The Creative Compass

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Voice, Yoga, and Creativity

Don’t you love it when it all just seems to come together?


I spent last weekend in New York at a voice workshop with The Linklater Center.

It’s a “voice” workshop, but if you do this work, you quickly discover that it’s also much more. In the words of instructor Dianna Schoenborn:

What would happen if I took myself out of that comfort zone … of my habit, and tried to find the most economical use of my body so I have more freedom to connect to my impulses?

That’s a cornerstone of voice and movement work, but it’s also central to all creativity.

Then, on the train ride home, while reading Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes, I came across this chart:

(Click to see larger image)

(Click to see larger image)

These five stages evoking the “Yoga Class Arc Structure” mirror the stages my dad and I explore in The Creative Compass: Dream, Draft, Develop, Refine, and Share.

Namaste to that.

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The Creative Compass in Medill Magazine

Coming full circle, compass style: Just a few years ago this winter, I studied nonfiction book writing at the Medill Journalism School. And now my (second) book’s in Medill Magazine:

Click the image (or here) to read more:

TCC - Medill Mag Cropped

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I Create . . .

THANK YOU to all who entered our audio giveaway and shared what “I create . . .”

We’ve just emailed the ten winners randomly drawn from nearly 300 submissions. If you weren’t one of them, we hope you’ll consider purchasing the audio book via Audible, Amazon, or iTunes, and then giving your impressions in a message or review.

There’s a reason our book is subtitled “Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication” — we’re always looking for ways to give you back to you.

To that end, we hope you enjoy the collage below, assembled from your words (via Wordle):

I Create Wordle

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Audio Book Giveaway

The Creative Compass is now an audio book read by the authors. That’s right…us!

On the occasion of this launch, we’re pleased to be able to offer
at least** five lucky U.S.-based audio book lovers a complimentary download code via Audible.


Listen to a sample of us reading:

To be eligible for this giveaway, all you need to do is
• email
complete this sentence in the body of your email:

“I create _____________.”

• Just be sure to do so before midnight this Friday 24 January.

We’ll then draw 5 emails randomly from those submitted and send them — including, we hope, you — a code to download the free audio book. (Only one entry per person please)

**Oh and one more thing: If we hear from 250+ people, we can give away twice as many download codes, increasing your odds of winning. So please spread the word!

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Wishing You All a Creative 2014!

Dan and Sierra Backs

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