My Dog Would Make the Worst Service Dog

All the ways my dog does not soothe my anxious mind

Alfie. Who’s a good boy?

The perfect pet, if you happen to be a farmer in the Australian outback

It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings…or the dog pushes you off stage

On the other hand, I make a great service human


Figuring Out Our Relationship Puzzle

Is true love always easy?

Everyone’s a critic

Last month, I posted what I hoped was a relatable relationship essay entitled How to Stay Married During a Pandemic. I tried to write something funny but maybe a little wise about the pressure that being quarantined together can put on any marriage.

The right way to nap and grocery shop

Saul often wonders what I would write about if I didn’t have him as inspiration — or as he calls himself — fodder. We aren’t one of those Zen couples who automatically validate each other’s feelings and immediately work towards a compromise whenever we have a disagreement.

Fake couples as real role models

It’s a question I’ve often asked myself. I have very early memories of my mom and dad’s passionate arguments. Then my dad died suddenly when I was seven, and I’m pretty sure the lesson I learned was fighting leads to abandonment. Since my mom never remarried I had to look other places for clues, and television was my best resource. That left me very confused.

What rocks can teach you about love

I’m a sucker for clickbait.

Finding the piece that fits

I love that Saul is willing to work on our relationship together. When I first started dating him my friend Sara, who saw me go through a lot of bad dating experiences said of him, “he’s in it to win it.” Saul said during that same period. “You have to admit, we both give a damn.”


Three Tips to Becoming Everyone’s Favorite Boss

And how to apply them in a pandemic

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

I’m a good boss. I can’t deny it.

I‘m terrible at fixing cars. I’m a horrible cook. I am the worst athlete you would ever want to know, but I’m a good boss. Maybe I’m not the best boss but I often seem to be able to inspire my team to do their work and be proud of a job well down. I’m often told by my employees I am the best boss they’ve ever had. And why would someone whose paycheck depends on me ever lie about that?

I’ve been my own boss, the boss of large TV crews and now I am boss in a huge corporation. There are a couple tips I’ve learned in the few decades I’ve been doing this, but nothing could have prepared me for these last few months when a pandemic sent us all working from home.

I’ve quickly realized that even though it’s a very different world right now, the rules still apply more than ever.

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room

I don’t remember who told me this. It was very likely the smartest person in the room.

I do recall it was told to me when I was brand new at running the story department for a TV production company. I had been working from home as a freelance writer for several years but had hit a dry spell so I had to put on pants that didn’t have an elastic waist and get a job in an office.

On my very first day, a Production Manager walked purposefully into my office holding a huge calendar.

“When do you think we will be able online the locked cuts?” She asked.

I had no idea what that sentence meant.

I didn’t even know what a Production Manager even did but I was pretty sure she worked for me.

She stood there looking at me waiting for an answer.

“Two days?” I said tentatively.

She seemed slightly puzzled.

“Tues…day?” I guessed again.

I could tell she now realized I had no idea what I was talking about.

“I need help.” I finally confessed.

And instead of storming out and calling me a fraud, she smiled kindly. For the next two hours we sat on my office floor poring over her huge calendar as she taught me all about making a production schedule. We are still friends twenty years later. Whenever we look at each other and say Twos…day? that means we have no idea what we are talking about.

Even when I’m in charge I have to remain teachable. Not being the smartest in the room is a lot less pressure and allows those who work for me to have better ideas and gain confidence in the process.

I’m certainly not the smartest person in dealing with this pandemic. I have had to say “I don’t know” and “I need help” a lot lately. And I would only be half as efficient working remotely if I didn’t have the help and ideas of my staff to help me muddle through.

Hire good people and let them do their jobs

I know this is not always possible. I once inherited someone else’s hire who informed me I was the worst boss she ever had. I think she changed her mind once we figured out how to work together, but I’m afraid to ask and ruin my Best Boss record.

Hiring is the most important thing I can do and I always have to go with my gut. It’s way more important to me than a resume. I feel you can always tell by talking to someone if they are going to be the right person for the job. And if we share the same sense of humor they get major bonus points. I spend most of my waking hours with the people I work with so why wouldn’t I hire the ones I really want to spend my time with?

Job interviews are all about chemistry. I learned this when I was on the other side of the process. Since I freelanced for many years, I went on a ton of them. I had great ones and ones where I just bombed. There was the time an executive offered me a cherry and I nervously ate the whole bowl in the next ten minutes. Or the time I lost my glasses even though I had not moved from my chair during the entire interview. I got both those jobs because we were able to laugh about it. And then there was the one where I brought my new backpack and went searching through it for my resume only to realize I had picked up and rifled through my interviewer’s similar-looking bag by mistake. She was not amused. I would have been and probably would have hired me.

I put a lot of care and thought into the people I’ve hired for my current job. They are so good they barely need me. I’m glad of it. It would be very hard to have to be micromanaging by Zoom.

It helps to be human

One of the best lessons I learned when I ran TV crews is that being a boss doesn’t have to be a rigid role. My job took me and my team into remote areas of the world where we knew no one and worked hard until late into the evening when we’d gather together and wind down. Of course, there were boundaries to be kept. Once a new production assistant got super drunk and started yelling in my face, “DO YOU KNOW MY NAME? DO YOU KNOW MY NAME??” I wanted to explain to him that was not the best way to get noticed, and it would have been in fact better if I did not know his name.

The head of the large corporate company where I now work has always seemed extremely unapproachable. He is in charge of thousands of people around the world and is quite intimidating. Even though his office is in the same NYC building I work from, I’m sure he doesn’t know my name (although, to be fair, I’ve never drunkenly asked him at a party). Whenever I saw him I’d usually tried to avoid him.

Not long before the pandemic, he was standing in front of the entrance of our office deep into a very intense conversation on his phone. As I approached the door, I realized there was no way to get inside the building without interrupting him. I couldn’t wedge myself past him to swipe my own badge, and wasn’t about to gently tap him on the shoulder. So, I stood there feeling like a fool for over ten minutes until he finally swiped his own badge and walked in with zero awareness I had been standing behind him.

But since quarantine, this guy has been leading a weekly Zoom meeting for those same thousands of employees on Wednesday mornings from his home with his son operating the camera. Every week I see him in his living room occasionally giving his kid instructions while talking to us about the state of company and the state of each of us. He shows what seems like genuine concern over employees who have experienced loss or are feeling overwhelmed and lonely, and offers resources to those who need it. He is not being some old-fashioned macho idea of a “strong” leader. He is being human and ironically in a time of social distancing: less remote and more approachable. In my eyes he has shown what a true leader can be.

Zoom presents a less “posed” version of our world than Facebook or Instagram. We can’t always control our children or pets or spouses from interfering from the perfect picture we often strive to present to our coworkers. We are all seeing in a much more intimate way that all our office mates are just humans doing the best we can.

And no matter how “corporate” we become again when this is all over. It’s a good lesson to never forget. Being a good leader is being a good human.

ABOUT THE AUTHOUR: Keith Hoffman is proud he got through the article without making a “smartest person in the Zoom” joke.

Laughs, Love and Joy During the End of Times: Finding Positives in the Negatives

I’m a romantic optimist. I can’t help myself.

I am compelled to search almost desperately for something to smile about or fall in love with even when everything feels terrifying and bleak.

It’s my father’s fault. Well actually it’s the fault of several generations of Irish ancestors. You don’t survive potato famines, the Troubles and centuries of alcoholism without learning to laugh a little at the absurdity of life.

Jokes in the attic

Humor can be a tricky thing. Last week, I wrote what I thought was a hilarious blog piece about how crabby I can be on my birthday on a normal year and how I was even worse this year smack in the middle of a pandemic.

I worked hours on that piece and wrapped it up with an inspiring ending that stirringly celebrated humanity. I posted it and waited for the accolades.

Finally, the first comment popped up.

“YOU SOUND LIKE A VERY SELFISH, NOT NICE PERSON.” Nancy M

I was flabbergasted.

I ran downstairs to my husband Saul and read her hurtful comment to him but he only burst out laughing. “Nancy’s got you figured out!”

Maybe he’s right. My humor was too dark even as a child at St. Jude Elementary School. Back then, I was obsessed with The Diary of Anne Frank. When I wrote a book report about it, my only critique was that Anne didn’t mine more humor out of being cooped up with all those people. Sister Maura marked me down a grade for being “insensitive” but I still think my diary would have been funnier.

Is that a bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket or are you excited to see me?

Even now, I can’t resist a good love story. And my coworker just told me a good one.

Her daughter hates dating, but she is 27 and feels her biological clock urgently ticking. And this was before time ground to a halt because of a pandemic.

“Why don’t set up a Zoom meeting with one of those guys you meet on Tinder?“ her mom suggested.

It seemed like a dumb “mom” idea, but then her daughter realized it had a lot going for it. You only have to make the top half of your body look decent for the date (I just heard on NPR that shirt sales are currently skyrocketing while absolutely no one is buying pants). If it’s a disaster, you’re already home when it’s over. Plus a guy who’ll meet you on Zoom during the time of Covid19 is probably not looking just to get in your pants (or lack thereof).

So her daughter tried it out and met a really nice guy on her first virtual date. In fact, it went so well that they ended up meeting at a park sitting on separate benches. They got to know each other by yelling small talk from six feet away while snacking on the wine and cheese they each brought for themselves.

I mean they have to get married now so they can tell their children the amazing story of how they got together.

Doing the dog math

Who am I to say look on the bright side when people are facing unemployment, loneliness, fear and depression? Maybe you aren’t finding anything funny or maybe your heart’s just a little broken by all this.

The other day I was sinking into despair, but I still had to walk my dog, Alfie. When you are in a funk, chores feel that much more awful.

And for as smart as my breed of dog is supposed to be, Alife does not know how to read the room.

HEY HUMAN! LET’S GO FOR A WALK! THIS IS GOING TO BE SO MUCH FUN, RIGHT? ARE YOU AS EXCITED AS ME???? THIS IS SO GREAT! OH MY GOD, HUMAN, HOW EXCITED ARE YOU RIGHT NOW ABOUT THIS WALK, AM I RIGHT? AM I RIGHT?”

He wasn’t right. But I got off the couch, put on his leash and hiked…no…trudged through the woods on a trail by the Delaware River.

Alfie LOVES sticks. He is obsessed with him. I swear one time when I was driving with Alfie he turned to me from the passenger seat and calmly said “sticks are my heroin.” I can’t be sure if I just imagined that though.

And he loves when I throw them into the river for him to swim out and retrieve. He is uncanny in his ability to figure out how fast the current is and at what angle he needs to approach the stick at exactly the right time to grab it in his mouth. It’s like he’s doing geometry and physics at the same time.

As I watched him arrive at the stick and chomp down on it in the middle of the river at the exact right time I felt it.

I felt joy.

And because my life has quieted down so much, I could really feel this joyful feeling. I really hope you all know what it feels like to see this living thing you cherish so much experiencing its own joy. Nothing tops it.

But as I wrote that last paragraph, I got an alert on my phone announcing all the trails and parks by the Delaware River have closed for an indefinite period of time to keep crowds from gathering.

All Alfie joy is cancelled.

But not really. He and I are going to use our combined brain power to find something else fun. Maybe we are not as funny or smart as we think we are, but we both feel strongly that now more than ever, it is vital to find those moments where we can laugh or fall a little bit in love or simply savor those tiny moments that bring us that universal feeling we call joy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Keith Hoffman is NOT a very selfish not nice person, Nancy.

How to Stay Married During a Pandemic

When Self-Isolation Becomes Couple-Isolation

I’ll be honest. This is unchartered territory. I am only at the end of four weeks of self-quarantine, so I can only tell you how to stay married for literally four weeks of self-quarantine. By the end of Week Four I may be writing an article entitled How to Work with a Divorce Lawyer Using Zoom.

But they say write what you know, and all I know right now is the inside of my house and my husband. And these days I really know my husband, Saul. I mean, I know every single thing there is to know about him.

The other day Saul reminded me that familiarity breeds contempt. “No, it doesn’t,” I replied. “Shut up.”

But then I reminded myself that he is the only person in the world I am allowed to come within 6-feet of without having to be hosed down like Meryl Streep in Silkwood, so I put on a really big smile and said, “Yes, dear. That is so incredibly insightful!”

I’ve noticed a lot of single people posting on social media that they can’t wait to have sex again when all this is over. But I’ve not seen one post from someone in a relationship bragging about their excessive love-making while quarantined together. The couples I’ve talked to wonder if they’ll ever feel romantic toward each other again.

Like the rest of the world, only a few weeks ago I went to work and ran errands and was glad to see a familiar face when I walked in the front door at night. Now that very same face is there when I wake up and when I eat and when I breathe and when I blink. We have completely caught up on each other’s life stories.

Here is a sample conversation from last week.:

ME: Did I ever tell you about when my mom was in her forties and wore a lime green bikini to tear down vines in our backyard?

SAUL: Yes.

ME (continuing): It was soooo funny. The vines turned out to be…

SAUL (interrupting with an edge in his voice): …poison ivy, and the rash covered every part of her body except her bathing-suit parts. You told me that story earlier at lunch and also at breakfast. You also told me on our first date and wrote about it in your memoir which you’ve read to me twice now.

ME: Oh right. (Pause) Did I ever tell you about…

SAUL: Yes.

I’m also going through this with my dog, Alfie. When I look down at him and say, “Who’s a good boy??” He gazes up at me wearily as if to say, We’ve already gone over this several times today.

My husband and I have mostly been very good at carving out space for ourselves. I am a writer and he is an artist, so we already value alone time for ourselves and each other. And we’re lucky that two years ago we moved from our tiny apartment with no doors in Brooklyn to a three-story house 70 miles outside the city. In our old place when we had a fight, I would storm into the next room only a few feet away from Saul vowing never to speak to him again before pulling a thin curtain closed between us. It just never had the dramatic effect I desired.

Now we have enough space that I can create a makeshift office out of Saul’s art studio on the top floor while he stress-bakes through hundreds of Great British Baking Show recipes two stories below. But still, in the first days of me working from home, we had our run-ins. Sometimes I wandered downstairs to get a glass of milk and a snack while Saul was deep into dough-kneading in the kitchen.

“What are you doing in here?” he’d ask tensely. “Getting a snack,” I’d reply defensively. This often escalated into Saul growling something about needing to concentrate while making a “Queen of Puddings” and me marching out of the kitchen shouting “Can’t a man get a cookie in his own castle?”

We soon realized that part of the problem was that we weren’t tackling things together. Only a month ago we planned trips and parties, or even just went out to dinner or the movies. We had a mutual sense of purpose. But our new routine of avoiding each other during the day and watching television together at night wasn’t enough.

So we made a very specific chart to give us shared activities and projects:

MONDAY NIGHT — SOCIAL MEDIA BLACKOUT (way harder than I thought)

WEDNESDAY NIGHT — JIGSAW PUZZLE

FRIDAY NIGHT — DANCE TOGETHER FOR A HALF HOUR IN THE LIVING ROOM

SATURDAY NIGHT — BLACK-AND-WHITE MOVIE

SUNDAY NIGHT — ROMANTIC DATE NIGHT

As for my kitchen visits, we now needed to actually talk to each other about things that used to be routine. When I was a kid growing up with five other children under one roof, there was a rule that before we took a long shower, we had to ask everyone in the house if they needed to use the bathroom first. My husband and I adapted that for ourselves. Now Saul announces when he is going to be intensely focused in the kitchen, giving me a chance to grab snacks beforehand. And I vacate my “office” on Wednesdays and Sundays, so he can use it again to make art.

Both of us are being forced to reassess and reevaluate everything we took for granted. And we are well aware of the very real problems happening in the world outside our cocoon. Each day in this new reality, when we hit a roadblock with ourselves and each other, we are doing our best to take a breath and try to figure out a healthy way through it together.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman lives in Lambertville NJ. He enjoys snacking only at 1:15 and 3:25 every day unless he asks for permission two hours beforehand. For now, he is married.

IT’S MY BIRTHDAY.  DON’T TOUCH ME         

Celebrating Life During a Worldwide Quarantine

I have always been notorious for being difficult on my birthday.    I love attention, but I hate attention that is mandated.  On your birthday, people feel like they have to be nice.  There is nothing you’ve done to achieve it except being born.  Other Aries understand this.   If you have not earned people’s praise, it is not to be trusted.

Usually on my birthday I duck office cupcake parties like they are the plague (sorry for the untimely simile), and I am nasty and hostile to people who try to do nice things for me.  Then at the end of the day, I am hurt nobody did much for my birthday.    I’m pretty sure this personality quirk broke up my first relationship.   And now I notice my husband Saul gets visibly anxious around mid-March.   I don’t think it’s the only Ides he is bewaring of.

But how the hell does one prepare for this year?

When this quarantine began, there was a spirit of adventure among everyone.

Zoom meetings?     Yea!  

 I’m going to wear sweats and gain weight eating whatever I want!!   Wee!

But as this goes on for the foreseeable future, a new feeling seems to be creeping in..at least for me.  And I think that feeling is grief.

It’s not just for the loss of actual lives.  There is that.  But it’s also the loss of everyday habits and routines and, most of all, the loss of contact with people.

That has a big revelation for someone who is an introvert at heart.

I miss things like my daily coffee break —no matter what—with my dear friend and coworker Sara.  It’s the one moment in our often-hectic workday that we guard with our lives.  We walk a block to get coffee or tea and check in on each other.  When we began this ritual ten years ago, we often worried about whether we’d ever stop dating the wrong guys and getting our hopes dashed.  Now we are both married to good guys, and Sara has two wonderful kids.

And I miss my friends Jose and Will and our frequent forays to Broadway. Everyone has that thing they spend more money on that they should– sports events or shoes or tigers—our thing is Broadway shows.   I have also lured Saul into this thespian cult.   It took him awhile to drink the Bernadette-Peters-flavored Kool-Aid, but he finally (though still reluctantly) sips it.   I even miss our drives into NYC to see a play with Saul grouchily predicting that it is going to be awful and boring.  He does this before every single play even though he is wrong at least 8 times of 10. (Saul will dispute this but it’s my birthday, so you have to take my side).

I miss weekend gatherings with friends’ even though I always got terrible social anxiety before each and every one.

I DON’T miss riding a crowded bus to work.  Check back with me on that one in a few months.

Like many people, I’m no stranger to birthday grief.    I remember the sharp pain of my first birthday after I lost my big sister.    I still can’t believe I’ve now experienced more years of life than she did.  And there were so many others where I beat myself up because I still was single or hadn’t written that book or had no money or was floundering in my career.    Birthdays felt like a report card on my life instead of a celebration of life itself.

On top of all that, I was superstitious.  I had read Shirley McLane meditated on the exact hour of her birth each year and set her intentions for the 365 days ahead.   One time she envisioned winning an Academy Award and she did!    Since reading that, I’ve doggedly got up for the exact hour of my birth (6:20 AM) and meditated and set intentions for my coming year.   When I moved to LA I got up and drove an hour and a half to the ocean making sure to be sitting on the beach at that exact magic 6:20 AM hour.  I set some awesome intentions that year.   I was going to make Shirley look like an underachiever!  Then I realized that since I was born in Ohio and I was sitting on a west coast beach with a three-hour time change, I actually should have been there at 3:20 AM.  I had missed the magic hour completely and the sand in my underwear was all for naught.

This year I’m back in the right time zone but somehow missed my appointed intention-setting time again.  I basically had one thing to do today—get up at 6:15—but somehow set my phone alarm wrong.

So even though I probably missed my chance, I will tell you what my intention was for the year.

ENJOY HUMAN CONTACT— even though it is messy and irritating and unpredictable and anxiety-inducing.

Enjoy the run-ins and the scuffles and the people sitting too close and doing all the wrong things.

Enjoy the hand-holding and the hugs and the bemused smiles as people look in my eyes, and the small kindnesses and the holding of doors and the picking up of something I dropped.

Enjoy the idle gossip and the  laughing together at the absurdity of it all.

Enjoy people taking bites of my food and chewing too loudly too close to me and people interrupting me when I’m trying to write (like my husband just did a few minutes ago).

Enjoy it all.

Okay…I got carried away.

NO ONE  has to enjoy people chewing too loudly.   We are not animals.  We must still maintain a civilized society.

But other than that, this is my birthday wish.   Even if I will still have to take breaks from socializing every once in a while to recharge, and even though I am pretty sure I will still get that familiar  anxiety once I’m out and about in the world again, I want fully to enjoy as much as I possibly can the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of sharing this planet  with other glorious human beings

ABOUT THE AUTOR:   Keith Hoffman was going to win the Pulitzer Prize this year, but he overslept this morning.

 

 

 

 

 

Start A Writers Group Without Leaving Your Front Door

Virtual meetings are for more than working from home

One of the very best things I did to finally finish my book was start my own writing group but it happened pretty much by accident.

Enforced inspiration

Five years ago my company held a creative offsite. For those who have never worked in the corporate world, offsites are these odd things where you are forced to travel outside your office and comfort zone with your coworkers and prompted to do unnatural things in the name of team building and innovative thinking. You have to solve a puzzle with Janice from Accounting and Greg from Research Analytics (people from Research Analytics are always annoyingly good at solving puzzles) or write three ideas to move your brand forward using your left hand and an orange crayon. I loathe creative offsites. It feels like enforced creativity. I dislike them as much as work Happy Hours which feel like enforced fun. I guess like many writers, I am a loner at heart.

We ended this particular offsite by sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor taking turns announcing one way we could “improve creativity in the workplace”. Ugh.

Yelling “pass” didn’t seem like an option. I had to come up with something. I had been wanting to join a writers’ group to force myself to finish my book for some time and had been looking for just the right teacher who would guide me to that perfect best-seller. I was pretty sure there was no such person at my workplace, but when my turn came that was the idea that popped out of my mouth.

“We could order a pizza and meet in the 8th Floor conference room once a month at 6:00 pm and read out loud the pieces we’ve written. I mean…that is…if anyone is interested.” I said this as if I had been thinking about this idea for more than five minutes.

The response from the group was huge. Sign me up! That would be great! Please start one! I assumed the big reaction was the result of me mentioning pizza, and was pretty sure it would be forgotten the minute the offsite was over and we returned to our normal work lives.

A budding Proust snacking on a madeleine in the next cubicle?

But the interest wouldn’t go away. I was reminded weekly by at least one person that they couldn’t wait for me to start that writing group. Finally, after some nudging from my boss: “Those kinds of innovative actions are looked at favorably during promotion time, I sent out a mass work email, found a place that delivered pizza and moved the lava lamp from my desk to the 8th floor conference room one Wednesday evening after work. The first meeting was huge. Who knew there were so many secret writers in my office? We had to rush through each person to get everyone home before midnight. But soon the novelty wore off and the group was whittled down to six dedicated writers. They worked in every department — from people in creative fields to those who were executive assistants — but each person who ended up staying was a talented writer with a unique voice.

Since the group met after work, we felt safe reading personal things, and I reminded everyone that what was read and said in the group stayed in the group. Over time, we shared our stories and our lives and got to know each other far more deeply than we had working side by side all those years. One production manager who lost her husband to alcoholism wrote a piece on addiction that was more powerful and insightful than anything I’ve read before or since. The shy tape librarian who had initially been reticent to join us started a book that eventually got published. It’s called Don’t Get Too Excited because that was what she would say to us every session before reluctantly reading one of her brilliant stories. Eventually our work group staged a public reading at our boss’ apartment in the Upper West Side of Manhattan twice a year that became a popular and anticipated event.

Light a fire

Our group lasted almost five years until corporate restructuring laid off many of the members. By that time, I had learned that you don’t have to wait for someone else to start the perfect group. I started a new one with my neighbors in the small town of New Hope, PA. We meet in the back room of Farley’s, the local bookstore, (which they let us have for free) and it is still going strong today. We’ve also had a public reading of our work and asked people to buy a book from Farley’s as the price of admission. I am constantly reminded that these groups are an age-old tradition that started with telling stories around the fire. The more you tell your stories, the better you get at it. And all I had to do was create a safe space for those two hours we met.

Your computer can be for more than writing

But there are several reasons people can’t come together to meet as a group. There may not be an affordable distraction-free space. Coffee shops can be loud and unpredictable. Or someone may have a physical disability that makes mobility challenging. Maybe you don’t know any writers in your town or live in a remote area or just can’t be away from home for long. Perhaps you are looking for a group of very specific writers — mystery or romance novelist or cookbook creators— and there aren’t enough of you in close proximity. Or maybe you already have a wonderful group of writing friends, but they live in other parts of the world.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime workshop with memoirist Mary Karr in Greece. A bunch of us who attended would meet between Mary’s sessions forming an impromptu session where we read our own work to each other. After we returned home from that workshop, we tried to keep up the strong connection we had formed. We made audio files of our work and emailed them to each other. Everyone tried to listen to the files and reply with their thoughts, but something got lost in the distance and mechanics of it all. I discovered if I didn’t schedule time to listen each week, I just never got to it. Life had a way of interfering.

But in the last couple of years, technology has been able to bring humans closer. More people work from home because and Zoom or Skype into meetings. Why can’t we do the same with writing groups?

The rules don’t change: Bring work to the group no more than a certain length (I learned from a mentor that 7 pages is optimal), keep comments constructive, and make a commitment to show up. Instead of printing out copies, you can email your work beforehand. As far as I can tell, the benefits are still the same. There is something about reading your work out loud that is informative and illuminating. And there is nothing that gets one motivated like having a deadline

If you have wanted to be part of a writer’s group, now is a great time to start.  Email five to seven writers you’d like to work with, and set up a time where you meet for a couple hours each week or every two weeks once a month and download Zoom on your computer (this is the most challenging part for people like me—but I swear if I can do it, you can do it too).

Put on sweats, order pizza, pour some seltzer or a little wine since you don’t have to drive anywhere and…viola!  Of course, you still have to write something between group meetings.  That part technology hasn’t figured out yet.

Who is on your fantasy writing team?   Today is as good as any to send out a first email asking someone if they might be interested.  Don’t make the mistake I did and wait for a creative offsite to force you to take that first step.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   Keith Hoffman is currently using his innovative thinking skills  to figure out how to conduct all of his human exchanges through zoom.