Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer

Following My Own Advice

I’ve often thought that the most autobiographical line of fiction I’ve ever written is the one that reads, “Hannah hated hypocrisy.” And since I hate hypocrisy in myself as much as I dislike it in others, I try strenuously to follow in my own life the advice that I dispense. Thus, I’m happy to say that over this past weekend, I completed my latest “I Did It!” list.

Newsletter readers may recall my recommending this activity most recently in the January issue. It’s the creation of Lisa Romeo (disclosure: Lisa happens to be a book-promo client of mine at the moment). As Lisa explains:

As writers, we are too quick to dismiss our small(er) accomplishments, the small steps or steady strides that carry us forward toward larger goals. Especially at this time of year, we may be tempted to focus on what we didn’t finish, didn’t get done, didn’t accomplish–and then shoot straight to a new MUST-DO list for the coming year, one that too often smacks of recrimination.

First, let’s pause to look back and take note of the ways we’ve already begun moving in the direction of our dreams. The list is a way of noticing ourselves as DO-ERS.

A writer’s “I Did It List” is a clear reminder that there isn’t just one goal, one imperative, one project or avenue of development, or only one fun and enriching writerly thing to accomplish. My past lists remind me of what brought me fulfillment, of the new creative people who came into my life, and how I added to my skills, confidence, and understanding of why I write after all.

I’m not going to share my entire list with all of you, but I will offer a couple of observations that I found noteworthy.

First, I was astonished by how many items on my list had emerged unanticipated over the year. That is to say, quite a few of them hadn’t been part of any “resolution” or conscious plan at the year’s outset.

I was also impressed by how much of my list involved acquiring some new skill (loosely defined). For instance, for one freelance article, I finally learned how to record a telephone interview via smartphone (and, through another app, how to obtain a transcription).

At the same time, I realized that part of my “accomplishment” record rests on managing to sustain meaningful projects and activities over time, whether that’s a matter of creating and sending out new work; producing the monthly newsletters and more frequent blog posts; or continuing to attend conferences and readings (and launch parties!) that both enlarge my sense of the world in a variety of ways and help anchor me within a writing life.


I think that in last week’s Midweek Notes I mentioned that I had just submitted my latest “A View from the U.S.A.” column for the Jewish Chronicle. That piece was published on Friday; it contains reflections on some personal (and Jewish) connections to the recent Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.


As you may know, I do run a second blog on this website: My Machberet. “Machberet,” the Hebrew word for notebook is (appropriately) one of the very first words I learned in my first Hebrew school in Brooklyn (and, until last summer, one of the few conversational Hebrew words I still remembered). So I  chose it to title the blog where I offer write-ups on Jewish news (especially of the literary sort) and occasional commentary.

This month, My Machberet is also serving as host for the Jewish Book Carnival, a project of the Association of Jewish Libraries. Check out the Carnival post to learn more.

P.S. So much for a new format for these Wednesday posts. Please bear with me!

9 thoughts on “Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer

  1. Temima Goldberg Shulman says:

    How poignant and personal.
    In your description I got the sense that these individuals’ sense of justice was something that surged from their inner constitution.

  2. Temima Goldberg Shulman says:

    In your description I got the sense that these individuals’ sense of justice was something that surged from their inner constitution.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      I think that’s right. Also, perhaps, upbringing. (I am thinking in particular of some stories from my grandmother’s childhood, which she shared with Esther.)

  3. Gargi says:

    Erika, thanks so much for advocating Lisa’s suggestion of an I-did-it list! I agree with Lisa’s explanation and logic – the bit about the must-do list that “often smacks of recrimination” really hit home. I made my list this week and it really felt good to see so many items that were hoped for but completely unexpected, and here I mean things like high word count and regular writing routine as opposed to venues published or submissions made. A really positive experience!

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      I’m so glad!

  4. Hi Erika, I also recently started a daily I Did List and found it transformative. First, it gave me accountability. Second, by tracking my time, I could see what I actually accomplished. This turned out to be more than I thought. Sure, racking up the pages of manuscript-in-progress is an essential goal, but we forget about the research, learned skills, the craft work, reading, posting, revising, submitting, and connecting that is part of the writing life.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Oh, my goodness. A DAILY list? That’s really something. Impressive!

  5. Wendy Call says:

    Hello Erika,

    I do annual and (when I’m organized) monthly “I did it!” lists and I love them! I am curious about the app you found to transcribe the phone interview that you recorded. Can you share what it was, and how well it worked?

    Thanks so much for your excellent work, over so many years, Erika!


    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Hi, Wendy! Thank you so much for your kind comment!

      The app was Rev, and the Call Recorder app that I used to record the phone made it easy to transmit the recording. The transcription was okay–not perfect, but adequate. (I think the transcriptionist probably had some difficulty with some of the culturally-specific terms that came up in the conversation, which I was able to correct myself.)

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