Photo by Claudiu Hegedus on Unsplash

In a previous life, my job was to help people get normal with food — not so much the planning and preparing of it, but how to make peace with it. How to coexist with it. How to be one of those mysterious people who can have cookies in the cupboard but forget they’re there.

I’ve got degrees ‘n stuff, but here is how I really learned how to do this:

When I got out of the Army I stayed in Germany. At the time, the only goal I could articulate for my post-military self was that I needed to…

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In a previous article, I wrote about how to bag yourself a Writing BFF:

However, I didn’t mean to make it sound as though the relationship I have with my writing buddy was easily achieved, or that it’s always been smooth sailing between us. As with any friendship in its developmental stages, there’s a level of trust that has to be built. A lot of it has to happen organically (which is to say, screwing up a little, but learning from it and doing better). …

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I met my writing BFF in a night class, one that promised to help us finish our novels. There were a dozen or so others in the class, all with manuscripts in various stages of completion. We were led by a cool South African writer who had had several mystery and crime novels published.

The students were writing all kinds of interesting things, but of course, you like what you like. You like WHO you like. I made a few good writing chums in that class, but my soon-to-be Writing BFF was quiet and kind of messy-looking (like me). She…

Tough As Old Boots (Nancy Stroer)

I’m saying goodbye to a beloved pair of walking boots the same week I’m reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.

(Sorry for the SPOILER but I’m probably the last person in America to read this book, anyway): As Strayed crafts a pair of boots out of duct tape to survive the Pacific Crest Trail, I contemplate how there’s no more life left in my old gals. They can’t absorb even one more drop of waterproof spray. The uppers have permanently separated from the soles. I got a new pair for Christmas and I’m breaking them in on daily walks with my dog…

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This is a little story about writing wild but staying within the lines:

I’m disciplined about writing, but this is a practice I’ve had to cultivate. Not because I won’t show up to the page every day — oh, no. I will sit down and open a notebook at the same time every day, day after day like the best little automaton you ever saw. I set achievable word count goals and meet them. I chop wood while I wait for the muse to wake up and tell me what to do. Here are some of my thoughts on that topic, as a matter of fact:

This steady march toward progress, though, quickly…

Painting by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

I used to teach for the Transition Assistance Program, a four-day course that helps active duty military people move smoothly to civilian life — job search, budgeting, how to decide what to wear, day after freaking day when you don’t have a uniform anymore — all sorts of useful stuff.

It was fun, and important, and stressful (what’s more nerve-wracking than teaching someone how to keep a roof over their heads?). So to lighten the mood when things got angst-y, I regaled the workshop participants with stories of the gaffs I made in my own transition from military to civilian…

Twenty years ago, I took my first online writing class.

In the early weeks, students posted short stories and critiqued them as a getting-to-know-you exercise. My friend Renee was living in Boston but had grown up in Minnesota, and the other students gushed at how her prose shimmered like wheat fields in the summer sun. I was living in Turkey at the time and beginning to write about women in the Army. I’m sure whatever I submitted was arid and strange and full of profanity, but I’m also sure that everyone murmured vaguely kind things about it. It was a group of well-meaning beginners.

A man in the class posted a coming-of-age story about a young boy growing up in the Deep South in the 1940s. In the story, the boy is befriended by an older man — a courtly Black gentleman who goes from house to house in their gentle southern town, mowing lawns for free.

Wait. What?

“Does he have to…

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Here’s a story I heard in elementary school that has stuck with me, that I often think about when I’m writing:

A kid goes to an old man, known in those parts to be wise, for advice. “The other kids pick on me,” he says. “How do I get big muscles so I can be more intimidating?”

The old man, who’d been napping in the shade of a tree when the kid came up, settles back and pulls his hat over his eyes. “Well now,” he waves his hand in the direction of a cord of wood. “Why don’t you chop some of that wood for me and let me think about it.”

So the kid chops logs for a while…

Nancy Stroer

I grew up feral in GA & went to college at Cornell. I fought in the beer-soaked trenches of post-Cold War Germany and now I write novels in northern England.

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