How Flashdance Started my Writing Career

December 7, 2022 § 6 Comments

By Morgan Baker

When I heard the news that Irene Cara of Flashdance died recently, the butterflies in my stomach twirled around and sank. Not only did her death bring up the issue of my mortality as she was only a year younger than me, it also brought me back to an empty movie theater on Tremont Street in Boston, where I watched Flashdance for the first time.

That day, the old theater smelled of stale popcorn and butter, with sticky floors and uncomfortable seats, and was nearly empty. I was there by myself, and as I watched, I became riveted. This movie was made for me.

It was 1983. I had graduated college three years earlier, and realized the world beyond the walls and the ivory tower wasn’t so great. In New York, where my peers and I had landed, I discovered that peeling potatoes and cutting up artichokes while wearing a toque, double-breasted white jacket and checkered pants in the kitchen of a fancy hotel really wasn’t my thing.

I moved to Boston and found a basement apartment in Kenmore Square which I shared with roaches and an army of mice. I watched Diana and Charles get married from my bed.

Like Jennifer Beals, I was encouraged by family to work in a safe environment – not to take gigantic risks. So, I went to secretarial school, which I rarely share with anyone, and then I worked in an ad agency as a glorified secretary and then as the head of the “traffic” department. My job was to report on what creative teams were on time with their work, and who was not. I did this at every Monday Morning Meeting in front of all the executives and president. I was a hired rat.

I had originally thought I could move into a writing position there – working creatively on print and TV ads. This was not going to happen. I didn’t have the skill set for jingles and snappy copy. 

I developed insomnia. On Sunday nights, I laid spreadsheets out on the floor in my new one-bedroom apartment between MIT frats on Beacon Street. I checked off those deadlines that had been met and highlighted in yellow those that hadn’t. I didn’t like being a snitch.

One day after work, I walked up Washington Street, between the pillars of the Boston shopping world – Filene’s and Jordan’s – and found my way into the little movie theater on Tremont.

There, on the screen, I saw Jennifer Beals, as Alex Owens, pursue her dream of dancing professionally against all odds and making it. She was a blue-collar steel worker and didn’t come from the world of ballet. And, we were the same age – sort of. If she could put herself out there like that, so could I. I forgot that this was a movie, where things turn out for the protagonist. I was hooked.

Just as Owens wanted to dance, I wanted to write. During my angsty teenage years, I played with poetry while listening to Fleetwood Mac and Carole King (still my hero). But poetry and I parted ways and while I was informing on my colleagues at the ad agency, I took classes in Public Relations where I learned to write press releases. I took classes in feature writing, where I learned how to interview sources. This was not an easy feat for someone who couldn’t speak in public and hid in the back of every classroom. But, I figured, if I could tattle on the creative teams in front of a room full of mostly older white men, I could do this too. I felt smart asking questions of people who knew more than me.

I loved writing. I missed taking college courses, and this felt like an extension of college. I yearned to write about topics and people I wanted to know about more. Writing was also an extension of me and my interests and thoughts. I loved finding the right word to describe a look, or a place.

But in order to really get better and have a career doing this, I’d have to take a leap of faith, and apply to graduate school. That was terrifying.

Beals, as she danced across the screen, gave me the push I needed. It didn’t hurt that a friend offered to give me $500 if I quit the same day.

I did.

I’ve never looked back. I am not a fancy writer with a world-renowned name and career, but I have written for a lot of publications and I’ve never been bored. I’ve written about child development and parenting and benefitted from a lot of free advice. I’ve written health pieces about miscarriage, sleep disruptions, STDs, and more. I wrote business pieces, where I learned about electric cars and assisted living long before they were commonplace. I’ve written profiles on some of the coolest people – singers, writers, lawyers, actors, and teachers. Most recently, I was the managing editor for a website for older readers on how to live fulfilling lives. I’ve also written personal essays and memoir pieces that resonate with readers.

And, I teach. I work in college classrooms where students are trying on different personas to see which fits best. I guide older writers who are working on their life stories. Some hope to publish and have, but all are compelled to write these stories and be heard. Just like me.

While Irene Cara is gone, Jennifer Beals is still alive. The take-away for me is the same today as it was in 1983. Follow your dreams. Don’t be discouraged by how hard it is. Keep focused, be persistent, and define your own success.

Morgan Baker’s work has been featured in many regional and national publications both on-line and in print. These include The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe Magazine, The Brevity Blog, Talking Writing, The Bark, Cognoscenti, and Hippocampus. She was managing editor of The Bucket. She teaches at Emerson College and through private workshops. Her memoir, Emptying the Nest: Getting Better at Good-byes will be out Spring ’23 with Ten16 Press. For more information visit Morgan at

Simmering My Story

September 23, 2022 § 24 Comments

By Morgan Baker

When my husband wanted to breed our second Portuguese Water Dog, Spray, I hedged. I didn’t think this was the greatest idea. Research told me that Spray could develop pyometra, a potentially life threatening infection, or ovarian cancer. Puppies could get stuck on their way out, and some puppies just don’t make it after birth. This all terrified me. I showed Matt all the literature on the dangers of breeding. He stood his ground. This would be a great family adventure. 

Ellie, my younger daughter, didn’t agree with him either. We had added her to our family to help Ellie with her anxiety when she was 13. Spray was her dog. 

I also didn’t want to be a “backyard breeder.” If we were going to do this, I wanted to be a responsible breeder. The couple from whom we got Spray thought we were great candidates for breeders. They sold Spray to us on an unlimited contract, which meant we could breed her and register the puppies as purebred Portuguese Water Dogs. Most contracts restrict new owners from breeding and require them to neuter their puppies. 

After much discussion, we went forward with the breeding. Spray was gentle and laid back, the sweetest Portuguese Water Dog we’d ever known and if she could bring more sweet pups into the world, we would make a lot of families happy. Not only did the Nightingales, our breeders, guide us through all the tests Spray had to undergo to make sure she was genetically fit to have puppies, they gave us their whelping box and all their blankets and fleecing pads. After more than seven litters, they were ready to pass on their wisdom and accoutrements.

I took notes and started a blog about the breeding and whelping, which coincided with Maggie’s last year of high school and her departure to college. At the end of the whole shebang, Matt suggested I write a book about the adventure. 

I did.

It took years during which I taught, freelanced and drove Ellie’s carpool. I submitted queries to agents and pitched it to small publishers at the AWP Annual Conference, but it didn’t go anywhere. I was tired, frustrated, and disappointed. Then my husband and I moved to Hawaii, the perfect time to put the memoir in a drawer while I started writing about my next adventure. But the puppy story stayed with me.

We returned from Hawaii shortly before the pandemic. I participated in a virtual writing retreat and pulled the puppy book out of the drawer. I started futzing with it. 

I called my writing friend, Becca, who had edited the memoir at one point. “I just realized, it’s not about the dogs, it’s about Maggie,” I said. 

Her response: “I told you that three years ago.”


The memoir was about saying goodbye to Maggie, my older daughter. I had avoided writing about the depression that had tripped me up, then grabbed me and held me prisoner. It was scary and embarrassing to revisit, but I knew that was the direction I had to go.

I continued to take classes and workshops. I wrote a stronger query letter, I rewrote the beginning and restructured the whole memoir. I was patient with myself and the story, especially the hard parts.

Some writers can crank out a book every year. Not me. But I never gave up. This was a story I needed to write and wanted to share. 

I learned to be flexible, to listen to how readers interpreted my story. The editor who read the very first draft, which was horrible, said the story was about my marriage. While she had a point, that wasn’t why I was writing. I wanted to write about the adventure my family went on, how I eventually got on board. I wanted to explore the conflict between how great the puppies were and how depressed I was over my daughter’s departure. I wanted to show how I made it through and how I dealt with subsequent good-byes.

Now with a restructuring, some serious rewrites, a new beginning, and more false starts with agents and small publishers, my memoir has been picked up by a small indie press. It’s a heady feeling. The new publisher thought writing about mental health was important and that my story would resonate with other moms sending their teenagers out into the world. 

I am proud of myself for writing the thing that scared me the most, and I’m proud of myself for never giving up. Sometimes things take a while to cook. Sometimes simmering is better than boiling. 

Maggie is now 30 years old and married. I am older too. The college days are long gone. But when I revisit the moment when we said good-bye in front of her new dorm and walked away from each other, my stomach lurches and all the good-byes I’ve had to say in my life come back and rock my soul. 


Morgan Baker’s work can be found in The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Cognoscenti, Motherwell, Under the Gum Tree, Expression, The Brevity Blog, and The Bark, among other publications. She teaches at Emerson College and privately online. She was the managing editor for She is excited that her debut memoir will be out in Spring 2023 from Ten16 Press. She lives with her husband and two dogs in Cambridge, MA. For more information on workshops visit Morgan at

The Other Side of the River

September 5, 2022 § 21 Comments

By Morgan Baker

I’m at an impasse. I’ve carved out time to write in a beautiful setting with a pond and ocean before me. Just me and my two dogs. I walk them almost every morning on the beach before towels and coolers cover the sand and people run in and out of the sea.

I walk watching the ground under my feet as we traverse the curve of the cove. Is there anything there that is going to trip me and send me flailing and falling? What I discover however, as I gaze at the ground, is that I often miss what’s in the distance—the shoreline I can walk towards, the birds protected in the sand, the dogs running in circles and jumping in and out of the water, or the other side of the creek that flows from the pond to the beach.

I find a piece of seaglass, harder and harder to find in a world of plastics, that reminds me to keep putting the words down. Don’t stop. Keep going. 

The dogs bolt up the dune to the path home, as I huff my way behind them. The puppy leaps in and out of the tall grass that looks like wheat waving in the wind. If she stops for a minute, I can’t find her. She’s hidden from view.

I return to the cottage, lay sheets on the sofa and futon to absorb the water and sand from the dogs, and open my computer. The dogs will nap. I eye them with envy. Napping is one of my joys. 

I have exactly what I’ve been waiting for and wanting—time and a new location in which to write. My own private writing retreat.

But, it’s not working. What’s wrong? I want to scream to the field of tall grass in front of me. 

I know what I want to write about. I know what I want the next project to be, but I can’t seem to connect what’s in my head to the words on the page. Like wading across a great river rushing by, I’m afraid I’ll be dragged down the rapids. It’s safer to stay on one side or the other.

Maybe I’m afraid of what’s in those rapids, of what memories are churning around in there that I need to reach in and pull out. 

I am easily distracted—text messages from my family bounce all over about scheduling meals for when they join me and the dogs. My writing time, alone, is coming to an end and I haven’t done what I planned to, but a family vacation I have been dreaming of is about to ensue. 

Sometimes writing plans get derailed, but other opportunities present. A potential client reached out to me the second week about helping him write some of his story. Didn’t see that coming.

I remind myself that I’ve read five memoirs during these two weeks. I don’t have that kind of time during the school year as I juggle my in-person classes and online workshops. 

I’ve even written several magazine assignments on this retreat. For pay, I might add.

And riding on top of all this, I must decide whether to sign with a small independent publisher for the memoir that took ten years to write, edit, stick away, edit again and now set free. 

More fear rises in my gut. I’ve wanted to write and publish my memoir for a long time, but now that it might happen, I want to hide in this cottage forever. What if it’s not good, what if no one reads it, what if I can’t finish the next one. What If?  What if?

Time, I’m reminded, is not on my side either. I’m in my mid 60s. 

So, I return to my writing. I know I have to start every essay with tenderness. I need to be kind to myself as I barf all over the page and pretend someone is holding my hair back, but the words won’t come out. Like the last toothpaste at the end of the tube, no matter how much I squeeze, the words are just not going to move. 

Writing is often about facing my fear—of stepping into that rushing water and realizing I will get to the other side. 

I don’t have to be fearless to move forward with my writing. Bravery doesn’t mean I’m not afraid, it just means I’ll keep going looking to my right and left to make sure I’m not going to trip on a rock or branch floating in the water.

I climb out of the rapids, I start to write. I bark at the fear the way my dog barks at rain and wind.  


Morgan Baker’s work can be found in The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Cognoscenti, Motherwell, Under the Gum Tree, Expression, The Brevity Blog, and The Bark, among other publications. She teaches at Emerson College and privately online. She was the managing editor for She is excited that her debut memoir will be out in Spring 2023 from Ten16 Press. She lives with her husband and two dogs in Cambridge, MA. For more information on workshops visit Morgan at

Don’t Rush It

June 16, 2022 § 19 Comments

By Morgan Baker

I don’t like being late – to classes I teach or the airport to catch a plane. My anxiety meter goes haywire if I haven’t given myself the time to organize before school or when I’m packing to go away. Will I need my swimsuit? What about those shoes? I allow extra time wherever I go, which means I’m usually early.

My stepfather once told my daughter as he drove her to a summer job, “You’re on time if you’re ten minutes early.”

I’ve taken that to heart.

When my daughter and I went to a wedding in Montana a few years ago, we were excited about the event, and to see the big sky landscape we had heard so much about. I didn’t want to feel rushed or anxious, so I allowed for plenty of extra time to get through security and find our gate.

We watched planes taxiing to other gates from the rocking chairs we sat in. For three hours.

But when it comes to my writing, I don’t follow my own advice. I often rush it. I think I’m done way before I really am. My husband, a former journalist and editor, reminds me frequently to slow down, think the piece through, whether it’s an essay or a profile I’m working on. Wait, he says, before sending it out. There are always opportunities to expand or transform my writing.

I don’t always listen. Often, I already have a good sense of what’s working and where I need more, but instead of figuring out the fixes, I get jittery and eager and I send off the piece to trusted readers and editors, hoping they won’t notice the holes.

Not only do they notice, they fall in them.

I encourage the writers in my workshops to take their time. Sit on your work for a day or two, or more, I tell them. If it’s a timely essay, sit on it for a few hours. Wait and see how the work matures over time. Then revisit and revise. Don’t rush. Wait before taking a bite of the cookie that’s just come out of the oven. Don’t burn your mouth.

I spoke with a writer recently who has a book of essays out, and she told me some of the essays took her years to write. Years.

I don’t have years. I want to get my book of essays out now!

I’m a problem solver. I like immediate results. I can usually fix someone else’s challenge, edit their work, or find their lost car key. Helping myself is more perplexing and time consuming.

But when I linger on my pieces, like waiting to bite that hot cookie, it’s always worth it. I might remember another aspect of the topic I want to add in, or recognize a theme I didn’t see before.

I’ve been working on a collection of essays for, yes, years, and I thought I knew their purpose. but recently, I realized I was going in the wrong direction. There was a theme in my work I hadn’t seen earlier, a theme that tied my shorter pieces together from two separate projects. I am now going to select, toss, and revise. Because I’d taken my time with the essays, the theme had time to marinate before it jumped out at me.

Now I’m eager to get going. But I need to heed the yellow light ahead and slow down, take my time, let the pieces simmer, blow on them a little so they’re not so hot and I can hold them.

If I rush to pack, I might forget the shoes I need, or my bathing suit in case there’s a pool. Sometimes I have to unpack and repack to make sure I have everything I need—editing my suitcase like I edit a book. I repack, rolling my clothes instead of folding them. They take up less room that way, and there is more room to add and substitute items. Just as I can revise once more, allowing for expansion and transformation.

Morgan Baker has written for The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, The Bark, The Bucket, Talking Writing, Cognoscenti, Motherwell, and several times for the Brevity Blog. She teaches at Emerson College and runs workshops privately (see She lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband and two dogs.

Co-Writing Works

March 8, 2022 § 25 Comments

By Morgan Baker

When I went to the florist to get some holiday cheer for my house—white hydrangeas and some greenery—I was on the clock.  I had a standing appointment at 12:30 I couldn’t miss. Several times a week, I log on to Zoom in Boston and write with friends I’ve made: from Dubai and Amsterdam, British Columbia and Seattle.

I’ve always been envious of those writers who belong to supportive writers’ groups or write in coffee shops with earbuds in, listening to their music while people chat, drink and make noise around them.

Neither of those two scenarios work for me. First, how do you find like-minded people who have the same ideas about how a writing group should work? And second, how can anyone work among so many distractions in a public place?

I have tried a couple of in-person groups, but they’ve disintegrated after a few months. The writers were on different trajectories, or their needs didn’t mesh. I’ve never been a coffeeshop writer, although it sounds romantic.  

I do have a few people with whom I can share my work. Although writers are generally warned not to show family members work-in-progress, I rely on my husband, a former journalist turned communications guy, and one friend to read my words and tell me the straight-up honest truth. I’m not always thrilled to hear what they have to say, but I always appreciate their wisdom.

For the most part, however, I’ve always written alone.

But when the pandemic hit, virtual became our normal. When the world was shutting down, my writing world opened up. I took part in a fair number of courses and retreats, met writers from all over, and became part of a wider writing community.

We don’t share our work per se on these co-writing Zooms, but we share our time together and support one another in our goals. We are accountable to one another—thus my rush home with an armful of hydrangeas. At the beginning of each session, we announce where we’re coming in from and what we plan to do for the next hour or hour and half. At the end of each session we regroup and share what we’ve accomplished. Through our muted windows, we give thumbs up or clap silently when we hear how others are progressing. This support is invaluable. I am spurred on to write more, to push myself to work harder.

Co-writing Zooms occur almost every day. Three times a week, I sign on with a group at 7am. The facilitator Zooms in from Toronto and the writers are all on East Coast time. For other sessions, later in the day, facilitators Zoom in from Dubai, Vancouver, and the Bay Area. While some writers are starting their day, some are finishing lunch and some will soon go to bed.

As we continue to work together, I learn little bits about their lives—their work, their families. Sometimes dogs even appear on screen while writers work on essays, school assignments, novels or memoirs. We celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and commiserate about the challenges.

I have written more since starting with the co-writing community, than when I wrote alone. Knowing someone is there waiting for me, helps. Knowing other people are working on similar projects helps. It reminds me of my experience working out. Hand me a workout regime, I will nod my head, agree I should do it, and then delete the plan from my phone. But when I have to be on Zoom with my personal trainer and other work-out buddies, I show up at 6AM.

Writing can be a lonely activity. It’s often hard to sit still for long periods of time as I ruminate on my life. I get up frequently for more coffee or shortbread cookies. Co-writing keeps my butt in my chair, and I am reassured knowing there are friends out there rooting for me as I cheer for them.

I sign on as often as I can, even when I don’t know what I want to work on. When I’m in session at the college where I teach, I’m curtailed by the hours I’m in the classroom, so during any breaks I have, I gorge myself on co-writing meetings. 

I miss the sessions—and the friends—when life takes me away, but for now, we are all here to write. Together.

Morgan Baker has written for The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, The Bark, The Bucket, Talking Writing, Cognoscenti, Motherwell, and several times for the Brevity Blog. She teaches at Emerson College and runs workshops privately (see She lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband and two dogs, from where she signs on to co-write as often as possible.

Cringing, Crying, and Celebrating

February 15, 2022 § 13 Comments

By Morgan Baker

I recently reread my memoir-in-progress, about my oldest daughter leaving for college and my subsequent collapse in despair. My daughter is now 11 years out of college and has been married for four. I am older too, and have recovered from that depression. But as I read it, I squirmed in my chair with anxiety.

I have restructured, revised, and refined this manuscript more times than I can count. I’ve worked on the focus/purpose of the story, and added more details. I started this project almost ten years ago, then after much frustration and a futile attempt at getting an agent, took a 4-year hiatus, sticking it under my desk while I worked on other projects. The memoir just couldn’t come together. Now, however, I’m in a completely different place—and my vision for the memoir has changed as well.

In one of my previous drafts, the reader learned I got depressed, a key turning point in the memoir, but truthfully, I glossed over it. Drove around the speed bump. I didn’t want to slow down and remember, and I didn’t want to share the gory details.

In a later draft, my editor encouraged me to go deep. I revised with more honesty and vulnerability. When I sent the memoir off to my father to read, he said he had a hard time reading about my depression. He thought the chapter was well written, he just never had known I could get so low, low enough that when I drove, I looked at guardrails and wondered what it would be like to go crashing through one. I never did, but sometimes I still wonder.

My husband avoided reading that section of the memoir as well, because he says, “I lived it.”

I didn’t enjoy writing that segment, either. My spine tingled when I recalled times I sobbed and sobbed, didn’t eat, screamed at my family, berated myself. I don’t share a lot about my depression outside my writing. I’m embarrassed by it, and no one really understands unless they’ve been there. Being depressed, as I described to a friend recently, is an out-of-body experience. I have no control over my emotions, or my behavior. I am not rational. Trust me when I tell you it’s not the same as being sad. You cannot pull yourself up by the bootstraps or get on with the program, as my mother used to suggest. If I could prevent myself, or anyone, for that matter, from feeling this way, I would. It’s horrible.

Just as I surprised myself by cringing at my portrayal of my own depression, I stunned myself by crying during a section where one of our dogs dies. Ezzie was four and we were about to breed her, but suddenly she developed a virulent cancer. She was dead the following Tuesday. I had to stop working on the manuscript section. It’s been six years since that dog died. Why did reading about it make me cry?

Robert Frost famously said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”  I didn’t really know what that meant until now.

Will I be the only one to cringe and cry?

I didn’t write the memoir to upset readers. I wrote it for myself first, to try and understand what happened to me and why. But I hid from myself and my reader. If I didn’t put it all on the page, then maybe it really wasn’t that bad. I didn’t want to share myself the way I think I have in the latest draft. I can’t hide anymore. I can’t pretend my sense of humor isn’t masking my depression, although it’s a fun challenge.

Luckily, medicine, friends, family, dogs, and therapy have kept me from sinking again into that quicksand of depression. It does, however, suck me in occasionally, reminding me not to get too comfortable. I work out, write, visit with friends, and rely on my husband and daughters to keep me in check.

But my memoir isn’t just about depression and death. It’s also about love, life and moving forward. I smile as I read scenes I wrote about watching another of our dogs give birth or my daughter as a field hockey goalie. I’m able to enjoy my family, dogs and quilting—a way to be kind to myself—as well. Now I celebrate watching my daughters move forward in their lives, standing tall as they walk away.  

Rereading sections of my memoir, I am surprised at how emotional I get. I lived it, I knew it first hand. Why did reading about it elicit such reactions from me? Perhaps because, finally, I slowed down over the speed bump.         

Morgan Baker has written for The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, The Bark, The Bucket, Talking Writing, Cognoscenti, Motherwell, and several times for the Brevity Blog. She teaches at Emerson College and runs workshops privately (see She lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband and two dogs, from where she signs on to co-write as often as possible.

The Benefits of Being a Student

November 9, 2021 § 16 Comments

By Morgan Baker

Standing at the baseline, ready to serve my first tennis game since forever, I panicked. I’d had a strong serve through my 40s, but somewhere in my 50s, I’d lost it. No more aces. No more getting it over the net or even into the serving box. My friends on the opposite side of the net shared advice.

“Throw it up like a telephone pole.”

“Don’t hit it if it’s not in the right place.”

Over and over, I bounced the ball, looked at where I wanted to send it and tossed the ball to the side, behind me, too far in front of me, anywhere but straight up. I was impatient, hitting bad throws just to get it over with, smacking the ball in the wrong direction for fault after fault.

I was humiliated.

I have always been a powerful but inconsistent player. I’ve been playing tennis since I was about 6. I am now 63. That’s a lot of tennis. My mother, an avid tennis player and a menace on the court, made sure her kids knew how to hit the ball. I played against her in doubles a lot in my 30s and 40s. I beat her once. It was all mental. When I’m on, I’m quite good, but when I question myself, I bomb. I know what I’m supposed to do. But I don’t always execute that which I know. I psych myself out, a lot.

Much like tennis, I figured I’d done the best I could with my memoir about my empty nest, my dogs and my depression. No-one seemed interested in it and frankly, I was bored. I thought I knew how to write—and play tennis—and I just had to work harder. If I just kept doing it, something would click and I would bounce back from my inconsistent play, or my messy memoir. I would improve by osmosis. While tennis is physical and writing is creative, they both take practice and mental stamina. They are hard to walk away from. I couldn’t quit.

Someone suggested I take a tennis lesson.

As a life-long player, I thought lessons were self-indulgent. I didn’t see the value of spending money on myself. What, I wondered, could I learn from others that I didn’t already know?

Turns out, a lot. 

The tennis lesson was fantastic. Justin pointed out where I needed to be on the court and how to follow through with my forehand. He improved my volley game. I had to go to the ball, and punch through my volley. Now my balls were forceful and went where I wanted them to go.

When we got to serving, Justin stood next to me. “Now serve.”

“But I’ll hit you,” I warned.

“No, you won’t,” he said with confidence. He was right. I threw the ball up straight and whacked it across the net.

My serve was back. I took another lesson later in the week and practiced hitting the way I used to. My game was at its best again.

More than fixing my serve, tennis lessons built back my confidence, just like the online writing classes and workshops I’ve taken recently.

Funny how it’s easy to forget I might need a teacher, when I am a teacher whose job it is to encourage and inspire writers. I suggest they write even when the output feels bad, so they have something to work on. My students practice their writing with prompts I give them, while I remind them that revision is key. To drive my point home, I require rewrites on all assignments. Sometimes, however, I forget my own lessons.

Once I permitted myself to be a student again, I was able to experiment, to take risks, to stretch my skills. Classes, retreats, readers and editors encouraged me to try something new with my work, just as Justin—himself a grad student in History—showed me new ways to serve.

If my tennis could improve, I thought, maybe it was time to revise the memoir. I rewrote and restructured. I made sure the point of the memoir was highlighted and not buried like before. Just because we are proficient in something doesn’t mean we can’t get better at it—or even, sometimes more importantly, feel more confident. As a student, I am reminded that we are always growing.

I did get injured again and had to pull out of tennis, and while I got a few bites on my memoir, no one has committed to it yet. But I am confident that when I do return to the court or send out my revised memoir, I will find my serve works; and my manuscript will be tighter, more honest, deeper.

As a student, I continually learn and improve. I am not stagnant. Thanks to Justin and my new writing community, I realize there is no finite time for improvement. It’s ongoing. Teachers need teachers, too.


Morgan Baker serves as Managing Editor of The Bucket and leads 6-member CNF workshops on Zoom; find out more at Her work has appeared in in Hippocampus, the Brevity Blog, The Bark, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Talking Writing, Motherwell, and more. She’s currently querying a memoir about the empty nest and depression.

Writing a Legacy

August 12, 2021 § 11 Comments

By Morgan Baker

When I was young, my neighbor, Caroline, in New York City and I created our own private library, before my parents’ separation when I was nine and I moved. We made pockets in which to put library cards in the back of our books and shared them between ourselves.

In the summers after the divorce, I spent hours lying on the scratchy rug at the local library with my cousin Betsy. There, I picked out all the stories about happy families like The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, and Cheaper by The Dozen.

I’m 63 now and aspects of that time still hit my nerve endings. My craving to write stemmed from wanting to tell all my parents how hard the divorce and the subsequent remarriages were on me as a kid and teen. I was lost in the melee of my parents’ acrimonious divorce and the fallout that continued for decades. I wasn’t sure anyone thought about how the children were managing. Well, I would show them. I acted out. I wasn’t welcoming to my stepfather, I was mad at my mother and I missed my father. I don’t remember any conversations between any of my parents and me, about how I was doing. Perhaps my mother worried about my behavior, but her pain colored any objectivity.

Now, writing gives me a voice, one I didn’t have when I was younger. I’m not the most outgoing person, but on the page, I feel safe. When I started writing professionally, it was with feature stories related to parenting, health, travel, growing older, and even business. 

I began writing creative nonfiction as a way to understand my life and bring clarity. Essays addressed my childhood, dogs, moving, mothering, and even writing.

I’m now editing a memoir I wrote because I wanted to understand the depression I fell into after my oldest daughter left for college and our family parted with a litter of puppies. Another project of linked essays about my family’s generational history on Martha’s Vineyard sits on my computer, waiting its turn. I wanted to save pieces of my life and that of my family’s, of a time when life there was easier and more casual. I want my daughters to know those stories. I’m drafting another memoir about my move to and from Hawaii as a 60-year-old with my husband. Writing about living on Oahu helps me own that experience and acknowledge how beneficial it can be to take risks at an older age.

Putting our stories down isn’t just about getting them published and going on (perhaps virtual) book tours. Writing also chronicles our lives for those who come after. I hope my memoirs find a wider market, but if they don’t, I’ve helped myself along the way and left a legacy.

Both my father and stepfather are sharing their own life stories now. My father wrote A Pewter Spoon about his childhood, professional, and personal life. Coincidentally, my youngest brother and I decided to interview my stepfather/his father, on his life story.

My relationships with my fathers were not always smooth. Ripples spread from where rocks were skipped, rough and many until they settled with time. Now, the water gently laps the shore where I stand with these two men, 88 and 91. My understanding and compassion for both of them grew with the reading and interview. I know why they both like to putter around their homes, fixing, painting, landscaping. I read about one father’s work that took him away from the kids; I appreciated how hard it was for the other to marry someone with three children.

There is value in writing and/or recording your history to pass on to your children. Sometimes, however, the readers’ memories don’t match the writer’s. Maybe they won’t agree with your view of a particular incident, or they might get sad revisiting their grandmother’s (your mother’s) death, but you thought it was important to chronicle. I want my memoirs to enter the world so readers will know they’re not alone fighting depression, that they too can take a chance on a huge adventure, and that a family’s history is often anchored in a place. If my projects never see an agent’s or editor’s desk, that’s okay, because when my children are ready, they’ll read about my life which, I hope, will enrich theirs. They may have questions that hopefully, I’ll be around to answer, just like I wish I could ask my mother who died in 2005 if she was sorry for the pain the divorce caused her children. More importantly, over time, I’ve forgiven myself for my behavior during my teens and twenties. Writing my story has helped me get there. I wish I could tell my mother about my life.


Morgan Baker writes about dogs, family, writing, moving, aging and places. Work is forthcoming or published in Hippocampus, the Brevity Blog, The Bark, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Talking Writing, Motherwell, and more. She is the Managing Editor of and teaches at Emerson College where she was honored with the Alan L Stanzler Award for Excellence in Teaching. Morgan also runs private CNF workshops on Zoom. She lives with her husband and two Portuguese Water Dogs in Cambridge.

They Hated My Orange Dress

June 22, 2021 § 31 Comments

by Morgan Baker

“Oh my god,” I said. “Look at this.” I handed my laptop to my daughter, Ellie. We were in our TV room.

After many unsuccessful submissions, the Boston Globe Magazine had just published my essay and I was ecstatic. For their Connections vertical, I’d written about how stores and restaurants in my neighborhood were closing and what that meant to my family. Not only were we regular customers, my daughters had worked in these establishments. We had become friends with the store owners. I thought this was a piece about change and loss, something I’ve encountered a lot in my life.

Many readers, including the shop owners, liked and related to the piece, whether they lived in my neighborhood or another. They got the point—how we belong to our neighborhoods.

But there was a group of readers who didn’t like it—at all. My stomach clenched when I read their comments. I felt like the kid sent to sit at the doofus table at Thanksgiving. This was such a benign piece. Who can’t relate to loss? But these readers judged me, the person, on where I lived and what I did, instead of the words on the page.

One reader said he had lived in the same town his whole life and didn’t know who I was, so how could I write about this? He noted my kids went to private school (not in the essay), and made assumptions about my level of privilege.

Disintegrating in my rocking chair, I wanted to defend myself. My daughters, however, told me to stop reading the comments.

“I’ll read them for you,” Maggie said over the phone from California. She picked out some positive ones. “See,” she said, “they get it.”

When I teach creative nonfiction, readers can comment on each others’ writing, but not on the writer’s life. We are there to help writers tell their stories convincingly, honestly and emotionally, whether the topics are break-ups, sexual assault or drug use.

Knowing when to release your work into the world is hard. I revise and revise and revise again, but knowing when I’ve finished is based on my gut, experience, and asking my husband, a former journalist and editor, who reads and critiques all my writing. I write to process and understand my experiences, and I write to be heard, to share my stories and feelings, whether about my daughters leaving home, moving, life with and without our dogs, or writing and teaching. I want to connect with my readers and when that connection doesn’t work, it can be crushing.

Knowing when to let go of what other people think is hard, too. Who are these readers—the haters and the naysayers with the time and energy to write damning comments? Maybe they’re just angry and looking for a way to vent? Readers are intrigued by some writers and will never read others. Stephen King is a great writer, but I don’t do scary, so I don’t read him. I barely watch scary TV scenes. I usually throw a blanket over my head.

I want my voice to be read and commented on—but not everyone is going to like me, just like not everyone is going to like the orange dress I wore to a party (horror of horrors!) and that’s okay. Writing is a personal endeavor. Getting what you want to say right—in a way that conveys the meaning of your idea or experience—is challenging and fun. It’s like putting a puzzle together. When you’re happy with how the puzzle looks—the one on the table resembles the one on the box cover – you’ve done your best. Then let it go. Send it out, like you would your child on the first day of school. Some of the kids are going to like your daughter and some, believe it or not, won’t.

Take the praise, and either ignore the negative or learn from it. Are the less-than-flattering comments about you or the writing? It certainly stung when readers didn’t like me. But those same readers might not like me if we met at a party.

Sometimes negative comments are as important as the positive. As mad or disgusted the readers might be, I did engage them. Maybe not the way I intended, but they still read and reacted. I care more about connecting with readers than protecting myself—whether or not they like my orange dress.

Morgan Baker’s work has been published in the Brevity Blog, the Boston Globe Magazine, Talking Writing, Cognoscenti, the New York Times Magazine, and The Bark, among other places. She teaches at Emerson College, where she was honored with The Alan L. Stanzler Award for Excellence in Teaching, and privately in person and on Zoom. She is the Managing Editor of and lives with her husband and two dogs in Cambridge, MA.

A Glamorous Retreat? No Thanks, I’m Good!

May 4, 2021 § 29 Comments

By Morgan Baker

The world is slowly opening, and we’re all trying to figure out what’s safe to do. I’ve started seeing notices and ads announcing writing retreats coming up in different locales – Italy, Florida, Cuba and Newfoundland – and notices about residencies to which a writer can apply to work in solitude and join others for meals.

I, for one, am not going to a movie theater any time soon, let alone any residencies, retreats or workshops in far-off lands. I have always looked at those writing havens with envy. I live outside of Boston and fantasize about warmer climates where I could write and converse with other writers. But, I can’t afford them, nor could I really leave my teaching job to go write in Costa Rica. But while we were all locked in our houses and everyone took to the internet,  this pandemic gave me a writing community – something I’ve never really had, and I’ve been at this work for a while. I am not a big self-promoter and I’m not particularly good at inserting myself in others’ lives.

Not only did I zoom with my stepfather and my coffee group in the past twelve months, I have taken more writing classes and gone to more workshops and seminars than ever before. I took classes with instructors I had only dreamed of working with. I signed on to the Writers’ Bridge “platform chat” and every two weeks listened to what Allison K Williams and Ashleigh Renard had to share with the writers there – more than 200 of us – about social media, getting blurbs for your book, how to be a good literary citizen, and how to write effective social posts. I am in a bi-monthly Zoom workshop with a teacher I’ve worked with in asynchronous classes, but I’d never seen her face. She’d had in-person workshops in the Pacific Northwest or Hawaii, to which I could not go. Now I discuss my writing projects with her and a few other writers in kitchens and home offices. We have become friends and critical readers.

I have learned from a literary agent’s seminar to concentrate on one of my writing projects. I worked on a piece about my pandemic quilting with a teacher in New York City, and placed the essay later. I wrote yet another piece comparing quilting to writing that also found a home, here. In yet another workshop, I was encouraged to write with humor. So far I’ve failed at that.

I met more writers through Instagram and workshops. I don’t know any of them in “real” life, but I am connected to them through their writing, and their books have illuminated new stories and deepened my understanding of the world.

I joined Facebook groups, where I stalk and read, but rarely post. I created a mini writing group that meets every three weeks. We live in Massachusetts, Ohio and Montreal. I joined another group that meets most Fridays as a drop-in session. In January I closed the door to my home office keeping my husband, daughter and dog out so I could focus, committing myself to a virtual retreat all day for 5 days. It was so successful, I’ve signed up for another one. While we weren’t all lounging on a Costa Rican patio, we were in each others’ homes. One writer’s background was a pile of packing boxes, others sat in bedrooms and kitchens. Some had home offices that looked tidier than mine. These “visits” are probably the closest I’ll get to sitting in a warm climate, staring at a view of mountains or the sea.

Before the pandemic, I offered private writing workshops in my house, in addition to my college teaching. I engaged with the writers who drank tea and discussed their work at my dining room table where my dog came to say hi every meeting. Then the world stopped, and I moved my workshops from my table to my Zoom account. I’ve had participants from California, Rhode Island and Cambodia. I will continue these even when we’re all back to hugging one another.

While the world shrank and slowed down, I’ve been busier than ever with my writing. I’m in my sunny yellow home office all the time. I’m either teaching my college classes, writing, editing for the web magazine I work for, or connecting with other writers.

I hate the pandemic, don’t get me wrong. My father-in-law died from Covid, I don’t see my friends, and I haven’t seen my father in over a year. Recently, I was able to hug my stepfather. He and his partner have been holed up in their home, going for lots of walks, playing the recorder, and futzing on the computer, but isolated. Now all vaccinated, we sat at their dining room table for dinner and talked. It felt so right and so weird.

I’m glad the CDC has said I don’t have to wear a mask all the time, but I probably will until I can trust that those unvaccinated are still wearing theirs. But when writers start drifting away from their computers to fly to glamorous in-person retreats, I will wish them well – and wave them on from the ground.


Morgan Baker teaches at Emerson College where she was honored with the Alan L. Stanzler Award for Excellence in Teaching. She is also the Managing Editor of The Bucket. Her work can be found at The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Cognoscenti, Talking Writing, Under The Gum Tree, Expression, among other publications.  She is working on a memoir about her empty nest.

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