August short story workshop: 8/10-9/7

We’re leading a short story workshop next month and we’re super stoked about it! The details:

What it is: A generative workshop. The goal is to complete a piece of short fiction in five weeks. We’ll start with writing prompts and reading to get some ideas flowing and end with group workshops of the stories in progress.

This workshop is open to writers of all ages and all levels—whether you have an MFA or are just starting in fiction, starting a story and seeing it through to the end takes more than just writing talent. It takes commitment and dedication—and having other people around to help out can oftentimes keep you on track. The goal of this workshop is to get everybody to the finish line on a new piece.

When it is: Wednesday nights from 7-9pm (August 10, 17, 24, 31, and September 7).

Where it is: East End Book Exchange (4754 Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield)

How to sign up: E-mail Jess Simms (

What it costs: We’re asking for a $20 donation. There’s two reasons for this:
1) Something that costs money is easier to stay committed to than something that’s free (sad but true, psychologically)
2) It will help the Haven keep doing readings and workshops and other cool literary events in the city

…having said that, we in no way want the cost to be prohibitive. If you want to join the workshop but don’t have an extra $20, just e-mail Jess ( and we’ll work out an alternative (like bringing food to the reading, or something similarly awesome).

What you get: Aside from writing a story, you’ll get a collection of short stories to read, study, and keep. You’ll also get a chance to read part of your story to an audience at the final reading (date and time TBD).

Who’s in charge: Three members of the Rahnd Table will be moderating this workshop: Liz Abeling, Nate Kukulski, and Jess Simms (and we’ll be writing stories, too, because we practice what we preach, yo).

…we’re really excited to start this workshop and we hope you’ll be equally stoked to take this journey with us. Let’s make some words happen, Pittsburgh!

The future n’at

So the Haven’s coming up on its first anniversary as a public entity. We’ve been floored over the last year by the outpouring of support, and all the fantastic readers we’ve been able to bring together. The plan for the Haven is to be a community, a place to gather and work and share words with each other. The Haven Presents reading series was a fantastic start, but over the past couple months we’ve been gearing up to take the Haven to the next level.

Not that we’re abandoning our reading series! We’ve had so much fun with these events and we’ll be hosting two in the 2015-2016 season: A Gratitude-themed reading in late November, and one we’re really excited about in the spring tentatively entitled “Cluster Fuck: When Your Life’s a Mess.” More details on those will be coming at you soon. But we’ve decided to cut back on the reading series so we have more time and energy to put into the new events we’ll be introducing to the calendar in spring of 2016: A series of workshops, and an open-to-the-public retreat.

We’ve been doing retreats as the Rahnd Table writing group pretty much since our inception. These retreats have been so remarkably helpful in letting us take time to produce words or even just clear our heads to let words start to form. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s in a budget motel in Crafton or a gorgeous cabin in the Allegheny Forest–it’s the gathering of writers, the new place, the relative lack of distraction that has been so invaluable to all of us, and that’s what we want to share with the rest of you. Our first retreat will happen in the summer of 2016, so if you’re interested in that keep your eyes open here for updates.

As far as workshops, we have (tentatively) three courses planned: A world-building workshop, a short story workshop, and an exploration of the history of science fiction. These workshops will happen in the spring of 2016 and will be led by various members of the Haven who are experts in these particular topics.

So while there’s not much actual information going on here in terms of when you can sign up and what exactly we’ll be doing at any of these new events, we just wanted to stop by and let you know they will be happening! If the turnout at our readings has been any indication, the Burgh’s ready for as much word fun as we can throw at it.

The Rules of Writing

So in between planning events and workshopping our writing, we of the Haven (and the Rahnd Table writing group that spawned it) get drunk and talk. Usually about words. Recently we’ve started compiling a list of our “writing rules,” the pieces of advice about words that have surfaced the most–or been the most helpful–in our two years of reading and critiquing each others words. The three we’ve singled out so far:


1) Finish your shit.

This one is shamelessly stolen from this fantastic article by Chuck Wendig, and while the rest of the advice on there is also great, that one stuck particularly with us. Or, to put it in the words of a former writing professor: “There is  no good or bad, only finished and unfinished.” You can’t fix what doesn’t exist. Don’t worry about whether it’s right for this publication, or whether anyone will read it, or whether that comma’s in the right place, until your story is complete.

2) Don’t be a pussy.

The best writing takes risks. Not all risks pay off, but more often than not, by taking them, you discover something about the story you would never have seen otherwise. So blow up that chronology, kill off that character, make your protagonist’s life go to hell. The worst thing that happens is that you have to re-write it. The best thing is you’ve discovered the true purpose of your story.

3) Make your reader feel smart.

As a reader, I find nothing more satisfying than when I figure out the twist or solve the mystery just before the characters reveal the answer. When this happens, it’s not because I’m a genius. It’s because the author put the right clues in the right places, and trusted their reader to figure things out. These moments are places readers can engage with the story, and with you as a writer. Rather than giving them all the answers upfront, giving well-placed hints and trusting the reader to take the final leap gives them a level of satisfaction that will keep them coming back to your words.


Of course the internets are chock full of advice for writers–some good, some bad, some oft-repeated, some unique. What pieces of advice have driven you to greatest success? Leave them in the comments if you feel so inspired.