137: How to Fight with Your Co-Host and Win a Writing Contest

137: How to Fight with Your Co-Host and Win a Writing Contest

Today on our show we share a story by our own Allison Langer. Her essay is called Writing Class Helped Me Break Down My Fascade. You will hear about the fight hosts Allison and Andrea had that prompted this episode. We’ll talk about trying to make money as a writer, revisiting the same theme, and how to win a writing contest.

If you think you are the only one writing about the same thing over and over, this episode is for you. See how themes can change over time and how you can win a contest when you least expect it. Writing class is more than just writing and trying to get published. It is about growth, connection, healing and everything in between. 

Allison Langer is a Miami native, University of Miami MBA, writer, and single mom to three children, ages 12, 15 and 17. She is a podcast producer and host, a private writing coach, taught memoir writing in prison and has been published in The Washington Post, Mutha Magazine, Scary Mommy, Modern Loss, and NextTribe. Allison wrote a novel about wrongful conviction and is actively looking for an agent. Currently, she is teaching middle school English and working on a memoir with her friend and inside student Clifton Jones (2-Tall).

Writing Class Radio is hosted and produced by Allison Langer and Andrea Askowitz. Audio production by Matt Cundill, Evan Surminski and Aidan Glassey at the Sound Off Media Company. Theme music by Justina Shandler.

There’s more writing class on our website including essays to study, editing resources, video classes, writing retreats, and live online classes. Join our writing community by following us on Patreon

For $25/month you can join our First Draft weekly writers groups. (Tuesdays 12-1 ET and/or Wednesdays 6-7pm ET). Write to a prompt and share what you wrote. For $125/mth, you’ll get 1st draft and 2nd Draft. Each week three people bring a second draft for feedback and brainstorming. Join the community that comes together for instruction, an excuse to write, and most importantly, the support from other writers. To learn more, go to www.Patreon.com/writingclassradio.

A new episode will drop every other Wednesday.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?


Andrea Askowitz 00:00:03
 I'm Andrea Askowitz

Allison Langer 00:00:12
I'm Allison Langer, and this is Writing Class Radio. You'll hear true personal stories and learn how to write your own stories. Together, we produce this podcast, which is equal parts heart and art. By heart, we mean the truth in a story. By art, we mean the craft of writing. No matter what's going on in our lives, writing Class is where we tell the truth. It's where we work out our shit. There's no place in the world like Writing Class. And we want to bring you in.

Andrea Askowitz 00:00:40
Today on our show, we are bringing you our very own Allison Langer with a story called Writing Class Helped Me Break Down My Facade. So I want to talk about a lot of things today. And I sort of sprung this episode on Alison because I was riding my bike this morning, and I was like, hey, I want to do something slightly different. We're going public with a private conversation. We're going to talk about hiding, writing your way out from hiding, trying to make money as a writer, having just one story, which is, I think a lot of people's insecurity deep patterns, psychological patterns and replacement babies. Good God.

Allison Langer 00:01:24
We're going to do all that in.

Andrea Askowitz 00:01:25
One episode, and we're going to talk about fighting between friends.

Allison Langer 00:01:29
Oh, God, do we need to hire, like, mediator?

Andrea Askowitz 00:01:32
But yesterday's fight inspired us all.

Allison Langer 00:01:35
That was a fight?

Andrea Askowitz 00:01:36
Yeah, we had a fight yesterday. You'll hear about our fight and Alice and Story Writing Class helped me break down my facade. After the break, we're back. This is Andrea Ashworth and you're listening to Writing Class Radio. Here's Allison Langer with her story. Writing Class helped me break down my facade.

Allison Langer 00:02:03
I was 42 when I had my replacement baby. This is not a term I used at the time because I wasn't sane enough to realize I was completely delusional. I thought having a new baby would heal me. I also wanted something positive to come from losing my daughter, McLean. In my grieving mind, I was sure having another baby was that something positive. The new baby would fill the abyss and bring joy back into the family, back into me. Sloane was five months old when I heard the ad for Writing Class. I was feeding him, to feed him. Pressing my boobs as I gripped the steering wheel, attempted to avoid a milk explosion. The ad felt like a sharp prod to the part of me that was suffering and afraid to admit it, let alone show it. Since McLean's death, I had woken up crying. I missed her and the life I'd been promised by nobody. I hated seeing other mothers with identical twins. Why does she get to keep hers? In addition to feeling angry and empty, I felt guilty and ashamed. I should have been able to keep her alive. Sloan was supposed to be the magic that healed my heart. But anyone who has tried to replace a lost child knows there is no magic formula and no magic kid. Sloan was like most new babies cranky, hungry, and up most of the night. He smelled delicious. We all adored him. But I still missed my little girl. When I heard the ad for writing class, I knew I needed something. Maybe a writing class. Was that something I'd always wanted to write? Ten years earlier, I wrote a rant about my failed two year marriage. I shared my writing with friends who weren't all that supportive. One friend, the only honest friend, said, you need a writing class. When I got home, Sloane drained both breasts and fell into a trance. My other two kids were in summer camp. I grabbed my computer and registered. My daughter McLean was 16 months old when she died. A week prior, a cardiologist diagnosed her congenital heart defect and scheduled her for surgery. Five days before surgery, she choked on a French fry and was rushed to Miami Children's Hospital. McLean's identical twin sister Blake and three year old brother Jackson were too young to know what was going on. I was not so lucky. For the first ten writing classes, I wrote about my yellow lab Molly. The prompt was write about love. I loved Molly. Next, write about an obsession. I was obsessed with Molly. It went like this until my instructor.

Andrea Askowitz 00:04:27
Said, you need to get vulnerable.

Allison Langer 00:04:29
And she was right. But how could I let all these strangers know I was struggling? How could I admit it to myself? The truth was, I was struggling with more than just the loss of my daughter. I was single and dying to be loved. I had children by an anonymous firm donation because I was 36 and didn't want to miss out on being a mother. But I was still in love with my last boyfriend, who wasn't in love with me. I wanted a partner to connect with, love on, share the funny things my kids did, like put food on their head and pee on the plato. I wanted someone to complain to about parenting three young children who need more attention and more food than I could have ever imagined. And I just didn't want to do it alone. I had friends and a dad who helped, but nobody who put me first. I was trying to build my photography business so I could pretend I was more successful than I actually was. I was volunteering all over town so I could prove I was compassionate and loving and not a baby killer. At home, I was losing my temper with the kids, then crying after I put them to bed. Every day felt like a slog packed with lots of have tos. And, of course, I can do where I could prove I was doing much better than I was. My baby had died on my watch, I'd failed at parenting, and now I was a pariah. At least that's how I saw it. I showed knowing that, or so I thought. But the facade I was presenting to the world was cracking and I was running out of glue. On the last night of class, it was my turn to read. I'd been preparing for weeks, writing and deleting and rustling up the courage to get vulnerable. I was dreading the moment I had to stand in front of the class and read my story. I looked at my fellow students. I'd heard every one of them tell their own sad story. And each person had one. One guy was a recovering alcoholic who lost his family when he landed face down in muck and false promises. One woman was a sex addict. There were dead parents, identity confusions, missed opportunities, regrets. I knew they were just as damaged as I was. And yet I still didn't want anyone to know me. And then I read. Every Sunday morning when my dad comes over to get the kids I send him off knowing someone is missing. I swallowed to let the emotion press into my throat, then pass. I continued. I was talking to a friend of my dad's when McLean began to choke. This had been going on since she started eating solids around six months. She would gag a little on her food. I pat her on the back and the chunk of ground beef or tangerine or watermelon would pop out. This time, nothing came out. Mackie turned blue and my dad yelled for a doctor. I grabbed my phone and stared at it, confused. Very slowly, my brain struggled to find the numbers. The essay I read was over 3000 words. At one point I looked up, and since nobody looked bored, I continued. When I finished reading, I wasn't the only one in the room crying. But I wasn't concerned with anyone else's emotions. After shedding the facade completely I no longer cared if they thought I was strong or not. The weight was gone and the healing could begin.

Andrea Askowitz 00:07:49
Amazing. I love it. I really love it. I wanted this on our show because I think it's excellent. I think it's a new twist on an old story. It showcases all the things that you do so well as a writer. Let me just mention a few of them because.

Allison Langer 00:08:12
Can I just jump in and say I'm really scared? Because I know you have an agenda that isn't all positive so that you're starting with the positives a little scary to me. Also, I know that some of the edits that you mentioned I did not take. And so I'm waiting to hear. Get a little bit punished for that.

Andrea Askowitz 00:08:28
No, not at all. I actually think it works really well. So this version of the story for me is about breaking down the facade. And I think that's really what it's about. And I was worried that the parts about being a terrible mom were going to get in the way of that. But I don't think they did, because what you did was you proved you didn't want to show the class that you were a terrible mom, and you said it's so scary and terrible, but that you were a baby killer, that a baby died on your watch. That's what's in this story. Now.

Allison Langer 00:09:00
So the part that we talked about that initially, you said, hey, can you put a little bit more about what was going through your mind? What didn't you want to share with these people? What were you concerned with? So I added a bunch because what I really was thinking was, I should have gone to a different doctor.

Andrea Askowitz 00:09:14
Why did I wait so long?

Allison Langer 00:09:15
How could I not have known? And I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed and humiliated, and I wanted my kid back, and I wanted to do over, and I felt like a fucking asshole. Like, I can't believe that I let this happen. And I regretted every move. But then I think the more that I got into that, then you, as my editor, was saying, wait, now the story is a little bit changing that you're having regrets about your behavior. So I cut that out because then I thought, well, maybe she's right.

Andrea Askowitz 00:09:43
Right? Because it's not about regret. It's about showing the truth, showing the true self. And I think it's still about showing the truth self. There is a line that I think you left out that was about not wanting to show the true self to yourself. Did you cut that line? Because now I don't feel like I heard it.

Allison Langer 00:10:01
It was in there twice, and I cut it once. It was like when I talk about the prompts in writing class, I said, but how could I let all these strangers know I was struggling? How could I admit it to myself?

Andrea Askowitz 00:10:12
Well, it got a little bit buried, okay? So maybe I would have cut it from there and left it where it was later in the story, okay. Because I feel like a very big part of your process as a writer and as a person, because those things are interconnected, is admitting stuff yourself. So there are so many things to talk about. Like, I know that you feel bad that you feel like this is your only story, but this is a new twist on your story. This is not the story that is in episode one. The story is different. There was an ongoing theme about facades. That story was about I told the truth and I was freed, but this was told the truth about the real me. And no, I'm getting this wrong. No. Yes.

Allison Langer 00:10:54
No, you're 100% right. But the reason why that came up is because I wrote this. Because you sent me the call out for the contest. There was a contest in next Tribe.

Andrea Askowitz 00:11:04
There'S a contest in next Tribe asking for stories about a pivot, a time you pivoted.

Allison Langer 00:11:09
And then so we gave that prompt in first draft. And when I wrote this, I thought it was going to be pivoting from photography to writing, just like probably you thought but then what it ended up being is the story. And I didn't mean for it to sound like I just wrote the story, right, but it ended up being a time that I pivoted away from being like a fake to more real and honest and open and bringing people in instead of pushing people away because I was afraid for them to get to know me. Right. The real fucked up me. But I can't believe I'm still writing about this 14 years later. I've got to move forward. But then I said everything I've written since no one gives a shit about, right. The prison stuff. And I think it's really important, but it's not that popular.

Andrea Askowitz 00:11:54
Right? Exactly. And the reason why I think this is still really important to you as a writer and for the world to hear your writing, even if you're still writing the same situation, you're writing it in a new way, you've learned. I mean, I've been hearing this story for 14 years. This is the first time I didn't know that you thought people were going to think you were a baby killer, that you thought people are going to think you sucked as a parent. That never occurred to me because it never came up in your writing. And I didn't think of it myself because I would never think that. But I get that you would think it. So now this story is different.

Allison Langer 00:12:28
You know, DCF actually shows up after you've lost a child to make sure you didn't kill your kid. They interview you to make sure that it was an accident.

Andrea Askowitz 00:12:37
Well, then if the state thinks that you killed your child, that maybe should go in. A story like that's fucking terrible.

Allison Langer 00:12:44
That's their job. They have to follow up to make sure. But then of course they will drop the case.

Andrea Askowitz 00:12:48
Right? But if you're there defending yourself for even 1 second, that's harrowing. Oh, my God. I didn't know that.

Allison Langer 00:12:55
No, I mean, people deal with it all the time in many situations. So it's not just me. I'm not trying to be like, oh, woe is me, but it sucks.

Andrea Askowitz 00:13:03
Yeah, I think you're allowed to be woe as me. God, that happens. That's horrible. Okay, so I think that you still have a story to tell and the situation might be the same and you recycle that situation over and over again, but I don't care because I think this story is so moving and so important and it's different, it's new. It's about taking us back. But one thing I want to do is take us back to yesterday. Because the reason why I thought of this whole thing is because this is our fight yesterday. So I call and I'm like, hey, I have a great idea for social media. I want to do this thing on Instagram. I don't know Instagram for shit, but, like, neither does Allison, but still, I wanted to talk it out with you, and you had an idea that was different than my idea, and I was like, I don't really see how that idea works. And you said, did you just call me to talk out? Do you really care about my idea, or did you just call to talk out your idea? So, dear listener, I often call Alison just to talk out my ideas, and she has listened to hours and hours and hours of me. Like, it is true. I get why you might have thought that, but in that moment, that wasn't the case. And also in that moment, I was like, fucking don't be mean to me. I felt hurt because your tone was really mean.

Allison Langer 00:14:23
I apologize. Can we tell everyone I did apologize because I can be a bitch.

Andrea Askowitz 00:14:27
She said, I'm sorry, but I said.

Allison Langer 00:14:29
It really fast, right? Oh, my God. I'm so sorry I hurt your feelings.

Andrea Askowitz 00:14:32
Yeah, you called me a few hours later, and I said, that really hurt my feelings. Oh, my God. And you said you were sorry right away. But then it got me thinking, like, actually, Vicky vicky helped me in this. I was like, Alison was this fucking ass bitch. Vicky's like, well, what was she dealing with? What was she dealing with? It's a great question. Like, everyone's dealing with something. And I know that you were talking to, like, at and T. You were trying to save $20, $100 a month. Okay, well, that adds up. But you were trying to save $100 a month and dealing with at and T, that is always awful. It's always terrible to deal with at and T people or whatever. So you're trying to save money so that you can send your children, two of your children, to, like, one of the most expensive private schools in the city. And why are you doing that? Because you got rejected from that school, so you are still trying to what?

Allison Langer 00:15:35
This is just getting better and better.

Andrea Askowitz 00:15:37
Right. So I totally feel for you for getting rejected from that school, but that school is not you. But you still want your two kids to go to that school. So what you're doing is you're trying to live up to the Joneses in a major way. And I'm like, what? Allison still has the facade up because it's two things. It's your rejection that you're trying to relive, and it's also you're trying to live in this world with these fancy people, and you know who you are. Oh, dear, here it comes. No, you are your replacement, baby.

Allison Langer 00:16:14
I want to jump in here real quick, because I just want to be clear that although the school is extremely expensive and I am super cheap and hate paying for it. My kids are getting an amazing education with an incredible sports program. The friends they've made are so kind and loving. The families are wonderful. So there's a lot of great things that are happening here. So yes. Although I'm sure I am trying to relive my failure. Let's not blame it on the school and make it sound like a bad place, because it is far from that.

Andrea Askowitz 00:16:49
Well, now you're a little stuck, but you're still am. I right? Yeah.

Allison Langer 00:16:55
And guess what I bought yesterday?

Andrea Askowitz 00:16:56

Allison Langer 00:16:57
Concealer. I even bought concealer so I could hide some of my wrinkles. I mean, does it do wrinkles?

Andrea Askowitz 00:17:03
I like to say wrinkles.

Allison Langer 00:17:05
I know, right? There's a really good light on this.

Andrea Askowitz 00:17:08
You look good right now.

Allison Langer 00:17:10
But I bought foundation or like, what do you call it? Concealer. Whatever. My daughter was like, mom, you're in the wrong word. But I was like, you know, I don't know. I even put on mascara this morning. I don't know. I'm trying to build the facade backup.

Andrea Askowitz 00:17:25
Yeah, and it hurts you. And it hurts me, which is why I brought it up.

Allison Langer 00:17:30
I'm so sorry. I'll get ugly again.

Andrea Askowitz 00:17:33
I want you to. What do you mean? You'll physically get ugly and you'll emotionally get pretty?

Allison Langer 00:17:40
Well, actually. Okay, I totally get what you're saying, and I was short tempered and I was in the middle of something, and I had, like, a time time. I think we all get, like, snippy. And I'm so sorry because that is rude and I do value your opinion. But I seriously did think yesterday you called to tell me your great idea, but you prefaced it with like, hey, I need your opinion. And I was like, did you call for my opinion or did you not call for my opinion? Because you were like, I don't like your idea. And I was like, okay, but that's just the beauty of partnership. And I was like, whatever.

Andrea Askowitz 00:18:09
Okay. But the point is, you are still building up that facade. I'm understanding why you were in a bad mood yesterday that went all the.

Allison Langer 00:18:19
Way back to the facade to the school. Because maybe I just was in a bad mood.

Andrea Askowitz 00:18:24
No, you were lashing out at me.

Allison Langer 00:18:27
You were stealing my time. That's what it was. With an idea that you didn't really want an answer to. You just wanted me to hear it and praise you.

Andrea Askowitz 00:18:35
You can hold on to that or you can hear my okay, what about.

Allison Langer 00:18:38
Can I assess you? Yeah, well, I also think that we as people need constant praise. And you happen to be one of the people who need constant praise. And I love constantly praising you because most of everything you do is insanely great and your stories are great.

Andrea Askowitz 00:18:54
Yeah, right.

Allison Langer 00:18:55
And I love being your best partner.

Andrea Askowitz 00:18:57
What is coming?

Allison Langer 00:18:58
No, nothing. I'm just saying but I didn't have it in me, I guess, at that moment to stop what I was doing and start praising and being like, great idea.

Andrea Askowitz 00:19:06
That's awesome.

Allison Langer 00:19:07
And so I think that was jarring. And so maybe if we had to consult Vicky on this, she would be like, well, what did you come to the table with?

Andrea Askowitz 00:19:14
I mean, I do admit that I often just want to hear that my idea is great, but I really don't know how to execute it. And that's why I was calling you. And I still don't know. We need to have another conversation about how to execute sorry. But we do, because I really do want your opinion. I want to parlay this idea in its positive way and not just throw it up.

Allison Langer 00:19:34
I think the point of this is that when we don't know, somebody or somebody does something to us, we really have to ask ourselves, what is behind this for everyone, right? And so when we hear somebody's story, it opens our hearts to them in a great way. And that's why we both believe in storytelling so much, because we have people that come to our groups and they don't want to share, and they're kind of hiding behind a front picture and they don't even want to turn on their video. But I think as people trust us and they start sharing their stories, they pull people closer. And I found that in my stories. When I started telling my stories, I was pulling people closer to me instead of keeping them away, saying, I don't want you to know everything about me, but by saying, I want you to know everything about me, I'm bringing them in.

Andrea Askowitz 00:20:19
I think that's true. And I also think that the reason that we recycle stories or we recycle themes or we recycle incidences is that we're still working it out and this story is still fresh, is my point. You're still working on that facade bullshit.

Allison Langer 00:20:35
Yeah, it's true.

Andrea Askowitz 00:20:37
I mean, now the story is on our podcast, but I do think it's extremely positive. At the end. There was this moment at the end where you are like, okay, well, now healing can begin. And so much healing began right at that moment.

Allison Langer 00:20:51
It's true. It's very true. And it opened the door for all my other stories. Like, everything came busting out. And we say that all the time in class. If you can just tell the most painful one that every other one, it just comes out because you're like, what do I have to lose? Now everybody knows just as screwed up as they are. This is recorded on July 19 and the next tribe.

Andrea Askowitz 00:21:09
It was yesterday.

Allison Langer 00:21:11
The deadline was yesterday, the 18th. But they're going to reject people by the end of the month, and this is not even going to come out until well into August, maybe even September.

Andrea Askowitz 00:21:22
But you're saying we'll know that you got rejected by then.

Allison Langer 00:21:24
Well, no, I got rejected by then.

Andrea Askowitz 00:21:26
We're going to have to run a correction and be like, this story came out. She got it.

Allison Langer 00:21:30
Well, that's why I mentioned it. Because if you're hearing this and then we throw, like, a pickup in there, then, you'll know but let's not count the chickens before they hatch.

Andrea Askowitz 00:21:41
Yeah, I understood that before they hatch part, but thank you.

Allison Langer 00:21:44
Okay, good.

Andrea Askowitz 00:21:46
Oh, my God. We have to run a correction. Who thought this was going to be I know. This is our correction.

Allison Langer 00:21:54
Who wins contests?

Andrea Askowitz 00:21:56
You do. Allison Langer won the next Tribe writing contest. Boom. I'm so proud of you.

Allison Langer 00:22:03
Okay, but can I just say, I run runner up, so I don't want to be taking the whole like I.

Andrea Askowitz 00:22:09
Want but I don't know what you're talking about. You're still standing on the podium. You still got your story published. That's fucking big time. I just want to recognize what total asshole, unconfident losers both of us are for thinking that you weren't going to win. I'm sorry.

Allison Langer 00:22:28
Because how many contests have every time I enter a contest, you go, Why are you doing that? And I'm like, I don't know. Because ideally, when you submit to anything, they can say yes or no, but it's not for one particular contest. So you're actually just vying for one spot. To actually get chosen is not that often. So we got lucky.

Andrea Askowitz 00:22:49
No, you're good. Your story was good.

Allison Langer 00:22:52
I say we because writing is a team sport.

Andrea Askowitz 00:22:54
And yeah, now it's changing my opinion about contests. Because it's true. Like, when you apply to a contest, everyone's applying to that contest, so there's so much more competition. But if your story is great, awesome, well done. We didn't talk about trying to make money as a writer, but we can talk about that another time. You're obviously making money by changing to at and T or from at and.

Allison Langer 00:23:17
T. So it's just words to the Y's out there. Or wise words to the not so wise. If you're trying to earn money as a writer, you might want to switch from cable TV to at and the Internet and YouTube TV. And that's how you're going to make your money.

Andrea Askowitz 00:23:37
All right. Here's. No beginning. Thank you, Allison, for sharing your story. And thank you for listening.

Allison Langer 00:23:48
Writing class. Radio is produced by Allison Langer. That's me. Andrea. That's me. And by Matt Cundill, Evan Sir, Minsky and Aiden Glassy at the the Soundoff media Company. Theme music is by Justina Chandler There's more writing class on our website, writingclassradio.com, including essay study, editing resources, video classes, writing retreats, and live online classes. Join our writing community by following us on patreon. For $25 a month, you can join our first draft weekly writers group. You have the option to join Tuesdays, twelve to one Eastern time or Wednesdays, six to 07:00 p.m.. Eastern time.

Andrea Askowitz 00:24:29
I want to announce that I started a Facebook group, and I did that because I think it will be a really easy and open and honest sharing in that. Like, we can tell each other what editors we know, what agents we know. So it's something I wanted to do like three or five years ago, and I just did it yesterday. If anyone wants to join the private Writing class Radio Facebook Group, search us.

Allison Langer 00:24:55
Out on Facebook at Writing class Radio and then apply to join our group.

Andrea Askowitz 00:24:59
I invited a bunch of people who are already students and there's already a group.

Allison Langer 00:25:04
A lot of those writers are in our first draft weekly writers group and our second draft, because it's just a great way to be in a community, a writing community where you're sharing, getting feedback, listening to stories, improving your writing, and it's awesome. So all that stuff is on our website under classes. We feel there are more groups because they're really any level, and there's so many published, awesome writers in there. It's really just a way to bounce ideas off people. And we want you to join us, so we hope you will. To learn more, go to patreon.com writingclassradio or on our website under classes. A new episode will drop every other Wednesday. There's no better way to understand ourselves and each other than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What's yours?