Wrong, or Write? Take: 9
In the World of Writing, a writer can expand their knowledge through a multitude of avenues. Online resources. Conferences. Books. School, whether that be lower or higher education. And in both, creative writing courses are available.
Creative writing courses are hit or miss. In my writing group, this is the overall agreement. I have heard stories of both revolutionary and disastrous classes, attentive and insensitive instructors, as well as dedicated or lazy classmates. All of these factors, and more, contribute to whether a creative writing course is successful by its end.
This past semester, I enrolled in an intermediate creative writing course. It comes after the introductory course but before the final capstone that determines if you have met the university's graduation requirements. We had a graduate student for an instructor - only teaching for tuition reduction - and a small, cozy class of sixteen.
It was a miss. The instructor based the course on his interests (something he admitted more than once), often let his frustration boil over and create a tense classroom environment, directed his students to change the entire plots of their stories to fit, once more, his interests, and was wholly unprofessional throughout the term. Still, I worked around it and earned an A.
However, the failure of the class made me think of my future. For years, I have intended to pursue a graduate degree (or two) in order to become an English professor. Just as remarkable classes have me reflecting on how I will teach, terrible courses force me to consider how I will teach. Or rather, how I will not teach.
As an educator, I think it's important to prepare students for their endeavors beyond the classroom. In the writing sphere - creative writing in particular - this means a multitude of areas. So many, in fact, that it may be difficult to lecture, write, and workshop on top of addressing those subjects.
In a creative writing classroom, these topics are where I would start: inspiration (listing different prompt blogs when they feel stumped), commitment (when it comes to sticking to longer projects such as novels, especially), editing, publishing, and communities (even encouraging them to build their own). On the online platform the university would use, I would include various resources with each of these topics, including helpful essays, websites, blogs, articles, books, etc.
It's important to provide students with the resources they may need, explain or demonstrate how to use them thoroughly, and be open or available for further questions. That's what it's all about, isn't it? Making sure you give the students the tools to succeed in their given field? If all educators were more mindful of this - of their potential impact - the overall state of American education would be in a better place.
And maybe creative writing classes wouldn't be so hit or miss.
Please, share your thoughts with us below! Have you ever taken a creative writing course? If so, how did you feel about it? Was it a hit or miss? If there are any other tips or resources you think are useful, please comment them below! And if there is any writerly topic or subject you would like to see discussed, please don't be shy!
Wrong, or Write? Take: 8
In an earlier article, I advised my readers to be an opportunist. When they arise, you seize them. This article is a continuation of that ideal. However, it is slightly more specific, narrower in its scope. Some opportunities come to you. Others opportunities, well, you have to seek them out for yourself. In this case, it's a bit of both.
I came across this... opportunity for opportunities by no accident. Social media has a tendency to collect data on its users, and then, utilize that data in order to generate targeted ads in the hopes of earning more money. Once, I shoe shopped online, and the pair of boots I looked at appeared on the side of my Facebook Newsfeed and Skype screen for weeks. In short: annoying and unhelpful. Despite that time, though, I also see more writerly ads and sponsored posts.
In particular, one sponsored post stood out: Freedom With Writing. It was some article-looking post involving making money for writing. These sorts of posts can be found all around, and most of them are scams. But I kept seeing the page, kept seeing the posts, so I decided to check it out one day.
I clicked on the page, started scrolling, and what I saw surprised me. Post after post after post, listing various opportunities for writers. Writers of all kinds, actually. Contests, articles, short stories, poetry, novels... They describe themselves as a free magazine for writers, and offer up an email subscription for regular updates.
It was like a database of writerly wonder, but was it real, or was it a scam?
So I dug. I clicked on a few of Freedom With Writing's posts. Checked out their website, which arguably, wasn't much. I could make something more complex with my limited HTML background. But each post I clicked, each link I was brought to for a lit mag, journal, contest, or whathaveyou, proved to me more and more that this wasn't some scam.
It was a resource. Of course, as always, I'm not the type to throw myself into any opportunity that appears. You shouldn't, either. Do your research, and be thorough. While I would not trust every post, every link, every claim on Freedom With Writing, I cannot deny that it is a goldmine. It's a bottomless toolkit.
So, take a look and give it a try. You might be surprised with what you find.
Please, share your thoughts with us below! Have you ever heard of Freedom With Writing? Ever used it? If not, do you have any other resources we should know about? And if there is any writerly topic or subject you would like to see discussed, please don't be shy!
Wrong, or Write? Take: 7
With NaNoWriMo over, fall semester coming to a close, and the end of the year approaching, inspiration is even more of a fickle creature than usual. At this point, most writers are feeling burnt out, like staring at a computer screen too long after a long day. It happens. There is nothing to be ashamed of. But the next time you are itching for inspiration, try out one of these eleven tactics:
1. Take a Walk
Everyone has heard how exercise releases endorphins; it gets the gears going again. The wires in your brain buzzing. If you decide to take a walk, bring a notebook with you to jot down in when something - or someone - catches your eye. After all, the only thing worse than having no inspiration is losing or forgetting that inspiration.
2. Revisit an Old Idea
Often times, I have had to push ideas to the back burner because of one thing or another. This is the time to dust those ideas off, crack your knuckles, and get to work! Better yet, you may have a wider, more considerate perspective than the initial inspiration for the idea!
3. Try Out Prompts
Prompts, like writing exercises in creative writing courses, can often spark an idea. With the internet at our fingertips, writers have access to several websites containing prompts. However, if you do not know where to start, these are my top two, Tumblr favorites: WriteWorld and Nimble's Notebook.
4. Listen to Music
My first novel-length idea came from song lyrics. Additionally, an author friend of mine creates book-specific playlists that she listens to each time she writes that piece to put her in the right head-space. So listen close. What you hear might surprise you.
5. Stream of Consciousness
This is a popular brainstorming technique in which you write down all of your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, what you write can stand out to you, grow bigger and bigger like rolling a snowball in winter.
6. Word Generators
Akin to the stream of consciousness technique, the results may stand out to you and snowball into a pleasant idea. My personal favorite is Text Fixer. The combination of words I received the first time I tried this generator manifested in an entire poem. Give it a try!
7. M. Kirin's "How To Plan Your Novel" Video Series
Split into three parts and two videos, writer and blogger M. Kirin outlines the process they have curated after writing more than eight books. In particular, I find Part 1: Brainstorming helpful due to the way you're expected to question and list every aspect of an idea you come up with on-the-spot based on their system. If you would like to check it out, here is the link to that two-part series: How To Plan Your Novel.
8. Start with a Character
Although characters are fabricated people, they are people - actual persons - to those that created them. See where they lead you.
Drawings. Paintings. Murals. Sculptures. In a broader scope, art can also be seen as film, literature, folklore, music, plays, and more. Take a closer look at the medium before you. Consider how it makes you feel. Consider how it makes the person next to you feel. The possibilities are endless.
10. People Watch / Listen to Conversations
There is a stunning amount of diversity in humanity. Walking through campus each day, the snippets of conversations I hear (quite unwillingly) are part of the most ridiculous stories and scenarios. Putting those words to a face adds another layer to that ridiculousness, sometimes. So, to pay homage to the saying, "Truth is stranger than fiction." Stranger, indeed.
11. Take a Step Away
Breathe. Relax. Give yourself a break to rejuvenate. Sometimes pushing harder means pushing the ideas further away. And like the right person, inspiration can pop up when you least expect it.
Please, comment below if you feel burnt out and try any of these techniques! We would love to know how it went. And, of course, if there is any topic you would like to see discussed, please let me know!
Wrong, or Write? Take: 6
Some people give me a funny look, or even laugh a little, when I say I'm a writer. Not a poet. Not a novelist. Not a playwright. Not a screenwriter. Just... A writer. A vague, yet broad, term to most. To me? Well, labels can be restricting. Especially when I want to be more than a poet, more than a novelist, more than one type of textual expression.
I aspire to be a wordsmith: a skilled user of words. But that's an extraordinarily subjective ordeal, as art is never quite objective in any form. So writer will do. It will suffice. Writer encompasses all of my writerly aspirations, giving me the freedom to peruse the literary waters and dip my toes in each one that catches my eye. However, each pool has done more than simply grab my attention.
Just as a creative can draw inspiration from anywhere, a writer can expand - and even sharpen - their present skills through studying other artistic mediums. Apart from my focus on fiction (flash to serial length), I have also dabbled with: lyrics, poetry, speeches, scripts, and plays. These have introduced me to both a multitude of concepts and considerations. The fluidity of form, across the board. Plays have surprised me in that right, especially. The subject of agency and structure. Or, agency vs. structure, depending on the piece. The angles and perspectives by which each are examined, analyzed, and edited.
In my experience, the final stage is the most crucial one. Being able to wholly reflect on a work. See it for what it is rather than what you intend it to be. For me, being exposed to a plethora of pieces allowed me to view what I do in another light.
But on top of these revelations, having multiple mediums to draw from adds something else: continued inspiration. Writing can be taxing. The amount of hours spent on a piece varies, from the initial conceiving of the project, the mindful planning and consideration, to eventually articulating it upon paper.
And then, you have to tear that beloved piece of yours apart. After all of this, it can sometimes be difficult to love what you do and continue to pour all of your passion into it. Drawing from various mediums - if a writer find the ones that hit them in their heart, just right - they can fall in love with the craft all over again.
With their possibilities.
Please, share your thoughts with us below! If you're doing NaNo, how is that going? If not, how are your other projects going? And if there is any writerly topic or subject you would like to see discussed, please don't be shy!
Wrong, or Write? Take: 5
One of the great aspects of living near a university is being able to attend all their events. Sports games. Conferences. Plays. Fundraisers. Concerts. Recitals. The options with a venue so vast and diverse are endless, but in this particular post, I will focus on a reading that has stuck with me.
On Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, I attended a reading at the University of Cincinnati featuring American poet and translator A. E. Stallings. Stallings has always loved Greek mythology. In fact, she now resides in Athens, Greece with her husband and their two children. Through Latin studies, she translates past work, and even shared a piece of Hesiod with us on Wednesday.
It was magical, hearing a story from the past, but she also tells those of the present. About her experiences. About learning curves like her poem, "Autumn Pruning." About the way words can stir her and confound her, twisting into pieces such as "Scissors" and "Placebo." Stallings told us, in Latin, Placebo means "I shall please you." I shall please you. No wonder words sparked something within her.
But something deeper, more raw, than her linguistic roots struck me. As I stated above, Stallings has always loved Greek mythology. Specifically, she gravitates towards the Underworld. In this single reading, she read two poems - of opposing formats - surrounding Hades and Persephone's tale. Both were fantastic yet identifiable in their own right. What Stallings said before she gave them, however, is what continues to entrap me.
"One of the great things about being an artist is that if you constantly repeat subject matter, it's a theme and not an obsession." Hilarious, yet comforting. Poets and writers see life through another scope, or rather, through the same scope as others but with interchangeable lenses. The way Stallings latched onto words like scissors and placebo.
Stallings is a remarkable wordsmith. She weaves rhyme, repetition, sound, and occasional alliteration through any form she decides to take. Humor often adds another layer of quirk to her work. As a poet or writer, there's much to learn from her. Had I the funds, I would have purchased one (or more) of her books and asked her to sign it (them). If you're a word-lover like me, I am positive she won't only be on my Christmas list.
Have you been to any readings lately, or have any writerly recommendations of your own? How is NaNo going? And lastly, if there are any subjects or topics you would like to see covered, please comment! Don't be shy!
Wrong, or Write? Take: 4
Description is like a newborn; you have to nurse it. Find your balance. Shift weight as you navigate through various narrative voices. To intrigue and to inform, but not bore, your readers. It's an art, in and of itself.
"It's all in the details," is a common phrase paired with description. I agree. Additionally, though, it's about the big picture. The balance, as I stated above. And when it comes to balances, to popular sayings, I also think of:
"Show, Don't Tell." For those unfamiliar, it is essentially when a writer tells the readers something rather than showing it to them. To paint the picture: telling is, "The temperature rose throughout the day," where showing is, "Her skin, slick with sweat, shined under the hot sun."
Like Nature VS. Nurture, this concept is a hot debate. Too much telling is boring. Too much showing drags the reader on, which is, again, boring. Of course, both of these have exceptions. Two weeks ago, in my Intermediate Writing: Fiction course, I read a short story from a fellow classmate in which the majority of the narration featured showing. Had the description not been rich (in diction and cultural references), or the protagonist - also the narrator - not been portrayed as a primarily passive character, his writing would have flopped. But it didn't. It worked.
As I said before, you have to shift the weight of your description as you navigate through various narrative voices. Some characters are more analytical, where the telling will be stronger than the showing. Other characters, of varying backgrounds and personalities, will lean more towards showing instead.
The scale will always be tipped, in one direction or the other, but there will always be a combination, a careful balance, between the two. Years ago, I read an article on this debate, and the writer - whose name escapes me - had devised a sort of precise code for herself. A few bits of showing, maybe two or three details, before being broken up by a piece of telling. She argued that this would keep the readers interested, advance the plot, and further create the setting/characters while imparting valuable information.
In my first article, I mentioned that every writer has their own journey. The statement applies here, as well. Certainly, because the World of Writing is so vast, similarities can be found across the board when it comes to writing styles. However, the balance of their description is always different. Unique to them, their story, and their characters.
Please, share your thoughts with us below! What's your take on the "Show, Don't Tell" topic? And if there is any topic or subject you would like to see discussed, please don't be shy!
Wrong, or Write? Take: 3
Today is Halloween. A quirky holiday with history. Children parading the streets in their costumes, siblings and parents chatting as they trail behind them. "Trick or treat," is the chorus ringing through front porches. Candy exchanges hands. Mischievous, but joyful. Known around the world.
But tomorrow marks the beginning of a time equally as renowned to writers: NaNoWriMo. In other words, November is National Novel Writing Month. Participants, anywhere from beginner to seasoned writers, are tasked with the goal of writing 50,000 words in a months time, due on the final day at 11:59PM. For November, this means roughly 1,666.666 words a day for 30 days straight.
For a frame of reference, Stephen King disclosed in his novel "On Writing" that he writes 2,000 words a day. Every day. As there are four weeks in the average month, this equates to 60,000 words total. He is a professional writer. This is not to say that NaNoWriMo's goals are impossible. Rather, it is to shed light on the accomplishment that achieving this standard is, especially when most of the participants are in school, are employed, or have families.
This is the 18th year of NaNoWriMo. Started in 1999, NaNoWriMo has come a long way. Now, there are seven steps to the process:
There is more than a process, though. Participants can track their progress, access pep talks and support from previous winners and published authors as well as online resources (such as word count helpers), and meet fellow writers online and in person through the different forums that each region offers.
My first post was about communities, and NaNoWriMo embodies that on a global scale. The annual competition (more with yourself, and Life, rather than others) fosters an encouragement and attitude not dissimilar to Thomas the Trains' "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!"
And on that note: I know you can.
Please, share your thoughts with us below! Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What project are you working on? Is this your first year? If not, do you have any advice for others? And if there is any writerly topic or subject you would like to see discussed, please don't be shy!
Wrong, or Write? Take: 2
While rushing to class on the University of Cincinnati's campus today - piping hot bagel in hand, already running late - the universe aligned. In the midst of working out a poetry/photography project via Facebook Messenger with the extraordinary model Luna Eclipse, I stumbled upon a trio of girls stretching to fill in outlined flowers on a canvas taped to TUC's wall. In that contemplative moment, one foot out the door, lightning struck. Hard.
Last week, I touched on how big and scary the Writing World is, like the Big Bad Wolf from Red Riding Hood. I spoke about writing communities, groups, and friends. However, when I gazed at those girls and realized what I was speaking to Luna about, I realized that I had failed to mention the beauty of collaboration: working with someone else to achieve something greater than yourself. Luna Eclipse, Aubree to me, is a young woman that I have been friends with for more than six years. Upon seeing a few samples of my work through my Facebook writer's page, she reached out to me, hoping to use some of my pieces as captions to her posts.
I jumped at the chance. Why? Because as a young, hopeful writer, opportunities are everything. Not only is working with Aubree an exciting and creatively-fulfilling process, but it also allows both of us to support each other in what we love.
Art is intimate. To begin with, most writers keep their work to themselves. It's personal. Part of them. Sometimes, it takes time before they branch out. Sometimes, they do immediately. Other times, they never do. Aubree and I have both stepped out of our bubbles to pursue what we love, and I am thrilled to share even a small amount of our journey's together.
On a less emotional note, collaboration also equals: exposure, exposure, exposure. Of course, exposure can be good, and exposure can be bad. When an opportunity presents itself, always weigh the options. In my case, having known Aubree for years and watched her since the start of her career, I know her. I know what she stands for. I know where she would like to go. To be. Sometimes, you might not have such a close relationship or complete understanding of the opportunity that springs in front of you.
So, ask questions. Get to know the chance like a friend. Or, a friend's friend, where you know just enough about them to introduce them to someone else. Think about what they can do for you, but more importantly, what you can do for them. Consider how much of a commitment the project is. Discover their goals and aspirations. Dig deep inside yourself, and contemplate: Is this a good fit for me? For them?
But don't let an opportunity pass you by just because you don't know enough about it, or because of the things you've heard. People will surprise you.
Please, share your thoughts with us below! Is there an opportunity you were glad you took? Regretted that you didn't? And if there is any writerly topic or subject you wish to see discussed, don't be shy!
Wrong, or Write? Take: 1
The World of Writing is a big, scary place. There are more "rules to follow" than "rules to break." Articles are posted online every day, from reputable organizations like Writer's Digest, all the way down to personal blogs or websites. How To books clog up your Amazon feed; you do not know which ones to buy, which ones you need. There is a sea of places to begin - agents, literary journals, literary magazines, and presses or publishers marvelously made to order (small to medium to large, oh my!) - often, one does not know where to start. Where to begin to wade through the slush, rather than be the slush.
My goal in this column is to create a space where writers - of any kind and caliber - can discuss a variety of topics and, hopefully, take something with them. We all have our start somewhere: the back of English class, in the confines of our bedroom, deep online in the World Wide Internet. There are so many places to begin, but few tell you where to go from there. Why? Every journey is different. Unique to that writer. Sometimes, telling your story sparks something in someone. Sometimes, it doesn't. Sometimes, they feel just as lost as before they asked you, "How did you do it? How did you get started?"
The song, "With a Little Help from My Friends," by The Beatles comes to mind. For me, I began writing in the unusual, pimply sixth grade. What a wonderful time to be a writer: already so full of pre-teenage angst. I wrote in my notebook first, but then, I found a little corner online called Quizazz - now, called Quotev - where I read and read and read. But one day, I wasn't so happy with what I was reading, and decided to post something I might enjoy, that others might enjoy.
Looking back, the pieces I wrote during that time were not good (OK, you caught me, they were absolutely terrible), but I gained something so much more precious than just my start: I learned the value of a writing community. Quizazz was not the only website out there that fostered writers; there was also: Quizlet, Inkpop (now shut down), FictionPress, Scribofile, and many others. Today, the largest and most successful one that comes to mind is Wattpad. They started much the same as the others, with low members and minimal quality stories. Now, I see polished versions of the drafts I used to see online perched on actual shelves at Barnes and Noble or Target. Amazing.
Whether publishing is your goal or not, a writing community - or group - can be beneficial. I found a space within Quizazz when I was young and knew nothing. Members of the website gave me feedback and encouraged me to continue writing; it was almost like a fiction workshop, though often, not as detailed. Nowadays, although I am still a member of Quotev, I am no longer active on the website like I used to be. I am a member of three different writing groups through Facebook - two exclusive, one not - and know, cherish, rather, the value of perspectives. A well of advice - experience - to drink from. Sometimes, these people can help you figure out your next step.
When you read your own writing, you see it as you intended it, but when others read your writing, they see it for what it is. What is on the page is what the reader gets. If you hope to publish, when you send your work out there, you will not be hovering over your audience explaining that, "Oh, this sentence actually shows how..." or "Well, what it really means is..." Again: what they see is what they get. Those books on the Best Sellers list? They aren't first drafts. Far from it, in fact. Those works took others' eyes, took shaping, re-configuring, editing upon editing upon finally rewriting the damn thing. But without another set of eyes - another perspective - that piece might not have become the work of art is it regarded as.
Writing groups and communities are a tremendous help. They can help amateur and seasoned writers see something within their work they did not realize was there. I know, many times, this has been the case for myself. I am forever thankful for the push, the fostering, and the confidence that Quizazz equipped me with. In a way, it was like a crutch on the bad days - because we all have them - that made continuing on, plowing forward, into the World of Writing, that much easier.
Please, share your experience with writing groups or communities with everyone in the comments below! What worked for you? What didn't? And if there is any writerly topic or subject you would like to see discussed, please don't be shy!