My latest article at JMWW is up! Check it out and then read around a bit in the magazine to see if anything inspires you to write.
HOW TO BRING MORE SPONTANEITY, IMPERFECTION, AND RISK INTO YOUR WRITING:
This article is about not playing fair or being nice.
You're human. You're imperfect. Allow both in your writing. Let's see the struggle, confusion, questioning, disbelief, fear. Make a mess. Yes, you could end up writing 10 poems that end up failing. That's risk. Creativity can't exist without freedom to create anything, including a mess.
Perfect is boring. Perfect is lifeless and flat. Perfect is claustrophobic. Don't connect every dot in your writing, just the key points. An object is stronger for being broken, for having cracks. Let there be cracks and gaps for the reader to enter and fill in on their own. Make leaps in your logic that don't seem logical (but not illogical—there should be a thread of logic). Use a word in the 'wrong' way, a surprising way. Say something crazy. Allow the Freudian slip. Say what you really want to. Free pass. You can edit later. No one is going to grab it out of your hand and send it to the New Yorker and your mother to embarrass you. Allow the unexpected. If any of these happen, leave them and keep going. Let the faucet drip!
Admit you have a problem. Do you keep encountering the same problem in your piece? You can't really see the image you're trying to convey, your lines or sentences are coming out choppy when you'd rather they were long, all of a sudden the poem rhymes or you're slipping in and out of verb tenses, or one character is taking over.
Take another look at what you're calling a problem. This may be the piece telling you what it really needs to be. Go with it. Use another image, let your lines come out short, rhyme to your heart's content. Change your verb tense or your narrator. Stop rowing so hard and just float.
Nonfiction writers and journalists:
"The American Society of Journalists and Authors is the nation's professional organization of independent nonfiction writers. ASJA offers extensive benefits and services".
Such as: regular confidential market information, meetings with editors, an exclusive referral service, seminars and workshops, discount services and the networking with peers.
(They are tough on eligibility - but check it out.)
My latest article for JMWW about point of view in fiction. This one is a bit serious, fair warning. POV misuse is a pet peeve of mine so I shared things that I see people doing wrong and ways to figure out what POV is best for you as a writer and your story.
Point of view, the angle from which your story is told, is a pet peeve of mine, so pardon me if I lecture you a bit in this installment. It's something even experienced writers don't always get right, either because they don't fully understand it or don't police their work for errors. But it's one of those key foundational parts to a story that hold it together. Before a writer "officially" starts his/her story, it's important to take time to figure out the point of view.
Some point-of-view basics for you:
These days, the view on first person is that it needs to come from an exceptional character with a unique perspective to work. Speaking in first person (i.e. "I") must be necessary to the story and the voice must be compelling, not your general "everyman" type voice. It's going to be very close as the reader only sees what the "I" shows. The tone depends on the personality of the "I".
In my opinion, this is a rule you can break—not set in stone—if you find your voice for a character and story best in first person. You can also just write in first and then go back and change it to third. A lot of work (!), but the result will have greater intimacy than your average third person.
Ekphrasis is writing that comments on works of art; it began as a Greek rhetorical term referring to a passage that described an object in either prose or poetry. Horace first connected visual and verbal art in his Epistles with the words, ut pictura poesis, meaning “as painting, so poetry.”
In this class, we read read classic and contemporary examples of the form, and then embarked on a field trip to The Walters Art Museum in search of three art works (painting, sculpture, object) to write about in subsequent classes.
Encounters with works of art are a form of contemplative and creative exercise. Our seeing may be both sacred and profane. Something catches our eye--whether it's an image, color, symbol, shadow, brushstroke--through which we can explore the whole work and its meaning—in the moment, for the world, or just for us.
I've asked the students to use another exercise besides The Hermeutical Circle exercise I created (see my article at JMWW: The Art of Ekphrastic Poetry), using the ancient practice of Lectio Divina.
The Latin words lectio divina, which mean "divine reading" or "spiritual reading," refer to the slow, meditative reading of a passage from Scripture. It is a form of prayer that focuses on listening and responding. Lectio divina is traditionally characterized by four movements: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation).
This exercise is useful for reading through the notes you've written after doing The Hermeneutical Circle, but it can also be an exciting way to engage with any poem you're reading and want to understand in a deeper way.
If you read the above article and decide to give this form a try, use Lectio Divina to process your notes on each type of art work post-museum visit.
1) Read (Lectio): Read your notes. Does a particular word or phrase speak to you? “Shimmer” in your mind?
2) Reflect (Meditatio): Read your notes again. Reflect on the word or phrase that shimmered for you. What is being conveyed by that word or phrase? Perhaps list multiple meanings idea that come to you.
3) Respond (Oratio): Read your notes again and then this list in response to the word/phrase – “dialogue” with it, dig in. Express, engage, connect with the poem personally, socially, philosophically, metaphorically, etc. Where can this word/phrase take you?
4) Rest (Contemplatio*): Read your notes again and the dialogue/digging in #3. What came out of this analysis and dialogue that compels you? Start there, either with the idea, or the word/phrase that shimmered or something from the list in #2. The contemplation is the poem.
Writing a poem means you keep finding layers to what you wanted to say, what you thought you wanted to say, and what the poem is really saying. By moving through The Hermeneutical Circle exercise, and the stages of this Lectio Divina exercise, you have already peeled back several layers that should give you a more three dimensional approach to your poem.
If you're just reading a poem, why not do this exercise and take it a step further--write a poem starting from whatever shimmered for you?
I can't help it. It's fall and this time of year I am especially in the mood to write and read poetry. I have to have it. I've also been editing more of it lately, for others (check out my services if you need help: Editing, Proofreading, Critique) and so my latest article for JMWW is about an issue I see cropping up lately--not making good use of line breaks.
Give these ideas a try and I bet you'll find line breaks become a bit of an addiction, so my title seemed very appropos:
If you want to write prose poetry, by all means, go right ahead, but if not, then learn the power of the line break. (And yes, in prose poetry common techniques are used, like compression, repetition, fragmentation, but these will be used in service of the line break for the purpose of this article.) Part of the problem is that there is an overtly narrative quality to the writing. Often there is a very fiction-like or memoir-esque tone to the poems that stems from complete sentences that are simply broken into lines. You could copy down the poem as prose and it would work as a story.
Another problem is the use of rambling, wandering stanzas (or sections, if you prefer). There is no such thing as free verse, in case no one has broken this to you. Poets are always imposing some order on a poem that creates its own internal structure. Often, though, there doesn't seem to be any reason for why one stanza/section ends after 16 lines and another appears for 3 before a new one that's 11, etc. It has a sort of "I felt like it" quality that satisfies no one and, at least to me, feels like a wasted opportunity.
To keep reading: JMWW-Stop Breaking Bad
My latest post at The Writer's Edge:
I see these lists all over Facebook on a regular basis so, just for fun, and hopefully to help you, I compiled my own list. I swore I wouldn’t, but a respectable period has passed, about three years, since that vow, so I think I can break it now. Think less of me if you will.
These are going to annoy you because most of them are deceptively simple. But, admit it, we often make life more complicated than it has to be so – trust me. You’re doing a lot of crap you shouldn’t and it’s unbelievably easy to fix in some cases.
When someone doesn’t write well, I find it’s for two reasons: ego and ignorance. People who think they are amazing writers usually are not. Whenever someone tells me they’ve written an amazing story and they think the writing is really good, best seller material, I know eight times out of ten that I’m in for it as an editor. Ego.
The ones who come from ignorance (untrained, unskilled) usually write stilted, often nonsensical (due to their use of a dictionary and thesaurus rather than writing like a real person at the conversational level), stale pieces because they want to be a Writer. They might be imitating their favorite writer or a successful one, using someone else’s mold instead of creating their own. It’s like they’ve never read a book before. Or, heaven help us, they think they’re inventing something new. Sigh.
Here are some ways to stay out of both extremes and clean up your act.
To read the full post: The Writer's Edge
I've just returned from two weeks in Portugal and England. The former to visit a country new to me, the latter to visit a friend and continue my love affair with England. I'd love to live there. (If you want to offer me a job or marry me so I can have a visa, get in touch.)
I realized, as I was trudging up a mountain road to see another ruin of a castle and a convent (these seem to go together in Portugal and no complaints, very efficient) in about 95 degree heat, that I would never even leave the house on a day like that, let alone sweat twice my body weight to do anything.
You become someone else on vacation. Someone who can navigate foreign transportation systems. Someone who gets up early. Someone who eats strange food. Someone who talks to strangers, and attempts a different language. Someone who hikes up and down mountain roads all day in high heat. You become a foreigner in your own life, which gives you perspective on everything.
For example: I realized I don't give a shit about my last novel that I'd been editing and re-editing to possibly hand off to a well known editor to read. It's either good enough for her to work with now or it isn't. If it isn't, c'est la guerre. Back to the one I just finished that I really care about. So liberating!
Hiking up this mountain, practically hallucinating (yes, I drank lots of water, bottles and bottles, but heat still bakes the brain), I thought about how we could and should all do this with our writing. It's good to have a favorite place to write, but also good to get out of that comfort zone. And I don't mean just nip down to the coffee shop. Nor do I mean paying thousands of dollars and forcing your way through thousands of tourists to do this.
How can you give yourself this perspective now, where you live? Can you drive an hour or two to a garden or park or museum or mountain, or cross a state line to another little town and write there?
Can you go on a writing retreat for a weekend? A conference where you will actually write? (Many of them are about publishing, with not enough craft and it's too easy to get caught up in networking, so choose carefully.) Can you borrow a friend's cabin or beach house or condo for one night?
Not just for writing but thinking about your writing. Where are you? Where do you want to go? What's working? What do you need to let go of? What hard truths do you need to tell yourself?
It's both a relief and a hardship to come back from vacation. No more running for trains and metros and buses and planes, thank goodness. Or repacking the suitcase AGAIN. But a bit depressing to take up the mantle of the old life. I always think, surely it morphed into something better while I was gone? But I enjoy the week or so after I return where I can see my life and all its parts/aspects/expressions/flaws more clearly and objectively and make shifts where I can.
So be a bit of a tourist. Go somewhere close or far to be the person you wouldn't be at home and look back on your writing from there. On your old, current, and writing to-be. Pretend you're on a mountain with everything spread out before you and the wind rocking you on your feet and whipping in your ears so you can't hear the critic in your head, only look.
Remember the sunscreen and water, though, or your mother will never forgive me for sending you out there.
(Picture: mine, taken at the top of one of the battlements of the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), Sintra, Portugal.)