Posts Tagged ‘creative writing’
I only met Ashley Memory last year, but it feels like we’ve known each other a long time. We’re colleagues at UNC-Chapel Hill and we’ve taken writing classes together. Late last fall, one of the members of my writing group had the good sense to invite Ashley to join us. I’m so glad she accepted as we’ve greatly benefited from her presence, her deep and complex understanding of literature and lovely wit. We also laugh a lot more than we did before! I’m happy to welcome Ashley to my ongoing celebration of National Poetry Month.
In the Name of Friendship
There once was a writer who preferred to write prose
The idea of poetry made her wrinkle her nose
She didn’t know if the toil would be worth the cost
Could she ever compare with Byron or Frost?
She hemmed and she hawed and procrastinated
(At work these tasks were quickly delegated!)
For the sake of friendship she cast her doubts aside
And put pen to paper and swallowed her pride
To her great amazement, the words flowed easily
And formed a little ditty that rhymed quite breezily
Would she do it again? Whoever can tell?
For now it would be a gift for Michele.
Author Reflection: Ashley Memory is clearly no poet but she had fun pretending to be one. The inspiration for this amateurish effort is one of her favorite belle-des-lettres, Michele Berger, who gently but firmly reminds us all to make time for creativity.
Ashley Memory is the author of Naked and Hungry, a darkly humorous suspense novel released in November 2011 by Ingalls Publishing Group.
Want more Ashley? Of course you do! See my interview with her where we discuss crime and crepes.
I remember anxiety creeping over me in Marjorie Hudson’s ‘Strategies for the Writing Life’ workshop when she cheerfully asked the group to name and claim our writing ‘accomplishments’ so far. People immediately raised their hands and asked questions like: Do you mean publication credits? How far back can we start our list? Does a personalized rejection letter count? What if I can’t think of anything?
She calmly explained that we could count anything and everything that has happened in our writing lives that we believe strengthened or encouraged us. This could include the time our teacher in the third grade chose to read our essay in front of the class to submitting an op-ed to getting a poem published in a literary journal. Our list could include helpful feedback we received from an editor or agent (even if they passed on the book), or reassuring words from a published writer. Most of us undertook the task with a kind of grim determination. And, I felt that I was bound to have a short and uninteresting list.
After about ten minutes, she asked us to read from our lists. The mood in the room softened as people shared. As it turns out until we were asked to reflect on the shape of our writing lives, most of us had either forgotten or discounted many of the positive things that had shown up. Several people did mention publication as an aspect of their accomplishments, but much of it included specific moments of encouragement expressed by peers, teachers and other published writers. Often words of encouragement allowed us to keep going in the face of high self-doubt and flat out fear. We also celebrated the fact that many of us had completed various types of writing projects and with some additional strategic effort, some might eventually find their way into publication. My list included the over 50 journals I have amassed, over my life, that are stuffed with ideas, dream fragments, stories, and chapters of novels. Hearing the lists of the other writers uplifted and inspired me.
Since that workshop in the spring of 2011, I have often gone back to the list in my notebook as well as the longer ‘accomplishments’ list that I keep on my computer. Some of the writers in that workshop posted their list in their writing space for daily inspiration.
It is easy to forget or minimize the ways in which the writing life is sustained. A list is evidence of one’s deep intentions that we can turn toward during moments of skepticism about our progress.
It is atypical that a writer gets anything published during a normal week and highly unlikely that more than one thing gets published. The first two weeks of April have been exceptionally good to me, so I’ve got new things to add to my list.
I received news that I am the 3rd place prize winner in the Carolina Woman Magazine Writing Contest, for my speculative fiction short story ‘Urban Wendy’. They will publish the piece in an upcoming issue.
For fun, I’ve included a few lines from the beginning of the story:
Marisol pulls another strand of red hair from a perfectly glazed Dunkin Donut, holds it up and looks at the stray bits of delicate pink icing clinging to the hair. Marisol reminds herself that her other team members working this shift don’t have red hair, nor does anyone else working here. Just like the icing clinging to the hair, Marisol knows that Wendy is trying to cling to her.
When Marisol announced she was leaving Wendy’s to work at Dunkin Donuts, two weeks ago, her co-workers warned her.
“Expect a visit from Wendy,” they said. Marisol looked at the goofy-looking freckled girl on the napkins she had passed out so many times to snot-nosed kids, harried mothers and dope addicts.
“She doesn’t like it when we leave without warning,” one of them whispered.
“You gotta to be kidding me. I’ll tell her a thing or two,” Marisol said. She filed their concerns of Wendy the phantom stalker, under ‘another urban legend’ and said good bye to the drab brown uniform, the never ending work of keeping the salad bar clean and organized, and sought her fortune among coffee and donuts.
* * *
A prose piece, ‘The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank’ that I wrote in 2010 found a perfect home at Trivia: Voices of Feminism, an online magazine. This piece was created for the wonderful ‘Vision and Voice’ event at the Joyful Jewel gallery (in Pittsboro, North Carolina), where writers are invited to write about art. Then the writer gets to read the piece and the artist attends, too, and remarks about the inspiration behind the art.
Sharon Blessum’s photograph (below) triggered a memory about a powerful dream regarding my grandmother and other female elders that I wrestled with for many years. In the piece, I tackle the metaphorical ‘poison’, given societal constraints, that many of our female ancestors swallowed, and how I integrate this knowledge into my work as a professor and coach.
I’m happy to welcome friend and writing buddy Al Capehart to my National Poetry Month initiative.
Happy Winter Home
Snow laden grey clouds fill the sky,
Red barn door gone,
Weather boards hang,
Straight ridge line snow covered,
Ragged drip edge eves.
Motley field stone root cellar,
Stands open dark and empty,
Side door broken and askew,
Stout foundation and knee walls,
Under gird decaying derelict.
Trees bare in Winter’s first snow,
Frozen frost clouds their branches,
Still Autumn reds and orange linger,
Waiting for the killing cold
Of a North wind blast.
Single forked timber brace.
Stands in gaping door way,
Last prop-up of the loft floor,
Field mice find a dry and secure
Place for their happy Winter home.
Al Capehart offers this reflection:
Captured by the contrast of the derelict red barn, white snow and orange and red autumn foliage I imagined a use for it.
Florence I Johnson – Winter Barn (watercolor)
Al Capehart is a professional Santa Claus working on a memoir of his Santa work over the past 20 years. He lives in Pittsboro, NC. Visit him at http://www.santaal.com/
April is National Poetry Month and I have asked various writers to help celebrate it with me by providing short poems for this blog. Some writers submitting poems are folks who don’t consider themselves poets while others know the genre well. I want to create a space of play and exploration for poetry.
This focus is inspired by hearing poet Richard Blanco read at the Inauguration and then reading some of his interviews. In one he says: “A poem for me is one big fat question mark that enters my heart, and I have to start figuring out not what the answer is but what the question is.”
In the same interview he goes on to say this about recognizing the breadth of poetry: “I think poetry is a very misunderstood form, at least in this day and age…I would hope people will realize that if they had a bad experience with poetry at some moment, that there are many different kinds of poets writing, many different flavors of poetry. Like I’ve told my students: If you go to the movies and you hate the movie, you don’t say, I hate movies. Somehow people have had a bad experience with a poem and think all poetry is insane. I hope that they take with them that there are very contemporary authors writing about things that are tangible and part of their daily lives in cultural and socio-economic contexts and all sorts of contexts. There’s a poet for almost every walk of life in America.”
Compared to what I know about the prose form, I’m virtually in the dark when it comes to poetry, but I am trying to educate myself!
I’m happy to welcome Patty Cole to ‘The Practice of Creativity’ to kick off National Poetry Month!
Little, Little Birds
December 14, 2012
It was a day where the sun tricked winter
to turn into spring. We drove with the top down
out of the city, wind at our backs, smiles wide.
The sky was a lighter shade of cornflower blue;
there were no jet streams, just cumulus clouds floating
like tufts of wool from sheared lambs.
You said, God never makes mistakes.
I said, I feel the same way, then clicked
on the radio.
A flock of twenty small birds, sparrows perhaps,
flew in a torrent toward an oak tree in the middle of a field,
then upward as if in answer to a sky that had suddenly ripped open.
Patty Cole offers this reflection:
I came to poetry by reading such poets as Mary Oliver, Betty Adcock, Rita Dove, Anne Sexton, and Bill Collins. What a line up, and what diversity. I’m thrilled to be a part of the writing culture here in North Carolina and a member of the North Carolina Poetry Society where I am well nourished. This particular poem “Little, Little Birds” is about the national tragedy in Newtown, CT, on December 14, 2012. Many times I cannot write about something so horrific just after it happens, but this just came to me.
Patty Cole is a poet who studies writing in the Central Carolina Community College creative writing program in Pittsboro, NC. She is working on her first chapbook and is looking forward to starting graduate school this fall. She lives in Chatham County, NC, with her husband, Hoyt, on their 17-acre farm.
Spring is here!
Spring presents writers with a perfect time to reassess, reorganize and rededicate ourselves to the projects that we most want to bring into the world. Spring powers us with the energy to tackle physical spaces (and states of mind) that no longer serve our writing life.
Last December, I made a major commitment to re-imagining my writing space. I was tired of being one of those people who always seemed to ‘be in the process of organizing’, arguably one of the most important rooms in my house, without ever accomplishing a significant change. My writing career during the last two years has taken off in remarkable ways and I began to view my perpetually cluttered room as a pattern of self-sabotage.
These before pictures show that my space definitely needed some attention!
The challenge came as I began to unpack. I needed to create new systems and to let go of stuff. During the cold days of December I often found myself frustrated, overwhelmed and entirely baffled that I could feel so emotionally undone by this process.
I began to explore how some of my discomfort in relating to space was closely tied to childhood patterns. Due to financial constraints I shared a room with my mother from the age of nine until eighteen. I missed out on a lot of developmental experiences of the joys and challenges of having one’s own room and caring for it. Although this wasn’t the sole cause of clutter in my life, I understood why I held onto things too long (often coming from a place of scarcity or deprivation), and also how I simultaneously paid little attention to the aesthetics of space. After these insights, the organizing went a lot smoother.
Although this spring I still have a few more things to work on in my new space, I am in love with it!
Spring cleaning, for you, may not involve any deep-seated emotional issues. But, if you think it could, you can begin by asking the following questions:
-Is clutter an ongoing issue for me?
-Have I experienced patterns of deprivation that may effect how I relate to material objects?
-Do I feel unusually sad, frustrated, or angry as I try to declutter and organize my space?
Depending on your answers, you may want to solicit support from a coach or therapist who specializes in organizational issues.
The first step in my spring cleaning process is to reassess your space, your schedule, and patterns of mind to see what is supporting or not supporting your writing life.
Go and look at your writing space. What’s the state of it? Do you feel a sense of ease when you look at it? Is it crammed with stuff that belongs in other rooms of your house? If you live with other people, is this space known as your special writing area?
Have you even claimed some special place yet, or are you waiting for permission from someone else? If you’re struggling with this, see my post on claiming creative space.
Survey your space and make a quick list of what you feel needs your attention most. The questions below are not exhaustive, but offer a good place to start.
-Do you need to organize and sort your paper files?
-Would it be useful to create an index for your piles of journals?
-Are there notes from conferences and workshops that need to be reviewed and filed?
-Are there writing exercises that could be useful to you if they were typed up?
-When was the last time you did a backup of your computer files? Do you need to delete or add programs?
-Do you need to release some writing books? Welcome others?
-Do you need to physically clean your computer?
-Do you have visible reminders of your writing accomplishments? Is it time to take some down and put up new ones?
-Do you have too much or too little of something in your space?
-Do you need more or less shelf space?
-Are there big physical jobs you’d like to do (i.e. paint)?
Once you have your list you can break each item down into specific tasks.
It’s important to not get overwhelmed during spring cleaning. Many people decide they will devote a day to a spring cleaning project and then realize that they’re cranky after two hours and that the task requires at least two days. Start small and reward yourself often. Why not take from now until the official start of summer to spring clean? You could choose one project each week. I suggest working in 15-30 minute intervals so there’s less chance of getting frustrated and overwhelmed. I enjoy using an online stopwatch.
What are you reassessing right now in support of your writing life?
Scratching can look like borrowing and appropriating, but it’s an essential part of creativity. It’s primal and very private. It’s a way of saying to the gods, “Oh, don’t mind me, I’ll just wander around in these back hallways…”and then grabbing that piece of fire and running like hell.
-Twyla Tharp, choreographer
Where do you get your ideas? How do you generate small ideas that lead to big writing projects? It’s almost springtime and as we put away our winter coats, boots and hats, we naturally desire to generate fresh ideas for our writing life. Twyla Tharp, world famous choreographer, in her understated, but powerful book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use it For Life, uses the concept of ‘scratching’ as a method for finding and incubating new ideas.
‘Scratching’, she observes is what we do so we aren’t always waiting for the “thunderbolt” of inspiration to hit. Tharp says, “That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece. I’m digging through everything to find something. It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward.”
Twarp notes the importance of reading, as a place to scratch for ideas. Many writers reread the classics or work by mentors they love as a way to sharpen their senses and generate new perspectives. Tharp likes to read ‘archeologically’, backwards in time, working her way from a contemporary idea back to an ancient text. When working on an idea for a dance she began with Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy which led her to Dionysus and then studies of Dionysus (worship of and symbols connected to), which led her to Euripides and his The Bacchae. These readings led to her choreograph ‘Bacchae’, a dance that explores hubris and is loosely based on the Euripides text.
Years ago, inspired by her idea of reading as a type of scratching, I made a list of the subjects that I typically read about both as an academic and as a creative writer.
List: self-help /’how to’ in yoga, health and wellness, women’s health, women’s empowerment, public speaking; craft of writing books; cookbooks; leadership; 18-20th century African American history, spirituality; creativity; women’s spirituality; African American women; black feminism; dreams; sociology of race; women’s and gender studies; elections and campaigns; feminist theory, history of the American university; genres: speculative fiction, thrillers, literary
When finished with this list, I felt pretty impressed. But then I asked myself, what are the subjects I rarely read, have no working knowledge of, couldn’t put two sentences together about, or even avoid?
List: biographies, colonial American history, travel memoirs, animals, romance, celebrities, sailing, cars, history of language, math and science, sports, nature, children’s books, plays, poetry, Christian fiction, true crime, technical books
Doing this exercise motivated me to dig into many unexplored subjects.
What would your reading lists look like?
Here are three scratching strategies:
-Flirt with a different genre (or subgenre)-It’s always fun to explore a different genre than the one that’s become your norm. In a recent writing workshop, the instructor encouraged us to take a short piece that we were working on, keep the characters but rewrite it using a different genre. This exercise felt so liberating. I found myself exploring space opera with what had started out as a realistic story. I have little working knowledge of space operas, but it was fun to use my imagination to fill in the gaps.
-Visit a writer’s residence or historic site-Traveling to see a writer’s home is a kind of pilgrimage that can bring us fresh insights. This spring, I’m hoping to travel to Edenton, NC to learn a bit more about Harriet Jacobs, a fugitive slave, writer and abolitionist who penned Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl under the pseudonym Linda Brent.
-Mine Magazines-Acquire ten magazines that you never read (you can buy some and collect others from friends, the doctor’s office, libraries, etc.) and read them from cover to cover. Keep a list in your notebook about the trends, ideas, musings, and writers that spark your interest.
Where are you going to scratch for ideas this spring?
Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934- November 17,1992)
Today is Audre Lorde’s birthday! Audre Lorde was an essayist, poet and activist who referred to herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,”. Audre Lorde’s work has shaped and inspired two generations of writers, scholars, and activists. Lorde produced several volumes of poetry and created new directions in nonfiction with her untraditional memoir (Zami, A New Spelling of My Name), but she was not only a famous poet, she was also one of the most compelling black feminists of the past century. The topics she chose to write about broke open taboos on race, class, the role of ‘difference’ in the second wave women’s movement, breast cancer, sexuality, eroticism, marginality, and the necessity of theorizing about the interlocking nature of oppression. The body of her work has left a legacy for all those concerned with social justice.
I discovered her in college as a budding feminist thinker. I was deeply influenced by feminist literary theory and contemporary women authors. I found her work useful as she helped to redirect second wave feminist organizing to focus on the strength that is found in differences among women as opposed to believing in a mythical norm of the ‘universal woman’. At that time, I was finding my own voice at Bard College and involved in activism on campus (e.g. reproductive rights and fighting for ‘multicultural education’) and interested in feminist theorizing.
At the beginning of my senior year, I organized a group of friends to attend one of Audre Lorde’s final public appearances. Audre Lorde helped to a create conference called ‘Yo Soy Hermana/I Am Your Sister’. It was held in Boston. It called upon second wave (and budding third wave) feminists to come together to strategize, celebrate and develop new skills in feminist coalition building and action given the challenges young women and men faced globally (i.e. poverty, HIV/AIDS, repression of LGBT communities, sexual violence, etc.). My young female friends, all of us of diverse and multiracial backgrounds, found ourselves in a larger feminist and womanist community than we hadn’t dared imagine (or could imagine at Bard–a predominately white, private, liberal arts college). There were over 1000 activists in attendance from over 20 countries. The two days were packed with workshops, keynotes, plenaries, readings, and impromptu gatherings. During the conference, I felt that symbolically a baton was being passed from Lorde and other feminist elders to us in the audience. We were inheritors of the many benefits that Lorde and others had struggled for, yet, we still faced a world that was still fraught with inequality. What would we do with our knowledge and burgeoning power?
Her work inspired me to go on to graduate school. I felt a deep urgency to bring new voices and new ways of knowing into the academy, especially those from historically marginalized communities. I was eager to continue studying how feminist theory challenged typical assumptions about everyday social patterns that seemed ‘natural’. Everyone at Bard did the equivalent of an honors thesis, called the ‘Senior Project’. The tools and theory-building skills I acquired in my classes prepared me to write a senior project on the evolution of rape law reform of the 1970s and 1980s. In my graduate school applications, I quoted Lorde, “In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”
Those words resonated deeply with me because I felt that coalition building and self-definition were the building blocks of feminist theory and could be applied to both research and activism. It’s a quote that still remains a guiding star in my life.
It’s only been in the last few years that I have come to appreciate the other gift that Lorde offered which is that she claimed everything about her—emotions, intellect, all forms of creative writing, activism and theory. She fought to live her life holistically and self-defined. As I have, over the past several years, been intentional about making more space for a scholarly *and* creative life, I find her example life affirming.
I hope you put Audre Lorde on your reading list this year either as a new reader or as someone rediscovering her work.
Poetry: The Black Unicorn (1978)
Memoir: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982)
Essays: Sister Outsider (1984)
Scholarship: I am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde (2009)
This post originally appeared on She Writes
Why is it so easy to believe the awful and never believe the good?
The use of affirmations has come a long way. An affirmation is a short, simple, positive declarative phrase that as Eric Maisel says, in Coaching The Artist Within, “you say to yourself because you want to think a certain way…or because you want to aim yourself in a positive direction.” You can use them as ‘thought substitutes’ to dispute self-injurious thoughts (as a cognitive behavioral approach), or to provide incentive and encouragement when those seem to be in short supply. Now that many psychologists, mental health workers and coaches advocate the use of affirmations, they’ve become respectable. Gone are the days that affirmations made you think of Shirley MacLaine, flouncy scarves, and quartz crystals. (Though for the record, I’ve liked each of the above at different times in my life.)
Writers can benefit from using affirmations as our inner critics, judges, and evaluators are often uninvited guests during our writing sessions. Carolyn See is one of the few writers who writes about using affirmations, saying that they make “a nice counterpart to the other wretched noise that gets turned up in your brain when you write, or even think about writing: “Look at Mr. Big Man!” (in Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers)
She uses them to defeat the din of naysayers and to help her students think differently about their writing challenges. Here I’m quoting from two different passages in Making a Literary Life:
“Everybody’s seen it: nobody wants it,” my own very sweet editor said to me about the (then nonexistent) paperback of my memoir, Dreaming. “Everybody’s seen it; nobody wants it.” Yikes! Ow! The pain! It’s a good thing I remembered that I deserve the very best and now is the time for it” and thus got up the courage to call a friend of mine at a university press. The paperback is still in print, doing very nicely, thank God.”
I can’t tell you how many times my writing students have said to me, “I can’t do dialogue.” Or, “I have so much trouble with plot!” Or, “I don’t know what to put into this story and what to cut. I can’t seem to figure out what’s important.”
I say to them, “How about if you could do dialogue?” Or, “You have the perfect plot, right there in your brain.” Or, “You’re a perfect editor; you just don’t know it yet.”
They don’t buy it; they can’t buy it. So I suggest they say, out loud, in the car, at home, “Up until now, I couldn’t do dialogue, but now I love it I can’t wait to type in those quotation marks and see what my characters have to say!” And, “Up until now, I had some trouble with plot, but now it’s my greatest strength. I’m a fiend for plot.” And, “My natural good taste and fine subconscious mind naturally know what to put in and what to cut out of a story.”
Using affirmations about writing (and creativity) have helped me over the years. I sometimes write a few affirmations as a warm-up to a writing session. I also keep a few posted in key places in my home office. I’m currently reviewing some of my stock ones and seeing if I want to keep them for 2013.
What’s your experience with using affirmations to support your writing? Do you already use affirmations? Do you write them down and/or say them aloud? I’d love to hear what has worked for you.
If not, can you use some affirmations for your writing life for 2013?
I’ve provided some affirmations below culled from Julia Cameron, Eric Maisel, Carolyn See and myself:
My heart is a garden for creative ideas.
My ideas come faster than I can write, and they’re all good ideas.
Revising is the best part of writing.
My writing dreams are worthy ones.
Anxiety comes with the territory. I can manage and even embrace my anxiety.
If I grow quiet, the writing will happen.
To write is to improvise. I will become jazz.
My creative work is highly valued.
I trust my resources.
I honor my writing by keeping the right words and setting the rest free for another day.
For books that combine writing prompts with affirmations, see Susan Shaughnessy’s Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers. Julia Cameron’s Heart Steps (Prayers and Declarations for a Creative Life) is a small but potent book that comforts and uplifts.
Photo Credit: Belinda Witzenhausen (see her site for more great photos of writing affirmations)