The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘writing tips

One of the writing highlights of the year for me was traveling to the State of Black Science Fiction Conference in June. The SOBSFC brought together creators from different mediums (e.g. filmmakers, comic book artists, writers, producers, scholars, etc.,) to converge, discuss and share about the world of sci-fi and the Black experience over the past two centuries. There were panels on everything from Afrofuturism in Arts and Culture to Black Southern Folklore in Horror Literature. It was a mind-blowing experience.

I got a chance to hear and meet new authors. One of these authors was Gerald L. Coleman. I first saw him on the panel, ‘The Pinnacles and Pitfalls of Self/Small Publishing’ talking about being a poet and speculative fiction writer. He also spoke about how important it was for writers of color to value their work and find audiences for their work outside of (or in addition to) what mainstream publishers are willing to publish.

I was intrigued by his ability to write both poetry and speculative fiction, so I spoke with him the next day, at his table. After an engaging conversation, I knew I wanted to invite him to the blog to inspire us and share his writing wisdom.

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Gerald Coleman is a philosopher, theologian, poet and author. His most recent poetry appears in, Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture Issue 13 (University of Kentucky Press), the anthology Drawn to Marvel: Poems From The Comic Books (Minor Arcana Press), and Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel Journal Vol. 18. He is also the author of the epic fantasy novel When Night Falls: Book One of The Three Gifts and poetry collections, the road is long and falling to earth. He is a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets.

I’m delighted to welcome Gerald L. Coleman to The Practice of Creativity.

-Tell us about your recent book, When Night Falls. Why did you want to write this book?

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When Night Falls, in fact the entire Three Gifts Series, is my homage to the genre I love the most. Fantasy, and specifically Epic Fantasy, has been my favorite source of reading material since I left comic books and entered the world of literature. Now, I enjoy philosophy and theology immensely, seeing as how those were my main areas of interest in undergrad and graduate school. But there is nothing quite like epic fantasy. I first read Tolkein at the age of twelve and never turned back. Swords, magic, dragons, and heroes on an epic quest have entertained me for hours and hours. While other people were reading Pride and Prejudice, I was reading Elric of Melniboné. While they were reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I was reading Dragonriders or Pern. While my friends were deeply entrenched in A Tale of Two Cities, I was flipping the pages of The Faded Sun Trilogy. Now, don’t get me wrong, as an English and Philosophy double-major at the University of Kentucky, I had to read all that English and American Lit too. But I always made time to read Science Fiction and Fantasy. I knew by high school that I wanted to write. By college I knew I wanted to write in my favorite genre. But what made me want to write this particular epic fantasy series, with these characters, is all about what was missing while I was reading all that SF&F from the time I was a kid. And do you know what was missing in Middle Earth, Melniboné, Kutath, and every other SF&F setting? I was. Now, I don’t mean me specifically. I mean characters who looked like me. African Americans were, generally, non-existent in science fiction and fantasy. We weren’t in the ancient past, the far flung future, or the speculative imaginations of the writers and readers of the genre. It was as if we had never existed. While I thoroughly enjoyed what I was reading I was also, always, painfully aware of the added intellectual leap I had to make as a reader to identify with the heroes and villains in the stories I was consuming. So it was abundantly clear in my mind that when I sat down to write my epic fantasy series that my characters would be a real reflection of the actual world. You know, a world filled with black and brown people, as well as white, Asian, Indian, and others. The world I am writing is filled with beautiful, strong, intelligent, and heroic people of color and women. It had to be. I want readers to have what I never did. So, When Night Falls has all the elements you look for in great epic fantasy. There are swords, fantastical creatures, magic, heroes, villains, but with a real representation cast of characters that should make it fun for any person who picks it up.

 

-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

I knew by high school. Having read so much, and been so impacted – so entertained – by what I had read, it became increasingly clear to me that writing was something I really wanted to do. There are few things in the world like sitting down with a book and being transported to all kinds of wonderful, strange, and magical places. Having experienced that, it began to dawn on me that I wanted to do that for others.

 

– You’ve written two poetry collections and are a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets. Poetry is clearly one of your loves. What keeps you coming back to the form of poetry for self-expression?

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Poetry was my entrée into writing. In high school, I began by writing love poems to girls I liked. By the time I reached college it evolved. As a freshman, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and that was a real sea change for me. It really began the process of my search for an understanding of what being an African American man meant and was going to mean for me. After that I consumed W. E. B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Carter G. Woodson, Marcus Garvey, and every black intellectual I could get my hands on. I was already reading all the other stuff, by way of my university studies. Everyone from Plato, Aristotle, to Sartre and Derrida. But these other intellectuals, often left out the curriculum, were the real compass for me and my writing. My poetry changed and developed drastically. I still write about love. In fact, my latest poetry collection, falling to earth, is all about love, in all its forms. But the core heuristics of my poetry are about African American identity. And every time a black person is killed by police, or a black church is attacked or burned down, or the Supreme Court rules on issues like affirmative action, I am always brought back to poetry as a primary form of expression. I have also come to find that writing poetry and then speculative fiction, and then turning back to poetry, is a great way for me to stay sharp and keep the creative juices flowing.

 

-You have a graduate degree in theology.  Do you feel that training shapes the kinds of themes you take up in your creative work?

I do find that my expertise in philosophy and theology helps to shape and inform my writing. I think it’s one of the things that makes my writing unique. I avoid it being heavy-handed or showing up explicitly in my writing. I think that would be terrible for the story. But in elegant and efficient ways, it’s there, grounding the story, and making the narrative stronger, and denser. I think it works best if it’s there without you really seeing it.

 

-What excites you right now about writing in the genre of speculative fiction?

I think the fact that I, and other African American writers like myself, are creating a library of speculative work that cures what has always ailed the genre at large for so long. How can you truly have great science fiction and fantasy when you leave out most of the human race in your story? That we are writing entertaining and powerful stories where readers can actually see themselves as heroes and villains is, for me, the most exciting thing about the enterprise we have embarked upon. The ability to give tweens, teens, young adults, and adults, the kind of stories we used to comb the bookshelves for in book stores is both rewarding and exciting. I hope the SF&F reading community can see how exciting this time is in the genre.

 

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Trust yourself. If you have a strong story and well-developed characters, then you can trust yourself to develop a story worth reading. Take chances with your story and write yourself in corners. Once you get there, then trust yourself to be able to write yourself out. I am working on book two in The Three Gifts Series right now (hopefully finishing in the next few months) and while I have the overarching narrative arc in mind I can’t allow myself to get caught up in all the intricacies of what I have yet to write. I have to focus on one chapter at a time and trust that I will be able to solve all the problems I create as I write. I think that makes for the most compelling stories. You can’t be afraid to create a difficult problem for your characters or your plot because you are worried you won’t be able to write a good resolution. Time and time again, I have trusted myself to think my way through those things and it always works out. The mind is an amazing tool and instrument. If you have fed it well it will always produce the results you need.

As an addendum, let me say this as well. Don’t rush. The worst thing you can do is let a deadline push you to write past some great writing. A chapter needs to marinate sometimes. And when you allow the story to develop at its own pace you will sometimes surprise yourself with what you are able create.

Finally, let me say thank you Michele for asking me to do this. It’s been great fun and I hope worthy of your interest and the interest of your readers!

 

Gerald L. Coleman writes both poetry and speculative fiction. He resides in Atlanta. Born and raised in Lexington, he did his undergraduate work in Philosophy and English at the University of Kentucky before completing a Master’s degree in Theology at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN.

He is a lover of espresso, Radical Orthodoxy, Wittgenstein, early mornings on the golf course, and Lexington in the fall. He is a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets.

Visit him here.

 

 

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One of the things I deeply enjoy about my blog is conducting author interviews. I love finding out how writers create magic on the page and what sustains them when working on long projects. My blog allows me to reach out to new and established writers after I hear them give a reading, or learn about them online, and ask for an interview. Every time an author agrees to an interview, I feel excited and inspired. My goal is to ask thought-provoking questions that get at the heart of their ideas about craft. I look forward to checking my email and seeing how they play with and sculpt answers to my questions. Interviewing and helping to promote writers is a passion and gratitude generating activity for me.

At the end of each interview, I always ask an author: What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Below, I have collected the most intriguing answers from writers I interviewed in 2015.

Keep this list close at hand. The advice is inspiring and offers a great way to jump-start your new year of fresh writing. And, look forward to even more author interviews in 2016!

*To see the full interview, click on the author’s name.

 

Camille Armantrout, co-author, Two Brauds Abroad: A Departure from Life As We Know It

Camille (right)

Camille (right)

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Pay attention to your writing patterns. If you discover, as I did, that your words flow in the morning, clear your am calendar to take advantage of that creative burst. Keep pen and paper handy at all times, in your pocket or purse, on your bedside table, and in the car.

 

Karoline Barrett, Bun for Your Lifefb home picture----

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?  

Just one? That’s hard! I’d have to say, don’t get bogged down with self-doubt, just write!

 

 

Samantha Bryant, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel

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What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

The one thing that truly made a difference for me was committing to a daily writing habit. For me, I did that with Magic Spreadsheet, a gamification tool for writers created by Tony Pisculli, which awards points for meeting a daily minimum word count.

For many years, I struggled to write while meeting all the rest of my responsibilities as a teacher, wife, mother, dog-mom, sister, daughter, etc., etc., etc. I would get a few hours once a month or so, and spend half of them just trying to get back in the flow.

But, once I committed to writing at least 250 words every day, come hell or high-water, that problem disappeared. It’s not hard to find my way back into the story if I’ve only been away twenty-four hours. It made the time I had more productive. Over time, with practice, I became able to write more words in one hour than I used to write in a four or five hour session. I began to finish things. So there it is: write every day.

 

Laurie Cannady, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul

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What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Write a page every day, no matter what, and don’t be afraid to allow your narrative to reveal things to you. When I first began writing memoir, I thought I had to write everything, as accurately as I could remember, to some self-imposed end. It took years to realize that my narrative had its own end and its own way in which it wanted to be relayed. So, writing a page a day was a relief. I allowed the scenes to unfold as they pleased and once that writing was done, I was able to shape all that I had written into Crave.

 

Amy Ferris, Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide and Feeling Blue

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share? 

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write as if no one – not one single soul – will ever read what you’ve written.

yeah, write that kinda balls-out scary heart-wrenching beautiful truthful.

 

Mur Lafferty, The Shambling Guide to New York City

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What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Never give up. That’s the fastest way to failure.

 

James Maxey, Bitterwood: The Complete Collection

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

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Momentum matters. Going back to my last answer, the biggest trap beginning authors can fall into is to write only when you feel inspired. If you practiced piano only when you felt inspired, would you ever master the piano? If you only went out and ran when you felt inspired, would you ever build the endurance and mental stamina needed to run a marathon? A key thing to understand is that any time you sit down to write, you aren’t working only on the story or chapter in front of you. You’re working on your entire career. If you want to “make it” as a writer, odds are you will write millions of words over the course of decades, maybe tens of millions. To get there, you’ve got to put your butt in the chair and slog out the words on days when you’re tired, or a little sick, or worried about your family or your job. You’ve got to keep tapping the keyboard when you are certain you are writing the worst sentences ever recorded onto a hard drive, when you hate every last character in your novel and can think of not one original idea for where you’re taking the plot. Because, you know what? Writing is where the magic happens. You can sit around daydreaming all you want, but until you start typing, you don’t actually know what’s going to emerge. Again and again I’ve discovered that, as I’m slogging through something I don’t want to write, something will spark and the next thing I know I’m on fire. I start out telling myself I can quit for the night if I make to 500 words, and the next thing I know it’s 3 a.m. and I’ve got 5000 words that just sparkle.

 

Jennifer Steil, The Ambassador’s Wife

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What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Go away. Go far, far away. The best thing any writer could do for herself is to go out into the world and have adventures that will give her something to write about. Take risks. Go to difficult places and do impossible things. If you want a guaranteed fantastic story, give up a comfortable life and move to the most difficult country in the world. Stories will find you. In abundance. Of course, if you already have an uncomfortable and crazy life where you are, you’re all set!

 

I’m sharing more about the magic of the AROHO writing retreat that happened almost one month ago. In the afternoons during the AROHO writing retreat, participants got to hear various writers discuss and riff off of the touchstone books thematically guiding the retreat: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. The Woman Warrior at its core is about mother and daughter relationships and secrets. The presenters provided insights, read creative work, shared scholarly essays, tributes and everything in between when talking about these two texts. One of the speakers was Tania Pryputniewicz, a poet, who also writes a lot about motherhood and the creative process. She shared with us an incredibly powerful exercise designed to help us reflect on the nature of the secrets our mothers kept and secrets we’ve kept from them. I am re-blogging her wonderful post where she elaborates on her relationship to The Woman Warrior and shares this exercise in full. She is also calling for guests posts based on her exercise.

Mothers and Daughters: Secret Catharsis in Woman Warrior (and a Secret Door Writing Exercise for You)

 “You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you.” So opens Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, from the first section of the book, titled, “No Name Woman.” So begins the re-telling of a family secret, where the story of the No Name Aunt moves out to haunt a much wider audience of mothers and daughters. The irony is not lost on us that the narrator, at the outset, in sentence one, is engaged in the act of disobeying her mother.

La Posada Door Robyn Beattie

Many of us would agree that mother/daughter relationships are at one time or another fraught with complicated emotional, psychological narratives and emotional withholdings. But these same complications often come with hidden gifts.

read the full post here

 

Last week, I wrote about the lovely time I had at the ‘Love and Lonely Writer’ Valentine’s Day reading being featured with Marjorie Hudson.

One of the questions I asked Marjorie was ‘what would you do differently now if you were just starting a writing career?’ She said among other things, she’d be less shy about announcing herself as a writer. And, she’d also let go of the inner fear of ‘not being good enough’ a lot quicker.

She then asked me the same question. I didn’t expect this for some reason and so I answered it quickly. I said that I would have joined a writing group and sought community a lot sooner.

Although what I offered was true, I felt I left something else important unsaid. And, this unsaid thing has nagged at me for the past week.

Here is what I wished I would have said:

I wish I would have realized earlier that there is no one path to being a writer or embodying a writing life. Some people take years rowing across acidic lakes of self-doubt before getting the courage to write a single word. Some people come to writing because they have a great idea and want to express it and know little about craft or technique. Others have always dreamed of being writers and feel it deep in their bones. Some writers come to writing after retirement. Some want to make lots of money with their writing and others just want to be published in The New Yorker. Some writers are introverted and others will drink with you all night. Some writers have felt marginalized for most of their lives and others have felt entitled. Some writers write every day and others in uneven cycles and spurts. Some people study literature in college and others study Jackie Collins at the laundromat. Some writers are anxious no matter what their output and others settle into a Zen like calmness. Some writers quit again and again and others commit from day one. Some writers get their inspiration from role playing games and others from nature. Some writers define their creativity in spiritual terms and others don’t. I had all kinds of notions in my head about what it meant to be a writer and to actualize a writing life. Some were helpful, but most were junk and prevented me from enjoying the journey. Writers (and creative folk generally) come to this life from a dizzying number of perspectives and life experiences.

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Let’s honor our individual paths and the wisdom they reveal and reflect back to us.

Have you had to discard any unhelpful ideas about what a writer’s life should be like? I’d love to hear.

 

Happy New Year!

Although January is a popular time for declaring writing resolutions, I’m usually too worn out from holiday socializing to join in. Instead, I like to use January to clear the decks, declutter and organize.

Devoting just an hour or so to each of the tasks below will yield a strong foundation for writing during the year.

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Read your cache of blogs. All during the year, I bookmark bloggers and various blog posts that spark my interest. And, it is always my intention to go back to them and read them in a more leisurely way. It’s probably the same for you. Now is a fantastic time to dive into new ideas. Coming across other great bloggers is one of the joys of an online writing community.

Line up beta readers. You are going to finish something this year, right? If so, you will need some beta readers. Beta readers are people who read your work while it is in draft form. They could be people in your writing group, other writers, trusted friends, etc. It’s generally good to have a mix of non-writers and writers as beta readers. Want to know about beta reader etiquette? Check out author K.M. Weiland’s helpful post on this topic.

Clean up your bio across your social media sites. Read your short bios that live on social media (e.g. FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.). Do they still reflect the writer that you are? Are they compelling? Do you need to add, subtract or tighten anything?

Clean up digital clutter on your desktop. It’s coming to get you if you don’t.

Toss out old drafts. What do you do with drafts you’ve gotten back from your writing group? How long do you keep them? I have tendency to keep them way too long; they start to form into mountains on my desk. When you have integrated editorial comments into a completed story, toss the draft.

Check the ergonomics of your writing space. What can be moved and realigned for maximum support of your body?

Straighten up your submissions file—update your 2014 submissions file and create the 2015 one. And, of course if you haven’t started a  submissions file yet, correct that. Writers write and submit their work.

Go through last year’s journals, class and conference notes. If you took writing classes, attended conferences or workshops and/or kept a journal this year I bet there are still some nuggets to mine. Take time to honor that work.

Get a new subscription to a writing magazine and/or literary journal. Where do you learn about the field of publishing? How do you find out about new writers? We do this in many ways, through blogs, friends, librarians and visits to bookstores. However, writing magazines and literary journals also can play a key role in our professionalization. You’ve probably been thinking about treating yourself to subscription to a writing magazine (or publishing trade magazine), or literary journal for some time. Do it! I began my subscription to Poets and Writers in January 2013 and have found it invaluable for my writing life

Update your writing accomplishments list and post it where you can see it.  Smile at it from time to time.

One of the things I deeply enjoy about my blog is my commitment to conducting author interviews. My blog allows me to reach out to new and established writers after I hear them give a reading, or learn about them online, and ask for an interview. Every time an author agrees to an interview, I feel excited and inspired. I look forward to checking my email and seeing how they played with and sculpted answers to my questions. Interviewing and helping to promote writers is a passion and gratitude generating activity for me. This is one way I help to build and contribute to a writing community.

At the end of each interview, I always ask an author: What is the best writing tip you’d like to share?

Below, I have collected the most intriguing answers from writers I interviewed in 2014.

Keep this list close at hand. The advice is inspiring and offers a great way to jump-start your new year of fresh writing.

*To see the full interview, click on the author’s name

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Becky Thompson, Survivors on the Yoga Mat: Stories for those Healing from Trauma

-Honor the muse no matter what she needs. If she needs to write while you are driving, pull over. If she wakes you up in the night, thank her. If she is shy or angry, she has good reason. For prose writing, expressing the ideas first as poems helps to keep the language lyrical. Writing after doing an intense yoga practice can bring us into a deeper register. Talking about the writing process is erotic, in the Audre Lorde, expansive sense of the word. Yoga is big like that too.

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Stuart Horwitz, Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method

-Writing is supposed to be a transformation of the self, first. That’s how you choose your subjects, your characters, your formats. That’s how you know how many drafts to engage in — if you are still transforming yourself, you keep going. If you are done getting what you needed personally from it, then you better clean it up in a hurry and get it out into the world, however that happens. That’s also the value of the work. People talk a lot of crap about why they write: they want to change the world; they want to make money, blah, blah. The primary reason is none of those. We want to see if we can do it, and we want to do something we can proud of. Then we have to let the work change us — surprise us and challenge us — that’s when it gets good. Otherwise we should just be doing crossword puzzles.

 

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Cornelia Shipley, Design Your Life: How to Create a Meaningful Life, Advance Your Career and Live Your Dreams

-I never pictured myself as an author, so for me it was important to follow my process and to get help from a seasoned writer and editor to help me think through the layout of the book, make sure the process was clear to readers who would be new to the material and ensure the overall tone and flow was what I wanted. Bottom line as a writer you have to be willing to follow your unique creative process without judgment.

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Randi Davenport, The End of Always

Let’s see. There are lots of people out there giving advice to writers. Very little of that advice is any good. The best of it is mostly just okay. A good deal of it is truly terrible. Potentially damaging, even. I don’t want to contribute to the problem. However, I’ve been writing my whole life and by this point I do know something about the process. So here’s my advice: If you want to write, write. Forget prompts and tricks and gimmicks. Roll your sleeves up, plant your butt in your chair, and tell your story. Write. And if this isn’t something you can bring yourself to do or if you can imagine any other way to spend your time (Face Book? Twitter? Vacuuming?), it could be that writing is not the thing for you. That’s a hard fact but it’s true. Writers write. And my advice is to get to it.

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Jason Mott, The Returned

-Less talk about writing, more writing. Which is really just my way of saying “keep writing.” Haha.

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Amanda Owen, Born to Receive: 7 Powerful Steps Women Can Take Today to Reclaim Their Half of the Universe

-Write every day. Write plenty of bad sentences so that you can get to the good ones. If I don’t have a terrible piece of writing in front of me after all of my efforts, I feel like I have not made any progress. I need something I can work with, fuss over, and shape. A flimsy idea can be nurtured into something substantial. A phrase can be fanned into a flame that produces a whole sentence. A poorly written paragraph can inform me of a direction that may yield gold.

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Lisa Harris, ‘Geechee Girls

-The best writing tip? Write. Watch and listen. Write. Meditate and travel. Write. Play cards, laugh and watch frogs, and you guessed it, write. Writing is an act of love, an honoring of life. Read!

 

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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