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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ireland Literary Scavenger Hunt




To set the mood for my upcoming travels, I've been researching Irish literary figures.  I've decided to make it sort of a game for myself, seeing as many places as possible that are connected to Irish literature.  So far, I have eight authors on my list:

Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, John M. Synge, W. B. Yeats, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and, of course, James Joyce.  (Bonus points to anyone who can figure out who's who in the pictures above.)

Before the trip I plan to download a bunch of books to my Kindle, all with an Ireland theme to be my reading for the trip.  These will include works by the above authors, as well as Celtic fairy tales and legends.

Any other authors I should add to my list?  Suggestions welcome!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Course Catalog

Today we unveil the DIY MFA course offerings for September 2010!  I've planned it out so that each day we have a different topic.  That way, if only a couple of topics interest you, you can check back on those days specifically.  As you will note, there is nothing scheduled for Fridays.  That's because Friday will be our Week-In-Review day, when I'll post highlights from the past week in case anyone needs to catch up.  But enough chit-chat... here are the classes. 

Love of Literature
Mondays
I'm betting that if you're doing this DIY MFA, you're pretty big into reading and books.  I'm guessing you have piles of books hiding under your couch, or in the laundry hamper (while your laundry's on the floor), or even in your freezer.  Who uses a freezer?  It's just this big yummy box that will keep your books all minty-fresh.  But I digress.  The thing is, doing all this reading willy-nilly doesn't always serve us writers best.  In Love of Literature we'll talk about reading with a purpose and making the most of our reading time so that we have time for other fun things, like going to the zoo and petting the sheepies.

Creative Community
Tuesdays
Think of this as a field-study class, where you get to go out into different realms of the writing world.  It'll be like one big scavenger hunting party.  The object of the game is to search out and custom-design your own unique writing community by cobbling together online networks, professional associations, conferences and other fun writerly events.

Craft-ivity
Wednesdays
This one is all about craftsy goodness.  No, we're not talking about arts and crafts (oooh, but my knitty fingers so wish we were).  We're talking about that wonderfully exciting kind of craft that's all about writing and creativity.  I know it's crazy to try to cover writing craft in just a handful of weeks, so Craft-ivity will focus just on two basic elements of prose (character and plot) and two basic elements of verse.  I will most likely be enlisting help from a verse specialist so don't be surprised if we have a guest post or two.

Working the Workshop
Thurdays
No DIY MFA would be complete without a workshop component.  Having been in dozens of workshops myself, I'll share with you some tips like: finding or forming a good critique group, the Dos and Don'ts of giving and taking critique, and of course the ever-important question: I got my critiques... now what?

Brain Bootcamp
Saturdays & Sundays
This super-intensive approach to creativity will be all about drawing outside the lines, breaking down mental blocks and living the creative life.  Think of this class as a weekend-length creative kick in the backside.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blog Hop!



Edit (to add more info): I'm joining this a little late, but I'm so glad I did because I think it's a fantastic idea! Here's how it works: you add yourself to the list if you fit the topic of the week, then add the list to your blog by pasting in the code. Then join in the fun! A little about me: I write middle grade fantasy as well as literary middle grade and teen fiction. I'll also do the occasional story for grown-ups.

Countdown to iggi U

That's right!  We are nearing the beginning of August and with that comes the countdown to DIY MFA in September.  Woohoo!

iggi is in serious back-to-school mode and is already reading ahead in our iggi-books.  See, iggi has never gone to school and is majorly obsessing about this project.  Especially about what to wear... because showing up at iggi U in one's iggi-suit would be... er... rather inappropriate.

At iggi U, we've been preparing the campus for when you join us in September.  We've been planning "classes," putting together an iggi U registration and plotting out details of the DIY MFA challenge.

As you can imagine, iggi's thrilled.  After all, nothing makes iggi happier than to have a colorful bloggy-badge saying that iggi has graduated from a DIY MFA.  Not only that, iggi can't wait to (virtually) march with all the other iggi U graduates at Commencement while humming along to Pomp and Circumstance and trying not to trip on the over-sized iggi gown.

Of course, iggi U won't be just about learning stuff and sharpening our iggi-smarts.  There will also be plenty of opportunities to share ideas and also meet other iggi U tweeps using our #diymfa chat thread.  iggi-tinis are optional (but welcome... especially if you bring one for me).  Because school just isn't school if you don't get sent to the dean's office every once in a while...  And evil-iggi will be getting to know that office all too well.

As the pre-DIY MFA planning continues through August, I'll be asking you all for feedback on various aspects of DIY MFA, because I want to make sure this September extra-blog-anza is as much fun for you as it will be for me.

Today is a two-for-one special: 1) Have you ever attended, applied to or seriously considered going to an MFA in creative writing?  2) If so, what was your primary motivation for wanting to do it?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Writing Through the Senses Contest Winner!

This is it: the moment you've all been waiting for.  Using a super-secret, super-scientific method, we have a Writing Through the Senses contest winner!



And the winner is...





*drumroll*

*fumbles with envelope*

*drops envelope on the floor*

*more drumroll*

*clears throat*

And the winner is...
Sonia!

Thank you to everyone who participated and followed my Writing Through the Senses adventures.

Sonia, please email me your information so I can send you your prize!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Few Random Thoughts

Hello!  I have so much to tell you all that I hardly know where to start.  You know when you have a bazillion ideas for blog posts and not enough days to write them so you try to cram it all into one post?  That's this post right here.

That said, I've decided not to fight the random today and share all my crazy thoughts with you all at once.

Random Thought #1:  I am sorry to say I will be leaving the blogosphere for a short vacation starting the second week in August because... I'm going to Ireland.  SQUEE!  For years I've had visions of frolicking in verdant fields, stocking up on tons of wool and maybe even hugging a sheep.  Still, it means fourteen days of limited internet.  I'm thinking of trying to sneak my laptop with me so I can get my internet fix, but I don't want my hubby to go all gregzilla on me.  So, the way I'll leave it is this: if I can post while I'm away, I'll post, but if I can't you'll know it's because I'm getting my knit on.

Random Thought #2: DIY MFA
As most of you already know, I've become intrigued (READ: obsessed) with this idea of a Do-It-Yourself MFA.  I've since come up with this crazy (READ: utterly insane) idea of doing a month-long blog extravaganza on this topic.  I'll be challenging myself to post an article on this topic every day for a month, with the idea that by the end of it, I should have touched on all facets of the DIY MFA.

September is the month when most people start back at at school so it seems fitting that iggi U should open it's (virtual doors) at that time.  The idea is to create a space where writers can find as much information on this topic as possible in one place so that they may put together a program of study that fits their own writing needs.  The plan: I'll be posting every day on some aspect of the DIY MFA through September, the idea being that by the end of the month, you should have all the info you need to put together your own personalized writing plan.

My question for you all is this: is this idea completely crazy?  Is this topic something you'd be interested in hearing more about?

Random Thought #3:  Last, but certainly not least, is a quick reminder.  The Writing Through the Senses challenge ends tonight at 11:59pm EST.  If you're doing the challenge, please check to make sure I've got you on my list so you'll be included in the contest.  And don't forget to read the Writing Through the Senses posts and give your comments.  Thank you to everyone who has participated!  I'll be posting the winner tomorrow.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Essentials

The way I see it, there are three basic types of writing books.  You have books on craft, books of writing exercises and prompts, and books about the writing life.  A well-balanced writing library should probably represent all three types.  Yet, not all writing books are created equal and as someone with limited shelf-space at my disposal, I've had to pick and choose which writing books I add to my collection.  That's when I came up with this list of The Essentials.  If I had to pick only one or two books in each category, these are the books I would choose.


Craft

 If you must own only one book on the craft of fiction, I would recommend Gotham Writers' Workshop Writing Fiction.  This book gives you the basics on character, plot, dialogue and description.  There are many books on craft that are similar, but I'm partial to this one because each chapter is written by a different author.  This means that as a reader you gain a variety of perspectives and approaches to writing, rather than just one author's view.



Similarly, if poetry is your preference, the book on craft that I would  recommend is Kim Addonizio's Ordinary Genius which I reviewed previously on this site.  This book explains the craft of poetry without losing the beauty of it as well.  In addition, the writing is so fluid and engaging that we don't even realize we're learning about craft.  This is the sort of book you could read cover-to-cover, like a novel.





Writing Exercises

There are lots of great books with writing exercises and prompts, some of which I've already reviewed on this blog.  I find, though that if I were forced to choose only one, it would be The 3am Epiphany by Brian Kiteley.  While there are many other books that offer interesting exercises, this one is my favorite because the prompts not only get you writing, but they force you to consider elements of craft as well.  In fact, you could learn as much about craft from this book as you would from the craft books listed above.  There is also a sequel to this book called The 4am Breakthrough, but considering that there are 201 exercises in The 3am Epiphany, I suspect this book alone could keep a writer busy for a very long time.



Writing Life

This category was the most difficult one for me to limit my choices, but I have managed to trim down my selections to two books.  The first, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, is one of my favorite books ever.  This book gives a warm and honest view of the writing life as experienced by Lamott.   



 
Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is my other favorite in this category.  Though a little more didactic than Bird by Bird at times, this book guides writers through all aspects of their writing life.  Topics range from writing in restaurants to writing marathons to fighting tofu.

In the end, The Essentials may vary from one writer to another.  If I had to limit my writing library to five books, these would be the ones I would choose.  What books do you consider your Essentials?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

DIY MFA: The Ideal Candidate

Last week I started writing about this idea of a DIY MFA.  As I gear up for my super-secret, super-exciting fall surprise, I wanted to talk about who would be the perfect candidate for the DIY MFA.

Qualities Necessary for the DIY MFA
  • Be a Self-Starter:  To follow a plan like this on your own, you need to be the sort of writer who can motivate yourself and keep yourself going.  While it's great to ruminate and let the muses work their magic, a DIY MFA doesn't do itself.  You need to be good at pushing yourself because no one will be there to do it for you.
  • Honor Self-Imposed Deadlines:  Nothing imposes a healthy dose of fear in a writer like a deadline.  Problem is, you won't have class deadlines to motivate you so you need to be good at scaring yourself into getting the work done.  Self-imposed deadlines are very easy to ignore because no one is there to tell you your work is overdue.  You need to come up with ways of giving your self-imposed deadlines enough weight that you get the work done.
  • Reach Out:  Writers need support from other writers.  Conferences and readings are great places to meet other aspiring writers, so don't be afraid to approach other writers and speak to people.  If you're shy about meeting people in person, start with reaching out to other writers via blogs, twitter or online writing networks.
Think you've got what it takes to do a DIY MFA?  In the fall we'll be doing DIY MFA extravaganza with weekly themes, a twitter chat and a daily plan to help you set up your very own DIY MFA.  Stay tuned for more about the DIY MFA and in the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts below or tweet your comments using the #diymfa hashtag.

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Creating a Special Writing Space

    Back in 2008, my writing space was a sore subject for me, mostly because I didn't have one.  Every time I wanted to write, I had to clear off the dining table, lug my laptop over there, collect any papers or materials I needed, and then settle myself down to write.  OK, so maybe it took only a few minutes to do all of that, but all that extra effort seemed like an enormous obstacle.

    That was when I decided to create a special writing space for myself.  I converted my drafting table into a workspace and decorated it with all the mascots and creative thing-a-ma-jigs I felt were necessary.

    A tour?  So glad you asked.  Hop in!  For your safety, please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times and lower the safety bar.  Oh, and no flash photography please.

    First stop, the desk.  As you can see, the laptop gets the place of honor in the center and to the left and right are all my mascots and totems that keep me company while I write.  The lamp itself doesn't work as a lamp anymore but it makes for a great spot to hang things (I'm a big fan of leis and mardi gras beads).  Perched on the topmost spot we have my CTU hat that I wear when I'm doing revision.  I pretend I'm Jack Bauer shooting down all the stupid ideas and cliche phrases in my writing.

    I'd like to turn your attention to the handy-dandy hangy-thing on the wall.  This is where I keep lots some of the writing exercises or materials that don't fit in the ORACLE (my box of writing magic tricks).  I also keep index card notes on my characters or the plot arc of the story.  (These date back to before I started using Scrivener and had to use real index cards.)
    Finally, we have the magnet/bulletin board.  Right now there isn't much on it, just a few images that stay there regardless of which project I'm working on (the purveyor-of-wool picture and the don't-forget-to-write postcard.)  At certain points in my creative process this board becomes much more cluttered.

    There you have it, my special writing space.  Do you have a special writing space of your own?  Please do share.  I love to hear about writers' processes and writing habits.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Writing Through the Senses: Smell

    Ah, the ever elusive sense of smell.  While this may be the most difficult of the senses for writers to incorporate in their work, it is no less important than the others.

    Fun Fact: did you know that while receptors for all the other senses connect to the main part of the brain (the cortext), the olfactory receptors are different?  In fact, one part of the olfactory system connects via the amygdala, which is one of the parts of the brain that deals with memory.

    My theory is that this is why smells hold such powerful, vivid memories for us.  Who can mistake the smell of birthday candles as they're being blown out.  Or what about that crisp smell the air gets right before a big snow?

    Haven't you ever been somewhere and smelled something that transported you to a whole other time and place?  The other day I was walking down the street and something smelled dry and still, like airport air that has that musty travel smell to it.  In instantly got this pang of memory of a time when I was stranded in an airport in Brazil for an entire day, not knowing whether or not my flight would be allowed to leave.

    The truth is, part of the reason why scents are so difficult for writers is that there are very few "smell words" in our vocabulary.  We have lots of words for sounds: loud, soft, brassy, whisper.  There are also plenty of words for touch (soft, smooth, rough) and taste (sweet, salty, bitter, sour).  And don't even get me started on sight; aside from a plethora of adjectives, we also have the vocabulary of colors at our disposal.

    But for smell there's hardly any.  Instead, we'll use similes and metaphors to say "that smells like movie theater popcorn" or "that smell is suffocating."  The only smell word I can think of is "pungent" and even then, it can refer to taste as well as smell.  In fact, most words we use for smells have been appropriated from one of the other senses (like saying something smells sweet or sharp).

    Because smells are linked so strongly to objects or places, it is no surprise that smell should be so closely tied to memory as well.  That's where this week's exercise comes in.

    Writing Exercise: Scent of a Memory
    Follow each of the steps and don't proceed to the next one until you have finished the current step.
    1. Think of a scent you love.  Write it down (3 words or fewer).
    2. Describe this scent.
    3. Is there a place you associate with this scent?  What is the significance of this place?
    4. Is there a person associated with this scent?  What is this person's relationship to you?
    5. Why does this scent remind you of this person or place?
    6. Write down a memory of this person/place.
    7. Last question: what color is this scent?
    Now write a short poem or prose piece about this scent and the memory it evokes.



    Here ends our foray into Writing Through the Senses.  It's not to late too late to join the challenge so sign up by clicking on the above link and read all the Writing Through the Senses posts.  I'll be drawing the winner and announcing the results next week!

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Writing Through the Senses Challenge: Reminder

    Tomorrow is the last day of Writing Through the Senses.  I can't believe how quickly the last five weeks have gone.  Before I start waxing nostalgic I'd better get on with the purpose of this post and that is to remind you all of the Writing Through the Senses Challenge.

    Here's a reminder of the challenge rules:

    1. Post a comment to this post so I know you're participating.  (If you're on the list below, I already know you're doing the challenge so you can skip this step.)
    2. Post a link on your blog, if you have one (optional, but you'll get an extra contest entry).  Please leave a link so I know you posted.  Contestants who've already posted links will have a + next to their name.
    3. Read the Writing Through the Senses posts and post an on-topic comment.  For your convenience, I've included a link to all the posts below.
    Prize:  One bright, shiny and new Moleskine notebook and a few surprise goodies.

    Right now I have the following people as challenge contestants, but it's not too late to join! 
    • Ghenet +
    • Michelle Davidson Argyle
    • salarsen +
    • Julie Musil
    • sonia
     If I'm missing anyone or didn't give you credit for posting on your blog, please let me know and I'll correct it!  Thankees!

    Writing Through the Senses Posts

    Sound
    Sight
    Touch
    Taste Part 1 and Taste Part 2
    Smell

    Please note: Since there are two parts to the Taste post, you don't need to comment on both.

    The Challenge is open until 11:59pm EST on Tuesday, July 27.
    On Wednesday, July 28 I'll pick the lucky winner and announce it here.

    *Updated to add "Smell" link.

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    The Makings of a Writer

    As I assemble my thoughts about the DIY MFA idea, I thought it might be fun to consider how we all became writers in the first place.

     I became a writer at this little school pictured on the left.  This is how it happened.

    I was in first grade.  It was library time and I had slipped away from the picture book area to the section with floor-to-ceiling shelves that housed the "big kid books."  I pulled a book from the shelf (I believe it was Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron) and stumbled my way through the first sentence or two.  Sliding the book back into place, it occurred to me: I could read this book.  I looked around the room and thought: I could read all of these books.  (OK, with some of them I might have needed some help sounding out the words, but still.)

    That's when panic struck.   If I read all the books in the school library, there would be no books left to read and I'd be bored forever.  You must understand, while the library was rather small--nothing more than a large room with bookshelves--to me it was gigantic.  I thought the books in the school library were all the books in the world.

    Back in the first grade classroom, our teacher Miss H must have noticed that I was out of sorts because she asked me what was wrong.  I told her and she nodded.

    The next day, Miss H introduced a new activity for the classroom.  It was nothing more than two plastic paper trays--one filled with blank lined paper, the other empty--and a metal canister full of sharpened pencils.  Miss H explained that we were to write stories on the blank paper and draw pictures for a cover, then place them in the empty tray.  Each day she would staple the pages together to make a book (a real book!) and she would read them to the class at story time.

    Immediately my fears of reading all the books in the world subsided.  After all, if I ran out of books to read, I could just write my own.  And then I could read them.  I would never be bored again! (Ah, the beauty of a first-grader's logic.)

    And this, my friends, is how I became a writer.

    How did you become a writer?  Was there one particular incident, person or place that helped spark your writing?  I love hearing how writers became writers, so please share!

    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    iggi&gabi Reader Survey

    In preparation for my super-secret, super-exciting DIY MFA project, I realized I needed to figure out how to use Google Docs, in particular the little form-making feature.  As I learned this morning, you can easily create a form using Google Docs, then embed it in your blogger post by pasting the HTML code under the "Edit HTML" tab when you compose a post.

    I wanted to test out this Google Docs form and I thought, why not use this as a way to get to know my readers a little bit better?  So if you please, fill out the form below and tell me a little about yourself.

    Thank you muchly!

    (And don't worry, I'll let you in on the super-secret, super-exciting DIY MFA project super-soon!  Promise.)


    Friday, July 16, 2010

    Writing Through the Senses: Taste (Part 2)

    ...and we're back.  Today we're still talking about taste but instead of using eating as a metaphor, we'll be focusing on having fun with words.

    Taste Part 2: Playing With Our Food... I mean, Words

    One of my favorite genres is parody.  I find it so much fun to read and a great challenge to write.  I'm sure you all know what parody is, but here's a quick definition.

    parody: n.  An imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect.  Parody mercilessly exposes the tricks of manner and thought of its victim and therefore cannot be written without a thorough appreciation of the work it ridicules.

    An example of a poetic parody is Lewis Carroll's The Crocodile, which is a parody of Isaac Watts' How Doth the Little Busy Bee.  The Carroll poem appears in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, when Alice tries to recite the Watts poem but "The Crocodile" comes out instead.

    Jack & Jill Writing Exercise:  Today the writing exercise involves "playing with our food" by writing parody.  Write a short scene or collection of scenes in which you recount the events of the nursery rhyme Jack & Jill in the style of a famous author.  After you've written your piece, you can check out a piece I wrote with this exercise by going here.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    DIY MFA: A Plan for Writers New and Experienced

    I recently graduated from an MFA program in creative writing, and as I have blogged previously MFA programs, while valuable, are also flawed.  Don't get me wrong, I am so glad I had that experience and would not trade it for anything.  I do, however, realize that not all writers are as lucky as I was to be able to do an MFA.  For some it's the geography--there just isn't an MFA program conveniently located in their hometown.  For others, work/family/life make going back to school complicated.  And let's not forget the budget issue; MFA's aren't cheap and writing isn't exactly a career that guarantees piles of moolah.

    Which brings me to the point of this post.  For some time now I've been tossing around a crazy idea: What if there were such a thing as a Do-It-Yourself MFA in Creative Writing?  The advantage of a DIY MFA is that writers can complete the work at their own pace, tailor the writing/reading/study plan to their specific genre or interests, and anyone could do it regardless of geography, logistics or budget.

    To that end, I've decided to do a series of posts about DIY MFA (just in time for this Blogfest)!  Stay tuned for more posts about how to put together your own tailor-made MFA writing program.

    Disclaimer: DIY MFA means you don't get that shiny piece of paper at the end of it all and the clouds will not part and a beam of light will not anoint you a "Master of Fine Arts in Writing."  So if you're into pieces of paper, beams of light and so forth, I suggest you get your application together and go for the real deal.  But if your goal is to improve your reading and writing skills, work on craft and challenge yourself, then maybe a DIY MFA is for you.  Curious about what goes into a DIY MFA?  Read on.

    Ingredients for a DIY MFA

    Books:  If you want to create a DIY MFA you'll need access to books.  That means if you're living on a desert island with no libraries, bookstores or internet, you'll have a hard time putting together a DIY MFA.  Then again, if you're on a desert island with no libraries, bookstores or internet, you probably wouldn't be reading this anyway.  As you put together your DIY MFA, one of the things you'll need to do is develop a reading list.

    Critique Partners:  You'll need at least 2 trusted readers to whom you can send writing for feedback.  The beauty of this is that with the internet at your fingertips, you don't even need to be on the same continent as your critique partners.  Of course, face-to-face meetings are great, but it's certainly not a deal-breaker if you must do critiques via email.

    Time:  You will need to set aside some amount of time each week (even if it's only an hour or two on a weekend afternoon) for your writing.  Honing your craft takes time and you must protect this time from interlopers.  This is the advantage of being in an MFA program: if someone starts getting in the way of your writing time you can just say "sorry, got schoolwork."  In a DIY MFA you'll have to protect your writing time on your own.

    Community:  Perhaps the most valuable aspect of going to an MFA program was the opportunity to meet other writers (both emerging writers like myself and established writers).  My MFA program required that we attend a minimum of 8 readings each semester and I think that is extremely important.  In a DIY MFA, you don't have a built-in set of readings sponsored by the school to choose from.  Instead, you'll have to hunt down readings and literary events for yourself.  Some places to look: your local bookstore or library, poets.org (they have a great events calendar), and literary associations.

    Check back for more posts about the DIY MFA.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    Writing Through the Senses: Taste (Part 1)

    Hello everyone!  Today's topic is taste and we'll be adding some playfulness to our writing.  Because this is such a fun topic, I've decided to split it into two parts.  I'll post Part 1 now and Part 2 on Friday (because I have something else planned for tomorrow).

    Taste Part 1: Food as Metaphor

    First we'll start with a feast of words:
    How to Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam
    Eating Poetry by Mark Strand.

    I love reading these poems back-to-back because while they are dramatically different, they both use eating as a metaphor for reading poetry.  The Merriam poem is very visual and almost literal in its description of eating poetry, while the Strand poem is a bit more abstract, but fascinating nonetheless.  In the latter, we see the contrast between the visceral relationship the speaker has with the poems and the librarian's reaction as she tries to maintain order.  I read this poem almost as a manifesto for enjoyment of poetry and not letting conventions and rules get in the way.

    What do you think about these poems?  Did one of them speak to you more than the other?

    Writing Exercise: Write a short piece (prose or poetry, either is fine) using one of the following titles:
    1. How to Eat a _______________
    2. Eating ____________________
    3. Recipe for _________________
    You can fill in the blank with anything you wish, though I encourage you to try using something that is not normally edible.  Have fun with this!

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Getting Back on the Horse

    Dear loyal readers,

    How I've missed you and this (virtual) space.  My apologies for the almost-week-long hiatus but I was struck down by a nasty summer flu and spent the week in a cough-medicine-induced stupor.

    Well, that was until Sunday.  After that, the worst of the flu had passed but I got hit by writing paralysis (which often happens if I'm away from writing for too long).

    Which brings me to the subject of this post.  What do you do when you need to get back on the horse?

    I often have a hard time figuring out what to do and tend to wallow a bit too long in my non-writing.  Usually, a deadline will crop up and I'll be forced to produce something which breaks the cycle, but now that I'm done with the MFA, deadlines are a lot more flexible and self-imposed.  This scares the besneezes out of me because it means I don't have someone else helping me get back on the horse... I have to get up all on my own.

     So tell me, what do you do when you need to jolt yourself back into a writing routine?  I know, I know... BIC (Butt In Chair) and all that, but do you have any tricks to get yourself past that initial paralysis?

    In the meantime, I'll leave you with a short anecdote.

    The Alf Incident
    When I was a kid, I used to ride; I went to riding school, even won a couple of ribbons at a show or two.  One day, as I was practicing my jumps with a horse aptly named Alf, I learned the true meaning of the phrase "get back on the horse."

    See, Alf and I had a slight difference of opinion: I wanted him to go over the jump and he wanted to go around it.  Instead, I ended up going headfirst into the jump (thank goodness for helmets!) and ended up on the ground.  My riding teacher insisted I get back on immediately and ride around the ring a few times, show Alf who was boss.  Apparently Alf was boss because as soon as I got on and tried to canter around the ring I lost control again and ended up getting thrown into the ring fence.

    After a trip to the ER I ended up being perfectly fine, just some scrapes and bruises and a bad headache.  That double fall, though, terrified my parents and thereafter they refused to drive me to  riding school.  Dad joked that I could ride to my lessons, but seeing as I had no horse, that option was out.  Not to mention, that I had a slight communication problem with horses as it was, and I probably would've ended up halfway across Connecticut in the opposite direction.

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Writing Through the Senses: Touch



    Hello again.  I hope you all had a good week.  Today we'll be talking about touch and how ordinary objects can become extraordinary when described through this sense.


    First a poem by Wallace Stevens:  Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

    Isn't it lovely how such simple images can take an ordinary thing like a blackbird and make it into something so beautiful?  Which is your favorite of the thirteen?  Mine is:

    XI

    He rode over Connecticut
    In a glass coach.
    Once, a fear pierced him,
    In that he mistook
    The shadow of his equipage
    For blackbirds.


    Ordinary Objects Exercise:  Take an ordinary object from your desk (a pencil or pen, paper clip, eraser, etc.) and close your eyes.  Study it with your eyes closed, trying not to focus on what you know the object is, but on how the object feels.

    After memorizing the object for a few minutes, set it aside and write a short paragraph or two describing the object but using only the things you memorized through your sense of touch.  You can use metaphors and similes but try not to use any of the other senses.  Note how the sense of touch transforms the object into something new and different.

    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    Are You Good at Taking Critique?

    Here's a quizzy for you. Answer the following questions, then count up your "Yes" answers and see your score below.

     
    1)  When your critique group says they don't like your character, is what they're secretly saying that they don't like you?

    2)  When a colleague points out a flaw in your manuscript, do you immediately reply with an explanation why that flaw isn't really a flaw after all?

    3)  You have 5 people in your writing group and they each have a different opinion about your WIP.  Do you try to rewrite your project so that it fits all 5 suggestions?

    4)  When you send your manuscript to your critique partners, do you preface it by saying that the language is "coded" and that you're going for something "post-modern"? (Meaning, of course, that if they don't get it, it's because they're too dumb to get it and not because you were too dumb to write it like that in the first place.)

    5)  A corollary to #4, when you send your manuscript out, do you preface it by saying it's really, really rough and you wrote it in two minutes on your iPhone while standing in line at the movie theater?

    6)  Do you refer to your manuscript as "your baby?"

    7)  Do you find it hard to sit through a critique without your favorite comfort food?

    8)  Have you ever cried after a critique but lied and told everyone it was because your hamster died?

    9)  When your short story gets rejected by an editor, do you take it upon yourself to write back and calmly explain why said editor is utterly and completely wrong?

    10)  You got critiqued by your writing group last week, got lots of suggestions for change and this week you come back with a manuscript that is... exactly the same.  No changes made.  Do you expect a glowing critique this time?


    Count up your "Yes" answers and scroll down to see your score.



    0 = You have a level head and you make the most of your critiques because don't take anything too personally.  You take notes and you know when to incorporate feedback and when to let it go.  Keep it up and you'll go far.

    1 = OK, so you're on the loopy side of normal, but you're still pretty good about not letting critiques get to you.  Sure, you might need to reward yourself for a tough critique session with some ice cream or even a good cry, but that's fine.  Just make sure you get home and close the shades before you do.

    2-3 = You are a tricky one.  Let's face it.  On one hand, you are a bit... how shall I put this... wacko.  The thing that makes it so hard for your critique partners to deal with you is that you seem completely oblivious to this fact.  Wake up!  Stop writing like a lunatic.  And start listening to what your critique partners tell you; they might actually be right.

    4-5 = You are in need of a massive reality check.  Here it is.  Your book is not you.  Your book is not your child.  Your book is not a living being.  Get over it.  Now that we've made that clear, stop griping about how much everyone criticizes your work and focus on making it better.

    6+ = Seriously?  You seriously answered "yes" to six or more of the above?  Wow.  I don't know what else to say, but... Wow.  May I shake your hand?

    Friday, July 2, 2010

    ORACLE: A Writer's Toolbox

    Lately I've had some impromptu teaching gigs and I've never been more thankful for my writer's toolbox (which I lovingly call the ORACLE).  The ORACLE contains tons of writing games and exercises and as you can see from the picture, it's already overflowing.  Even so, I can never seem to have enough writing exercises.  There's always room for more.

    The ORACLE includes:
    • Image file
    • Kaleidescope
    • Dice
    • Postcards
    • Writing Block Book (my own design)
    • Mini plastic take-out container with random words in it
    • Fairytale cards
    • Paint chips
    • Creative Whack Pack by Roger Von Oech
    • Brain Book
    The ORACLE Annex (AKA the bookshelf) stores additional items that don't fit in the ORACLE. 

    These are:
    • The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
    • Faces by Fran├žois and Jean Robert
    • The 3 A.M. Epiphany and The 4 A.M. Breakthrough by Brian Kiteley
    • Now Write! edited by Sherry Ellis
    Searching through my writer's toolbox and scrounging around for good exercises got me thinking.  I began to wonder: what's in everybody's writer's toolbox?

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    VP is Open for Submissions

    OK everyone, this is it: the day you've all been waiting for.  Verbal Pyrotechnics--the only literary e-zine dedicated exclusively to teen literature--is finally open for submissions.

    VP is looking for short stories, essays, poems, even comics. The editors' tastes are diverse and the pieces they print will have two things in common: they are astonishing in some way and they appeal to a teen audience. Think you've got something that would be a good fit?  Visit the VP submissions guidelines for more information on how to submit.

    So go dig through those files, look in the bottom desk drawer, search around in all those places where you store your best teen lit stories/poems/essays.  You know, the ones that you couldn't find a home for because that home didn't exist.  Now it does.

    And don't forget to spread the word!

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