I’ve finished my Tana French detective series and didn’t want to go to bed without another book in hand. (Nevermind there are three on my bedside table).
I began browsing my bookshelf, which is semi-organized: books I’ve read and loved. Books I want to read. School books. Writing books. and, of course, Poe books
I also have something mixed in that would seem, at first glance, not to belong. Books on psychology, the law, philosophy. I assume many writer’s bookshelves are this way.
A writer needs a wide variety of knowledge.
I know we have google at our disposal; however, I find reading books about, for example, the Psychology of Marketing allows me to get an in depth look that a wikipage or a few short articles are not going to give me. This allows me to create a more realistic character or more thorough background to make the story more believable.
For West End, I needed to understand two things, the idea of an absent or unloving mother, and the different forms depression can take. Anxiety runs throughout my work from Of Strays and Exes to Life of Clouds – which features children affected in different ways by the disappearance of their father.
I’ve heard handymen say they are the jack of all trades. I think writers are akin to that. We need to learn many things in order to live many lives.
Billy Collins (poet) believes we must read to be influenced, and suggests young people mimic their favorite writers in order to develop their skills and to develop their own voice.
I think many young writers do this. It’s a natural form of development.
Other writers are afraid to read when they’re writing; they don’t want to be influenced. I think by the point you develop your own voice, you won’t so easily be influenced.
I think reading Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion was imperative for me to stumble across. I’d never attempted to intimate him – but he took my understanding of writing and voice to a whole new level. The storyline, the use of language, and the originality of his voice was unlike anything I’ve ever read and it blew my mind.
What reading Ondaatje did for me was to help launch my voice and style. I say this because at the time, I was mired in instructors and writers telling me no, no, no. They so strongly believed in their own way of doing things, they didn’t allow other writers to develop in other ways. It was limiting.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – read far and wide! Do not be afraid of being influenced – open yourself to learning something new!
Creative blocks are brought on by various reasons.
Writers, poets, artists, musicians need to express themselves. Sometimes, something plugs our flow of creativity.
My friend and I have found release in other creative outlets. She took a watercolor painting class. She feared, at first, that she was taking away from her writing; however, what she found is that it opened her flow and she felt even more creative and was able to add even more to her usual creativity.
I take art and other classes on a regular basis. Most of the time their directly related to writing, but sometimes they are not – but they still feed my imagination and add depth to my writing.
The Healer’s Daughter will be released on May 15th in The Ear. This story came pouring out after a six week drawing class I took at a local museum/gallery. And… I feel like it’s one of my best, filled with color and meaning.
Shake something loose by trying another outlet. You may come back stronger and more creative than before.
Write what scares you…..
This is a poetry prompt given to me in one of my graduate level classes.
I don’t think it has to be just for poetry.
Experts tell us we should do something that scares us every day. I don’t know. I’ve done quite a lot of things that scare me – crossing the highest bridge in North America, swimming with sharks, – but those are kinds of scary that gives you a rush. Still valid to write about.
But in that assignment and poem, I wrote about a missing girl. Because those are the types of things that do scare me – when children go missing.
Have you seen her pass this way?
Shoe found, white.
Blood on the laces….
Write about what scares you….
Feel free to share!
“In high school your teacher made you analyze a poem and then told you that you were wrong, correct?”
Applause. Nods. Agreement.
If at all possible, stop doing this to students. That is why so many people dislike poetry. They feel it’s too hard to understand and when they try, they are told they are wrong.
In my class, I allow students to choose which poems they want to read. Then I ask why they chose those poems. They all have their own reasons, looking for something interesting, the shorter the better, some element they can relate too. And I ask them what they got out of it.
Not what it meant. Not to analyze it. What did you get out of it? No wrong answers, no judgement.
My students have told me that I’ve allowed them to love poetry, to appreciate it for whatever they feel it adds to their lives.
We go over the elements, the possible meanings; but, mostly, I just want them to love poetry again. And it works.
I’ve taken away the fear of being wrong, of being stupid, and gave them the sheer enjoyment of language.
Deeper meaning will come – at their own pace – and when/if they want it to.
I spent much of my time in grad school trying to please a certain teacher and understand the secret formula for a short story.
Up until that time, I’d only written novels (or novellas), longer pieces of work in which I developed the characters and followed a plot. These felt full and complete.
Writing one small selection vexed me.
So I read and read and researched and attempted one time after another to create a successful short piece.
I suppose there is no formula and no one right answer, which is what I was looking for – the correct answer.
Of the things written in grad school, the one instructor I attempted to satisfy deemed them mostly unworthy.
It wasn’t until near the end of graduation that an instructor said “half of that story was the best he’d ever read.”
He didn’t tell me which half.
However, almost all those stories have been pulled out, dusted off, and accepted with few edits. Hence – dear teachers – they were good! I had learned something; I had accomplished something. (I must be doing something right, over 30 published in the last few years!)
There may not be one right answer, and there’s no secret, nor is there a hidden formula. Short stories need to get to a point, need to have conflict, need to show a budding of growth – perhaps.