Just write. Just write for fun. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Let it become a source of joy for you.
Take apart the works of your favorite poets, short story writers, essayists, and novelists. Tinker with them. See how they work. Create something with their parts.
Don’t be afraid to finish things. Don’t let yourself amass only beginnings of things. You learn the most from endings and endings get you whole works.
Take great amounts of time and effort to connect with your favorite writers. Make the writers your friends. But still steal from the writing. The writing should mean more to you than the writer.
Give yourself assignments. If you’re going to read books on writing, actually do the exercises. This is how you can create your own creative writing class: one student and one teacher, and only the best reading and writing assignments.
Learn to work hardest when you don’t want to work at all. Think continuously about what makes you want to write. Never let that passion go, even when you feel consumed by self-hate and self-doubt. Write as a way to connect with yourself, with others, with the whole universe. Do it today. Just write.
We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.
Or at least we do for a while.”
Joan Didion, The White Album
I just reread this essay, and I think it’s an important one for writers to read—not to be better writers, I think, but to be better humans outside of our writing. I definitely fall victim to the need to narrativize things that happen in my life, to want to say x happened because of y because of z. And yes, life is a series of chains reactions, of “fate” or whatever you want to call it splitting off like branches on a tree because of the decisions we make. But it doesn’t all have to make sense; it doesn’t have to tie up neatly. If there’s a gun on the mantle in the proverbial first act of my life, it doesn’t have to go off in the third.
I’m having a hard time believing this right now, granted how certain negative past actions of mine are resurfacing in what seems like a karmic rage, but we need to remember that life is fucking random. Dwelling on the past events that lead to our current situation is, a lot of the time, useless. I know it sounds trite at this point, but if life is a non-narrative, there’s only moving forward.
Teach me a foreign
that I may articulate
these feelings into words
the weight of my thoughts
For these stanzas appear
so pallid upon the page;
stagnant script that
fails to speak the
burning in my fingertips
The music resounding
in the marrow of my bones
stains this stage so silently;
regardless of style and
Am I bound by endless
Poets paint their passions
their wounds bleed beauty
..Mine is a repertoire
of recyled renditions—
I cannot weave these
into works of art
I cannot write of you
the way I wish I could..
Page one hundred and sixty-three out of two hundred and four.
Computer pages, single-spaced in twelve point Times New Roman.
Fifteen years in the newspaper business and I recognize things like that now, my days spent with Cheltham Bold, Franklin Gothic, headlines and deadlines. I’ve written for the paper and laid out its pages, grown to love the place. It taught me a trade after all. Worked in it still drunk from the night before and raised glasses with co-workers on New Year’s Eve and when Obama was elected.
Most of my life has had to do with the written word in one way or another.
The novel is in its fifth edit in four, maybe five years. It now feels like a book. The stack of pages on my right is now larger than the one on my left.
There is an agent waiting to read it, though she does not represent me yet, she’s done well my a couple friends of mine.
When I’ve finished going through the line-by-line I’ll go back and add two crucial scenes. I can see the sign posts and the world of it around me. As long as I listen to the bird in my chest I think I’ll be alright. He has a better view of the land after all, wings have their advantages.
I think it’s intoxicating when somebody is so unapologetically who they are - Don Cheadle
This quote above is very fitting for the wonderful woman I’m about to write about. I had the pleasure of meeting Queen Sheba back in August 2013 at the Marquis Slam in Fayetteville, NC. She was a feature at that slam. She’s a firecracker and she keeps it real. And that reflects in her work.
Long Story Short: from foster care to fame is a book of poetry and short stories that she defines as too big for the stage. She covers a variety to topics - family, friends, relationships, God, roaches (I’m serious about the last one. Did you watch the link I shared about her yesterday?). She has her own way with words. She paints really interesting pictures. I think her work pushes you to open your mind and think broadly. I found myself sitting and thinking after a few of her poems and stories. What does it really mean to her? Because I’ll never really know and what does it mean to me? I think we all can appreciate work that makes us stop and think.
Her line breaks are more suited for speaking (reading out loud or performing), but it’s not too distracting for reading. A lot of the poems in here are free verse, but she has some haikus that serve as section dividers. Those are good and interesting as well. Some of my favorite pieces are off-beat-i-tis, a short story about the awkwardness and struggle of dancing off beat; cardinal, a poem; civil rights comes to pizza hut, one of the moments she’s encountered racism being a person of color adopted into a white family; the woods, a poem about taking a trip with her family; roach motel on central drive, about roaches and the company you keep; espn: extra special poets network, this poem is a really interesting dissection of spoken word artists; haiku for all wing clippers, and dear God, it’s me sheba, a letter to God. I realized I liked a lot more poems and stories, but I wanted to keep the list short.
It’s a really good book. It’s eclectic. I like the idea of short stories and poems going together. That definitely inspires me to maybe put a book with a mix of those two things since I write both. Please go buy it! It’s $17 in her etsy shop. She also has some spoken word CDs and some other books for sell there.
Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook. She’s really cool. Oh, she probably thought I was weird because at one point, I was kind of staring at her, but it’s because I was trying to figure out if she was the same poet that was featured on Verses and Flow and she was. She’s also gorgeous and has neat tattoos so I couldn’t help myself lol. Check her out! Buy her stuff! You won’t be disappointed.
It feels so good to be back.
Like coming home. Like opening a door and finding everything on the other side just as you left it. A little dusty, perhaps, but the stacks of books are there, precarious as Jenga blocks, the loose sheets of paper flutter on the desk, blocks of your old text illuminated by the sunlight slanting through the blinds, just as it has always done in the late afternoon. You lightly touch the back of the chair and feel the grooves where your fingers, and the fingers of all the people who owned this chair before you, have rested in pensive moments. You pull it out and see the imprint of yourself and all the people who have ever sat in this chair for hours upon hours, in the night and in the day. You glimpse the light scratches on the wooden floor where this chair has been pushed back, in resignation, in frustration, in anger, in satisfaction, in relief. You have no way of knowing what your attitude will be when you stand up next time, but you grit your teeth and slide yourself into that seat anyway, edge up close to the desk like pulling up a seat next to a friend at a party. And it is a party, you know.
And by that, you know it doesn’t mean that every moment will be delightful. You will have your bright moments of joy, of course; those are what brought you back, those are what make this all worth doing, the dressing up, the showing up. You will have gleaming flashes of inspiration that almost blind you, dizzy whirling moments when you lose yourself in a dance. You will put down words that taste sweet and rich and delicious when you try them in your mouth, you will find old friends and laugh with wild abandon, and you will be looked over and given approving smiles from attractive strangers.
But all parties have their highs and their lows. You will get tired, your arms and fingers and mind exhausted from the whirl. Your mouth will ache with how hard you have been kissing characters, and words will fall slowly from your lips and your pen to crackle and wither on the floor like autumn leaves that have lost their luster. You will say things that you thought would never say and wish you had never thought. You will knock elbows with a stranger and start a fight you didn’t mean. The evening will go to your head, making you feel invincible, make you loathe to spill another drop of ink. Push yourself too hard, and it will leave you aching, curled up in a corner and hiding from the world that expects too much from you. You might end up heaving everything you wanted to keep, just chucking it in the bin in a final act of desperation. You will hide in the shreds of your dignity and pray that no one saw that, that everything will be forgotten in the morning. One day you may show up in entirely the wrong outfit for the occasion, or perhaps worse, the exact same outfit as someone you hate.
But none of these things mean that you shouldn’t show up for the party. True, it might end in a hot mess, but how will you know unless you go? Don’t let them say you didn’t try. Put on your warpaint and walk into the room like you own it. If you put it on paper, you do. You own mansions, castles, entire nations, an ever-expanding universe. Just go in there, and start to drink it in, drink it all. Start to dance and don’t care if anyone is watching. If you do it right, they’ll all be watching, waiting, wishing. If you’re uncomfortable, just sit this one out. If the party is a bust and nobody cool is there, leave. But don’t let them say you didn’t try. More importantly, don’t be able to tell yourself at the end of the day you didn’t try. Don’t lie to yourself either. if you lie to yourself you can’t tell the truth on the page, and yes you have the tell the truth, especially when you weave your fictions. That is truth’s real home and you must make it right.
So pull out that familiar chair and take a seat. It fits you just right. Pick up the pen… doesn’t it warm instantly between your fingers? Look down at the pristine pages in front of you, and prepare to make them a sloppy drunken mess. Everything is just as you left it. The world has been waiting for you. It’s like coming home, like opening a door and finding yourself blinded by light and all the things you loved.
It feels so good to be back.
burn the plagiarists down
effigies of the basest writers
unoriginal word thieves
paste them with bullet holes
and watch the void leak
in copious streams to ground
we learn from each other
with every turn of phrase
but our hearts know truth
so, please—take care
writers pleasure their words
don’t make whores of them
It’s been a long week and words have refused to be my ally. I look at the time and I see it ticking away with nothing to show for it but a blank page.
I write now for those nights that made me into a writer. Those nights that gave me endless inspiration. Those nights that made me into an author, a poet. I love the girl who gave me my first heartbreak. That time I may have been harsh but then who was I but a lost lover who had lost the most precious gift he ever experienced. Now, looking back at those hundred poems I wrote, I thank her for making me describe myself in words because I am here partly because of her.
My words could fill up water in someone’s eyes or so I’m told. I am happy I have that effect and how naturally it came to me so I am also scared, scared that the same magic of weaving words might fade. But I guess that is every writer’s nightmare.
I still have it tonight and I feel better. This blank sheet looks filled now and with thoughts that may appear random but they all come through together in the big picture,
The big picture you ask? That I can still write for myself, for this blog and for my sanity because without my words, this world could simply eat me alive.
If you want to write well, or write better, be prepared to bruise your ego all over. Sure, I’ve heard the saying many times before and maybe I’d even conceded to the accuracy of the phase once upon a time, but things are different now. It’s easy to talk about the ego bruising when one’s work is not up for criticism – objective as it may be – and less easy when one’s work is actually being critiqued or criticized. I’m talking about the poetry workshop of course.
I’ve tremendous respect for my professor and classmates, which means I mull over every bit of their comments on my poem for long time. I sap praise – I’ll admit – too eagerly; conversely, I flinch from criticism, even though it’s not personal and even though I know it’ll better my craft. I’d never imagined that I’d be so flustered about my writings, what people thought of them specifically, but here’s the main thing I’ve picked up from that: I take pride in my writings. Pride is good, because it compels one to strive for, and maintain, betterment. On the other hand, pride can also lapse into self-pity – when I despair over my mentor’s comments for instance – or into arrogance, such as when I refuse to heed my peers’ advice. The challenge is to integrate the critiques directed at my work and the essential components of the work into a refined piece of art which is still authentic to me. And to, bluntly put, get over myself.
Writing is strenuous and painful and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It demands gracefulness in the process, and if you are anything as clumsy as I am, good luck, get ready for the hell of a ride. And yet, god, just what a journey it takes you into. What adventure.
Looking back at my life, when I was writing more regularly.
My job was different, and the schedule was 9am-5pm instead of 1600-0030 hours, and instead of a cubicle where every second is tracked on computer software it was a store with terrible management and I’d take long breaks and generally I wasn’t what you would call an “upstanding employee.” It was lower wage, the owner was extraordinarily wealthy, and I didn’t feel like giving him my all. He’d get mad if I didn’t say ‘hello’ to him. Couldn’t stand that kind of thing.
There was a late night coffee shop I used to go to and write at, after work. It’s where I got all of my writing done. It was busy all the time. The food was cheap. It was a good place to go. It’s closed now, and with my new schedule I wouldn’t be able slip into that routine again anyway.
I also wasn’t living with my parents. That is a big one. A huge detail in why I have become inactive, I think. I have to get my life back on track, into something I can use effectively with my writing, if I want to continue.
A few seemingly small life changes, and the change in my writing and my frequency of writing is significantly apparent.
A lot of writing advice you see (on this site and elsewhere) tell you not to be picky. Write in any environment. Don’t tell yourself that you need headphones and music, or the lighting just right, or the environment tailored to you. They tell you that you should be able to just do it in any environment. That’s demonstrably bullshit. Put the people who give that advice in the middle of a war-zone. Put them in a concrete room in which a five year old is given an unlimited supply of firecrackers and matches. Put them in a cramped elevator, which just got stuck, and is crammed with a farty crowd of people that all ate at the same restaurant and have food poisoning which hasn’t fully manifested itself, but will in a couple of minutes. Yes, you can take these moments as inspiration, but you can’t effectively write within them. It’s just something that writers tell themselves to make it feel they had no luck in their circumstances, that they could have made it or that they could have done it no matter what, that they are writers, damnit! It’s in their soul, it gives their life meaning, it defines them. A load of romanticized bullshit.
You should be experimenting, finding what works for you.
If you’re more productive in a quiet place, find it. If earbuds help, take them. If you need a loud, busy coffee shop, go. You may end up writing in less than optimal circumstances sometimes, don’t let it keep you from writing if you can’t get everything you need to optimize your writing, but please do stack the deck whenever you can.
When I started writing, it was a place I could escape, on some level. Things weren’t going well, so I’d write thinly veiled ‘fiction’ in which there were less things holding me back. Or I’d say something that I wished I’d said in reality. Eventually I became that character. I started saying the things that I would have held back. Standing up to my boss, and so on. That took a long time. I don’t know if the writing helped, or if it just happened naturally, after years of being worn out. But the writing itself wasn’t very good. It was terrible. It was for me; not for anyone else, even if I wanted to show other people.
I had to learn to write about my flaws. Had to learn to write characters that don’t take control, that made mistakes.
That’s the way it was for me.
Other people might focus too much on their own mistakes in their writing, and have to learn not to do *that.*
Writing is a personal thing. Advice tailored to masses is effective in a general sense, but ultimately the fine tuning is a very personal process. Something you have to figure out on your own. The most important and hardest thing you have to do is learn to look at yourself and your writing objectively. To be honest about the things you don’t want to be honest about.
Every time I write in the third person I feeling like a little kid playing with action figures.