I recently realized that certain songs tend to get me in the mood–to write, that is. I decided to keep a list of these inspiring, creativity-inducing songs, and noticed a particular pattern: It seems I am most inspired by songs that include piano, and/or by mellow melodies rich with melancholy, and/or by heartbreaking lyrics I wish I had written myself. Here is my ever-lengthening Writing Playlist:
Fine Frenzy, “Almost Lover”
Coldplay, “The Scientist”
Gary Jules, “Mad World”
The entire soundtrack to the film Dances with Wolves
The school year is winding down, and my students (and I!) are feeling a bit squirrely. We just took our last test of the school year on Zora Neale Hurston‘s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and there are a mere six regular school days left before final exams. So what do we do with this odd in-between that doesn’t allow enough time for another full unit, but is certainly too much time to descend into the pit of meaningless movie-watching day after day? The answer is: We write.
Now, tell that to most students, and they cringe. But I’m not talking about five-page-research-paper-in-the-MLA-format writing. I’m talking about fun writing. I know, I know. If my students remember what an oxymoron is, they’d apply it to the term “fun writing.” And of course, as a writer, I’m a bit biased; I think almost all writing is fun.
But I think my students did have fun writing today. Here is what we did:
Students will: analyze nonfiction writing; analyze authentic texts; review and identify verbs; write using strong, specific verbs; write creatively, informally, and for enjoyment; analyze the structure and elements of an authentic, nonfiction text; work cooperatively; engage in the creative process; think critically, creatively, and abstractly; share their written work aloud
several sheets of notebook paper, composition book, or spiral notebook for every student
writing utensil for each student
several copies of cooking magazines or various copies of different recipes
Put students into groups of three or four.
Pass out magazines or recipes, so that each group has two or three magazines, or at least six to ten individual recipes.
Give students five minutes in their groups to look through the recipes together, and instruct them to write down all the strong, specific cooking verbs they come across.
Each student should keep his or her own list.
After five minutes, ask the students to call out the verbs they wrote down, and write them on the board for the class to see.
Next, give students five minutes to start a new list. This time, they should write down all the units of measurement they see in the different ingredients lists.
After five minutes, ask the students to call out the units they wrote down, and write them on the board for the class to see.
Next, give students three minutes to examine the structure and format of the recipes together. They should write down elements they notice most or all of the recipes share. This should include items such as: prep time, cooking time, ingredients list, steps/process/procedure, servings, etc.
After three minutes, ask students what elements a recipe should have, and write the elements on the board for the class to see.
Explain to students that in a few minutes, they will write a recipe poem. A recipe poem is a poem that explains how to “cook” something abstract, such as a certain type of person, a certain emotion, or an experience. Give them some examples: a recipe for success, a recipe for a best friend, a recipe for the worst day ever, etc.
Give students five minutes to brainstorm together in their groups. They should write down experiences, types of people, and emotions they think they might want to describe by way of a recipe poem.
After five minutes, ask students to call their ideas out, and write them on the board for the class to see.
Remind students that their recipe poem should include all the elements of a recipe, and be formatted like a recipe. Instruct them to pick a topic, but not to tell anyone else in the class what their topic is.
Give students about 15 minutes to write their recipe poem, allotting more time if needed.
Once everyone has finished (or mostly finished) a recipe poem, instruct students to go around in their groups and read their recipe poems aloud to their group members, still withholding the subject. After each student reads, his group members should try to guess what his recipe is for. After each group member has guessed, the poet can reveal what his topic was.
After each person in each group has had a chance to share her poem with her group, ask willing students to share their recipe poems aloud with the class.
My students really seemed to enjoy this activity–so much so, that we actually have to finish tomorrow because so many students were so eager to share their poems with the class. We ran out of time!
Want to write and maybe even see your work published, but don’t feel like you have the time? Well, good news: You do. That is, if you have ten minutes to spare, you do.
The Life in 10 Minutes method of writing encourages people to set a timer for ten minutes–that’s all–and just write. You can work from a prompt, or just write whatever comes out. The only thing that matters is that you write. For ten minutes. And then you stop. Don’t overthink it. Don’t over-edit it. Don’t apologize for it. Just write it.
In addition to providing you with a way to make sure you write each day, if only for ten minutes, Life in 10 Minutes offers workshops for writers of all levels, from all backgrounds, throughout the year. Over the winter months, I participated in one of these workshops, and I highly recommend it to any writers looking to work with like-minded people, channel their creativity, experiment, learn, and receive immediate and personalized feedback.
Life in 10 Minutes also provides a platform for writers to publish their 10s (pieces they wrote using the Life in 10 Minutes method described above) online. You can read samples of other writers’ 10s here. (Shameless self-promotion: You can find my 10 here.)
The newest development in the Life in 10 Minutes world is the anthology, both digital and print, which has a publication goal of October 2016. Submissions are due by July 15, 2016, and guidelines can be found here. Here are the basics:
Hand write one, two, or three 10s. Pieces between 100 and 600 words will be given priority.
Type up your 10(s), editing (not butchering–be gentle; the piece should be raw and honest and organic) as you type.
If you’ve ever been to Richmond, Virginia, then you already know: We are a party city. We are the third most-tattoed city in the United States, just behind Miami and Las Vegas. We are fast becoming the craft beer capital of the world. And we throw a festival (or ten) almost every single weekend. This weekend alone, I attended Dominion Riverrock, an outdoor
During my time at the festival, I was privileged to hear readings and lectures from Robert Arthur, the current Poetry Society of Virginia President; Nathan Richardson, a performance poet and workshop teacher for Hampton Roads Youth Poets; Gabriele Glang, a bilingual poet who teaches creative writing in Germany; and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, who was the Virginia Poet Laureate from 2006-2008. This post will provide take-aways from the lectures and workshops led by Mr. Richardson, as well as by Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda.
The Oral Tradition of Poetry, Nathan Richardson
The first lecture I heard focused on performance poetry, and was led by Nathan Richardson, himself a performance poet. One thing he said that struck me was this:
“Memory proved over the history of mankind to be the only fullproof [sic] method of safeguarding the thoughts, history, culture, literature, and law of the human race.”
How right he is, though it’s frightening, given how feeble our memories sometimes seem.
But even more fallible are hard drives that can crash, flash drives that can break or become lost, papers that can tear or burn, ink that can smudge, lead that can be erased. Even pictures carved into rock will someday erode, smoothed out by the work of wind and water. For me, this was something of a wakeup call. I always feel like my creations are far more secure once written down on paper or typed up on the screen. But if I lose that paper, or if that flash drive fails me, I will wish I had committed my own lines to memory.
An additional lesson I took away from Mr. Richardson’s lecture was a definition of the musical genre of rap. I was unaware, as were, it seemed, all the other poets in attendance, that the term “rap” was born of the combination of “rhythm and poetry.” It’s essentially an acronym. I also learned that one “bar” of a “rap” piece is equivalent to one couplet in a poem.
His advice for poets was simple: “In poetry, leave space for the reader’s imagination.”
He also provided guidelines for poets who need to cultivate a poetic voice for poetry readings and slams. While the ratio does not necessarily need to follow this exact formula, Mr. Richardson advises that the poetic voice consists of 33.3% experience, 33.3% vocabulary, 33.3% passion, and .1% divine intervention. What does this imply for you if you want to become involved in performance poetry? It means first, that you must perform poetry–as much and as often as you can. Attend and perform at poetry slams and readings. Get the experience. It implies second that you must increase the number of words with which you are proficient–you must become more fluent in your own first language. Improve your vocabulary. It means also that you must love what you are doing–love what you are creating, love what you are saying. Be dedicated and passionate. Lastly, though, it means that a small percentage of what you are doing as a performance poet is out of your control. The words, the ideas, the rhymes will just come to you through some sort of divine intervention. You just have to do the leg work–the other 99.9%–first.
Ekphrastic and Collaborative Poetry, Gabriele Glang and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda
One of the foci of Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop was the haiku. Before we began writing, Ms. Glang gave a few guidelines.
Do not mention the season about which you are writing. The image you convey with your words should make clear the season.
Always title your piece, and title it well. Think of a title as a free line with no syllabic restrictions.
Save syllables in the following ways:
avoid articles; use plural nouns instead
replace conjunctions with punctuation
the em dash can communicate change, epiphany, turning points
“ah!” can signify epiphany or surprise
After providing us with these guidelines, Ms. Glang displayed a painting of her own creation, called “A Touch of Spring (Pink-Green),” pictured left, and we were given a few minutes to compose a haiku using the traditional three-line, 5-7-5 structure.
The second exercise we completed in this workshop was writing a Ligne Donnee, or “given line” poem. We were paired up with another poet in the room and provided an art card that displayed one of Ms. Glang’s paintings. The art card my partner and I received is pictured below. Each of us then wrote just the first line of a poem, inspired by the art card. Then, we traded first lines with our partner. From there, we read our partner’s first line, and wrote a poem
based on that initial line.
My first line was:
Quicksilver cold stealing sunlight from the sky, icy, metallic sheen
The final exercise we completed in Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop was another type of collaborative poem, kasen renku. Within this form, the first poet composes a haiku (three lines in the traditional 5-7-5 format). The second poet reads it, and then composes two lines of seven syllables each. A third poet (or the first poet) reads the first five lines, and adds his or her own haiku. A fourth poet (or the second poet) reads what has so far been accomplished, and adds to it another two lines of seven syllables each. This process is repeated until the poem consists of thirty-six stanzas. This, along with the Ligne Donnee form, would make an excellent classroom activity for an English or creative writing class.
I so thoroughly enjoyed the Poetry Society of Virginia’s Poetry Festival and Conference, that I plan to attend future conferences, and am contemplating membership. Attendance allowed me to meet like-minded people, as well as produce a few new pieces of poetry. I also gained exposure to some very creative and productive poets. I learned about resources in my community, and came away with a few new lessons plans for my English classroom.
It’s finally Friday. For whatever reason, this week has seemed incredibly long to me, and last weekend, when I learned about #FirstLineFriday from fellow blogger, Diedra Alexander, feels very far away.
Either way, it’s Friday now, and below you will find my first line.
You can participate, too. Here’s how:
Create a post on your blog titled #FirstLineFriday, hashtag and all.
Explain the rules like I’m doing now.
Post the first one or two sentences of a potential work, a work-in-progress, or a completed or published story you wrote.
Ask your readers for feedback, and encourage them to try #FirstLineFriday on their own blogs.
Here’s my #FirstLineFriday, from my novel-in-progress, Goodbye For Now. Feedback welcomed, appreciated, and hoped for!
James and Scott Wilder stood panting at the end of the breakwater. They had climbed over the railing on the harbor side and were perched precariously on the boulders that sloped down to the water, leaning as far as they could over the bright blue railing.
What do you think? Would you read more, or would you put my book down? Are you intrigued, or bored? I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, suggestions, and questions.
The chair where J.K. Rowling sat as she penned her famous Harry Potter series recently sold at auction for $394,000–so it might seem hard to believe that she was rejected by between nine and twelve publishers, and took roughly five years to find someone willing to publish her books, which have all found acclaim, and been made into major motion pictures.
William Golding‘s Lord of the Flies, now a staple in classrooms across the country, was rejected twenty or twenty-one (depending on the source) times before its eventual publication.
But can you imagine if these writers had simply given up? Had said to themselves, “Well, I guess everyone’s right. I’m a failure. Might as well throw in the towel. I can’t take one more rejection letter or nasty review”? What literary genius the world would have been deprived of! How many people would perhaps never have discovered their latent love for reading without Rowling’s Harry Potter series? What would the canon of American literature be without Walt Whitman?
Truly, writers must be some of the most persistent and resilient personalities in the wide universe. What other hobby or profession asks of one to pour her heart out, only to face rejection after rejection in pursuit of the dream, in which she must maintain an everlasting confidence?
And you must, dear writer, maintain that everlasting confidence, that inextinguishable faith, as the writers before you have done.
When we think of our most beloved and admired authors, we often think only of what we can see: their beautiful book covers, the critical acclaim, their books made into blockbuster movies, the TV and radio interviews. In short, we are aware of their success and their fame. Rarely do we think about what it took for them to get there.
When you feel discouraged, disparaged, or disappointed because you have once again failed to finish draft two, because someone has told you your story isn’t good enough, or because you have once again gotten a thanks-but-no-thanks from an agent or publisher, think about the writers who never gave up–but could have. Longfellow describes the footprints they have left for you to follow. So “take heart again,” pick up your pen, and keep writing. Your readers are waiting.
[Unknown]. “Leaves of Grass.” 15 March 1856. The Walt Whitman Archive. Gen. ed. Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. Accessed 31 March 2016. <http://www.whitmanarchive.org>.
[Unknown]. “[Review of Leaves of Grass (1855)].” 18 February 1856. The Walt Whitman Archive. Gen. ed. Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. Accessed 30 March 2016. <http://www.whitmanarchive.org>.
Every time I walk with my dogs, they seem to be on some kind of quest. I usually don’t know what it is, but they seem to, and about a week or so ago, when my honors students and I were about halfway through Zora Neale Hurston’sTheir Eyes Were Watching God, we discussed how one way to define Janie’s quest is: self-discovery through true love. Because it was Friday Journal Day (every Friday, my students get the first ten minutes of class to write in their journals), we followed this brief discussion with the journal topic:
What is your quest?
So, today, write about your own quest. What have you set out to accomplish, in your writing life or otherwise? I’d love to read about it in your comments on this post. Get creative. Write away.
About six years ago, our school produced its most recent literary magazine. This year, fellow English teacher and W.O.W blogger,Thomas Brandon, and I decided to revive it. For the first time in six years, our students have a place to come and write creatively without judgement, deadlines, or any academic pressure. It is my favorite reason to stay after school, and I think our dedicated group of about ten regular attendees probably feels the same way. Our organization is two-fold: a creative writing club that meets to learn about and practice writing, and a staff that actually creates the literary magazine from student submissions.
Thomas and I held our most recent Creative Writing Club meeting outside, enjoying one of two courtyard gardens our school maintains. Thomas, the students, and I dedicated ten minutes to each of our fives sense. We spent three minutes focusing on just one sense, beginning with sight. Then, we spent seven minutes writing about what we had experienced through that sense. Next, we closed our eyes and spent three minutes just listening, giving our focus to our sense of hearing. Then, we spent seven minutes writing about that experience. We proceeded to smell, touch, and finally, taste. It was a beautiful exercise in getting in tune with our environment and our bodies, as well as a way to practice writing description, utilizing imagery, and paying attention to detail.
Next time you feel a sense of writer’s block trying to tell you you have nothing to write about, quiet it with this exercise. Just go somewhere–anywhere–and write from the senses, devoting undivided attention to each one in its turn.
Below are the unedited (aside from typing them up), uncensored small pieces I came up with when I wrote from the senses with the students in our Creative Writing Club earlier this week.
We are in a garden tucked away in the courtyard of the school, surrounded on four sides by brick. I see an empty, gray trashcan with a collapsed lid, a seemingly abandoned spiderweb splayed across the top, gently rising and falling with each little burst of breeze. I see the abandoned plant in a pot beside the bench across from me. Someone no doubt had the best intentions of planting it, nurturing it. What happened to those intentions? I see half-begun wasp nests, also quiet and empty, not abuzz and pulsating with wings and stings and busy wasp work. Someone no doubt killed them all off, and all that’s left of their labor is a few catacombs, corridors exposed to the elements like so many empty hotel rooms when the first condemned wall comes down.
On the other side of these white brick walls there is the constant whining hum of the highway, interrupted now and again by the down-shifting of a tractor trailer, a jarring, bumpy roar. Closer in are the birds, their chirps and songs and twitters. Some are stationary, perched on branch or roof or railing. Others fly overhead, letting their cry trail behind, and down through the springtime air to land here, in my ear. The leaves above me are disturbed by a bird or squirrel or light, little breeze. There is the quiet crunch of gravel as I shift in my seat. Add finally, my own, echoey breathing, like a creature’s in a cave–deep and heavy and filling my head with a whispery, rhythmic sound.
This is the soft smell of spring. Of warmer air, sweetened by sweeping over fields of alfalfa and meadows of flowers and fresh, unassaulted, now and again reaching up with a wave to make a snatch at the breeze. This is the smell of almost-summertime. Of air baked just slightly to bring out its scent, subtle, refreshing, distracting. It is the smell of sunshine-warmed grasses and someone’s lotion, the perfume activated from heat. It is the smell of the same temperature of my nostrils, unoffensive and smooth and familiar. It is not the smell of earth or fire or favorite food. It is that fresh-air smell that reminds me I am alive, and it is good.
My foot presses hard into gravel, the ground beneath it sold and firm. The planks on the bench holding me up press into the backs of my legs; the planks against my back are unyielding. Earth using all of her forces, all of her pull, to keep me as close to her core as possible.
In her book The Halfway House for Writers, Valley writes about learning to “transform my self-talk…into gentle, soft, loving words, the same words I would give to anyone else” (116). This statement is so telling of the kind of person and writing teacher Valley Haggard is. She is an ally of the “writing scared” (121), an advocate for the writer who doesn’t yet know she is one, and a champion of all who are willing to risk themselves through the written word. Writers from every walk of life and every level of experience are encouraged to submit to the Life in 10 Minutesonline literary magazine. Valley shares her 10-minute pieces every week here and publishes the work of her students and writers from all around the world every weekday here.I am absolutely honored to present below my interview with Richmond-based author, writing teacher, and founder of Richmond Young Writers, Valley Haggard.
Mind the Dog: You are the founder of Richmond Young Writers. Tell us a little bit about this organization. Where did the idea come from? What is its mission? What are some of its programs? How can people get involved?
Valley Haggard: Our mission at Richmond Young Writers is to share the joy and craft of creative writing with young people. We started out with a few kids and a few classes in the summer of 2009 in the art gallery of Chop Suey Books and now we are a year-round program in our own space- The Writing Room- right next door to Chop Suey Books in Carytown. All of our teachers are also writers and our classes are lively, interactive, crazy-fun, and out of the box. We do everything we can to bring storytelling, poetry, fiction, movie-making, surrealism, and all types writing to life for kids outside of deadlines, grades, and all the pressure of perfectionism. We are always trying to spread the word about the awesome things we do and raise money for our scholarship program so every kid in this city who wants to participate can. Here’s a link to our scholarships page! http://www.richmondyoungwriters.com/scholarships/
MTD:The Halfway House for Writersis dedicated to your students, in particular, “wounded writers.” What do you mean by that? What particular wounds are writers susceptible to?
VH: I have found that 99.9% of the writers who come to my classes have some sort of hang-up around writing…and by hang-up I mean everything from crushing insecurity, neurosis, and paralysis, to simply questioning whether or not we are actually real writers. Somewhere along the way someone told us we weren’t good enough or that to be a real writer you have to look and act and talk and think a certain way. We think our lives are too boring, our words aren’t big enough, no one wants to hear what we have to say. These are our writing wounds. I think writers are sensitive people who feel things with a certain intensity. We crave a safe place to experiment, to play, to share our words without being shot down. The Halfway House encourages people to find or create that safe place, a place to cultivate confidence, to take creative risks and to heal.
MTD: In your book, you thank the writers who helped build “a writing world you actually want to live in.” What does that world look like?
VH: Ah, yes! The writing world I want to live in is a world where we can be honest about who we really are without being shamed, ridiculed, or stared at like we have three heads. Where we can find points of connection and overlap through our words and stories. Where we can break the isolation of hiding our true thoughts and feelings and experiences and put them down on paper in our own words from our unique points of view. I have found the connection, the safety and the freedom of expression I always craved in my classes. As a group this is what we create together. And for me, this is truly writing heaven, writing nirvana.
Writers from every walk of life and every level of experience are encouraged to submit to the Life in 10 Minutesonline literary magazine. Valley shares her 10-minute pieces every week here and publishes the work of her students and writers from all around the world every weekday here.
MTD: There are seven “Rules of the Halfway House” (7-11). How did you come up with them, and do you have one that you believe is your favorite, or the most important?
VH: I came up with the seven Rules of the Halfway House by making a list of all the things I found myself saying most frequently at the beginning of each new class. Surrender your weapons, seek shelter, free write, hand-write, skip the small talk, listen, and don’t apologize. Having put these rules to the test for some time now, I have found them solid, sound, and truly effective. The writing that pours out of students in my class when they have this structure in place has been mind-blowing, deeply beautiful, and profound. Loose structure gives us the freedom to run wild, experiment, be honest, and create. It’s hard to suss out one favorite over all the others, but perhaps I’ll choose the first because it’s also the hardest: Surrender your weapons. This is where we stop following the dictate of the voice in our head that tells us we suck, we should stop writing, that we’re wasting our time. Without this I don’t think we really have a chance at the rest.
MTD: You have written ad copy and product descriptions in the past. How did you make the move from that type of work, to writing your own magazine column and teaching writing classes?
VH: This was an overlapping, intertwined, and long transition without clear demarcation lines! Young and hungry for absolutely any kind of paid writing that came my way, I was still writing ad copy and product descriptions for the first few years that I had my own column. And then, when I had my column and was still writing ad copy, I started teaching first kids and eventually adults. My plate got so full something had to go and luckily that something was the tedious, laborious work of ad copy. Not that I regret doing that for a minute…it taught me so much! But writing a first-person column and helping people access their own story and voice and find themselves staring back from the page has been so exciting and so gratifying, I feel insanely lucky that I was eventually able to let everything else go.
MTD: In “Publication,” you write in part about a generous editor who, having accepted a story you wrote for publication, essentially rewrote it, but who was also willing to, as you put it, walk “me through the most egregious of my errors” (88), giving you the chance to write a second article. I’m sure other writers could learn from your experience and avoid the same errors at the outset. What were these errors?
VH: My basic errors were ignorance and hubris. I had not made myself familiar enough with the format of the essays and articles this publication already published. I thought I could invent a whole new style of writing and storytelling for an established magazine that already had a very particular style. Inventing new styles and voices and formats is great for creative writing, but when you are trying to submit to a publication that already knows who it is, you have to get to know them rather than expect them to get to know you. After the editor rewrote my article, I studied the changes she made, the format and style she wanted, and then imitated her basic structure after that. Each publication is different, so my best advice is to make yourself intimately familiar with what they have already done in the past so you can fall in line with what they want to do in the future.
Mind the Dog would like to thank Ms. Haggard for her generously giving of her time to answer these questions.
Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog. Tim is an author of 5 #1 NYT/WSJ bestsellers, investor (FB, Uber, Twitter, 50+ more), and host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast (400M+ downloads)
Running doesn't exist in a vacuum. It exists in the whole fabric of life as one square of the quilt, sewn in among other squares--family and career and travel and friends and and and... It gets rearranged on our list of priorities according to time of life. This is about how running fits into my life, right now.