writing life creative
Others know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
John Updike said, “writers take words seriously.”
I like this excerpt by Audre Lorde, where the poem is not fooled by how elusive words may seem in writing. I appreciate how this passage in the poem acknowledges such image and complexity in seven tightly crafted lines, marveling at words as active and present, interacting with our bodies, showing up as idea and images from the world around us. Here, Lorde writes about the relationship between words, the human body, and the natural world, where in that comparison she seems to suggest words too, as living things.
I find it helpful to have lots of words passing before my eyes as much as possible when I am trying to write, because the one word I feel I need the most might just be somewhere in the stream, though I might have to chop part of it away or twist it a little or elongate it…
This quote seems to not only speak to reading, but also to noticing (words). The metaphor, to keep a “stream of words before our eyes”, is a wise one, a practice that can yield constant discovery. In our common daily (casual and conversational) language we speak with such a small percentage of words, it is rare to encounter new gems we might want to use in our writing. And I should note, it’s o.k. to not speak like we write.
However, what I appreciate about this quote is that it reinforces that reading opens our minds up to many new words by shape and sound, meaning and context. To see how a word is used in another’s writing offers possibilities on how we might use that same or a similar word in our own writing. We need these words in our pockets, in a list in our journals, at the tips of our tongues, and of course in the margins of our pages. We especially need this “stream of words” in revision to challenge and replace the words we get comfortable with using all the time. When I find myself using some of my same favorite words (and we will always have our favorites), I push myself to read more, read from different sources and genres, find new words to look at, listen to, enjoy and keep.
Revision is a part of writing…do not be afraid to experiment with what you have written…This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers. -The Elements of Style
As we’ve read and re-read the submitted works for our impending anthology, I’ve thought a lot about what young writers know (or often don’t know) about revision. Even the mention of the word revision, or a suggestion that writing needs to change often brings about resistance, followed by a sigh and a sense of frustration. It is in that moment, that conversation with another writer, that I can emphasis the importance of revision. This is not always easy to hear, that revision is advisable, necessary. I thought about what I’ve learned from other writers and what I try to tell myself…
Since revision is such a big topic, let’s start with words. How do you know when it is time to let go, when a word is not doing all that it can do, should do? How do you know when you should craft tightly or let your lines stretch out a bit?
In thinking about prose, crafting sentences takes discipline, it takes time, patience. But in that first draft the tidying of every single word can lead to over writing. Sure, diction matters in prose but it is important to keep a wide eye on progressing through the larger work (a paper, book, essay, short story, article, etc.). In prose, beware of getting stuck in a sentence, on a word that isn’t working (for now). Use words, sentences, as placeholders while you draw the skeleton of your piece. Some of those beautifully written passages will work, where others will need to go. That is the grace of revision. As I’ve said, and have to remind myself, “don’t fall in love,” with your early drafted lines; some of them are just passing by.
However, I have a different sensibility in poetry. I would argue it’s not always about numbers unless you’re counting syllables. Each word matters but in a poem, it is not how many words you can make stick to the page, it is about what those words are doing for your poem, what they sound like, what they convey. Trim the words you don’t need and if you’re not sure what words you don’t need, read work by other writers, read your own work again and again. Consider what words are doing the heavy lifting—keep those first—and even they might not make it beyond revision.
To remind a another writer is to remind myself that writing is a process and that it takes tools, time, and discipline. To write more and get beyond settling on a string of lovely sentences is to look out beyond those sentences, that page or passage you love, and know (and trust) there is more to come. And for that, we must keep writing.
We can start by presuming that anything’s possible, and then we step across those borders that in the real world might be impassable. But wherever we go, we take the baggage of our memories with us.
Dreams are like poems.
In a dream, anything is possible. You can fly, you can travel to foreign countries or unknown universes. You can experience your wildest fantasies and face your most terrifying fears. In this way, dreams are like poems. They have their own stories to tell and their own music to sing, and they play by their own rules.
I think the secret to how dreams work is the word yes. Dreams never say no to anything, no matter how weird. Like great improvisational theater, our dreams keep saying yes.
- Michael Dickman
Title quote by Larry Levis
This re-post is from Kelly who writes the blog “WordsThatScream”. She compiled and recommends four “fail-safe blogs”, writerly resources she reads for regular doses of creativity, writing encouragement, information, and inspiration (how nice of her to include “life and write” on that list). Check out the post and Kelly’s blog at http://wordsthatscream.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/4-blogs-to-get-you-through-writers-block/.
Originally posted on wordsthatscream:
This is without a doubt one of my favourite blogs for getting the creative juices flowing. Each post is a prompt, be it a picture, a subject, an emotion, whatever. The aim is to leap straight in and write one leaf (or page) on the prompt. If you’re feeling brave you can also submit your finished product! Whenever I’m stuck on a story, I take myself away from what I’m writing and sit and attempt a prompt. It forces you to think differently and puts your current writing woes to the back of your mind for a half hour!
…I know that there are dozens of ways of being in love. But there is only one way of understanding words. You have to repeat them thousands of times, and in the end the words will open up like a flower.
—Job Koelewijn, from Now What? Artists Write!
Yes, being in love entertains slippery feelings and unknown paths, surprises around the corner. However might that also apply to how we encounter words? And while repetition is one way of pocketing new and interesting words, are there many other paths to understanding language?
To know words, we must see them, hear them, feel them, speak each syllable and sound with our mouths, our hands, our minds. We might imagine them in tense, placed in genre, pattern, or rule, how the meanings change, how the sounds are deceiving. This too seems a lot like love. Imagine words working together, tucked into narrow spaces or pulled along the page margin-to-margin, bunches of letters strung together, building images, conversations, sentences.
I am not a classroom teacher anymore, but I am still teaching and learning. So when students send me writing, I imagine it is because they want someone else to spend time with their words. When students send you their work, they may be asking for feedback, or simply want someone in addition to teachers and parents, to care to read and listen. There is no grade attached, no threats or consequences, but the stakes seem just as high.
Who am I but another writer wondering where to lay my words? However, to a young writer, I am (not as young of) a writer, and we both have something we are crafting. We build community with each other, exchanging ourselves in digital letter, handwriting on her written work. And I suppose I am support, someone to confide in, someone who might offer encouragement and a critical lens. But in essence, I am just like her, writing.
My objects dream and wear new costumes,
Compelled to, it seems, by all the words in my hands
And the sea that bangs in my throat.
This poem spun out of a quote by my four year old. However, these words have a slightly different premise than his original musing.
The moon breaks in the dark morning. Blue
black sky drips thick along side streets, snow
packed and slick, a plowed hem gathering
us along icy corners, mounds, and stitch.
Inside we stir among the dry walls
with careful words and warm tempers.
Winter mornings draw stories on seals
and windows; color in sharp corners
full of white and wind. The cold buries
its breath inside us like an awkward
draft, a sharp tenor leaving a bruise,
a glistening fissure rattling glass.
A student recently asked me, “What does creative writing have to do with ‘real’ writing?” I thought this was a fair question in its critical innocence and tone of wonder. She was respectful in her inquiry and her question led to a thoughtful discussion, in which we questioned together process and thought, why we need or want to look at life, events and objects around us, gather deeper meaning. We questioned why we might want to explore those very serious critical observations, experiences, creatively.
However, can’t we just take information or an experience as it is in its most literal form and accept that “as is”, and write accordingly? We could, and we often do. But what if there is more information to capture; and what if we can deliver that information in a different way, wouldn’t that be worth exploring? This student looked puzzled, straddled between usually doing the bare minimum, “I will write what I am told,” to wondering about possibility, “what if there is more I can say?” Maybe creative writing is that “as is” but with a twist, where a writer (someone writing) is looking, really looking at something, trying to capture that information, experience, object, with detail and fervor.
There is room for creative writing in our academic, journalistic, literal, and concrete spaces. However, I have observed that the expectation for writing in K-12 school, allows little room for use of creative devices in formalized writing. There is traditional practice in how writing is often taught in school (if there is time and space to teach writing at all) that looks at creativity as not an appropriate device to use in formalized writing. However, that is dramatically changing in professional writing, as many writers have discovered that creative techniques and devices can enhance formalized writing, making it more interesting and engaging to readers.
So why does creative writing matter? Perhaps because creativity matters in many fields and disciplines. Creativity has this way of thinking, knowing, questioning, and interacting with the world around us. That student and I talked about how creative writing is just one creative process and path. Creative writing allows a writer to slow down, observe, question, wonder, and capture that wonderment in words, call it by name, see it in as much sensory detail as an experience or object will allow. Creativity will take an experience, an idea, or an object and connect with it in such a way that whatever the medium (ink, paint, dance, music, photograph), it opens up a pathway to conversation, connection, and meaning-making. As Kay Ryan suggests, this process is not a “frail experience”, not something the artist or anyone just does to fill time.
The difficulty for me in writing—among the difficulties—is to write language that can work quietly on a page for a reader who doesn’t hear anything. Now for that, one has to work very carefully with what is in between the words.
As we work on the copy for the book, we often find some dazzling sentences.
We only remembered how to laugh after the sun set. We were circles drawn without a compass, stuffed into boxes the wrong shape and size for our hearts, as though a square could hide us…
My four year old…
[Mom] The moon breaks in the dark morning, but I have a bandage to fix it for the night sky.
Many of you are familiar with my museum work. One of my programs, PAGES, is a literacy and writing program I created at the Wexner Center for the Arts (yes I have a few other blogs ; ) and a twitter feed or two). I created PAGES in hopes to encourage students and teachers to think about writing differently: how we teach it, how students approach the process of writing, and how we can help students navigate the process and hopefully become better at writing. By the way, as artists and educators, we learn quite a bit too!
Each year, after the program runs its course, we publish a book of student work. Currently, our team is working on the first draft of written submissions for the anthology. The truth is, I still have the first draft (it’s due to our editor today) but I like to make a point of reading every single word from students, even those works that do not get selected for the book.
The entire process of publishing this book includes students, teachers, our editors, and design team. While putting together the PAGES anthology, I am all in, senses engaged in the entire process. It is thrilling to see this publication come together each year.
To begin, the writing submissions come in by email, envelope, flash drive, hard copy—the teachers helping students organize new ideas and wrinkled thoughts just in time for our deadline. This is one of my favorite parts of the year when the words come pouring in, when I read what students have pulled away from this year of working together. This is the beginning of the process of putting together this book that each year surprises us fully with what students are thinking about, what they have the courage to contemplate and say in their writing.
And now that PAGES has run its course for the year I thought it would be interesting to share the other side of the process . Over the course of the next few months we will sort, edit, arrange, and make choices about the book. I believe sharing this process is a way to think about the writing process, to think about where the words go after they are written.
Want to learn more about the PAGES program? Please visit http://wexpagesonline.edublogs.org/ to see what we’ve been up to.
As a child I remember her saying, “read everything you can get your hands on.” I took that literally, collected every word, image, and sound I could gather and press against my eyes and ears.
And when there were no pages, I read the tone of her wrinkled brow at the end of the day, her melancholy dry and speckled white in the corners of her eyes, her resilience, sitting at the side of the bed wielding her body forward. I remember reading those cues through the thin walls, near the sliver of light between the door, her and I.
I remember sitting still in the quiet, closing my eyes to wondering narratives, making up new words for love.
A poem is a thought moving through a brainpan, but not only that. It is full of words, and in the reaches of the human psyche lies an awareness that words were spoken before they were written, were first delivered into the world via the machinery of tongues and airways and teeth.
Sometimes I don’t have a sense. Other times I’ll have a vague idea of what the story will be, but I can’t find a way into it. Then I’ll get an image that sometimes doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the story but for some reason it’s my way into it, but then I have to feel my way around and kind of—I make little notes in the margin of what I want to happen, or what I want to talk about next. -Mary Gaitskill
Sometimes the writer craves a single sheet of paper with many folds and lines, empty
of bright white light and blinking cursor. Sometimes the writer moves into the middle
of blank space with the tip of a pen, wrist rubbing a place on the page, warm dark shadow.
Sometimes the computer will not do, when paper has such appeal and pen drips shine and thick.
The day, slow to break.
The view of the sky, inside
outside, black and pearl.
The frosted window pane,
bright white etchings, full
of rime and wind storm.
That line is real with all its feathering and folds, sound and sense. Do not fear its pull to the middle of the page, to the margin, as it makes you breathe or sigh at its glorious shape, its audacity to dress blank spaces, to open up with conviction again and again.
The difficulty for me in writing—among the difficulties—is to
write language that can work quietly on a page for a reader
who doesn’t hear anything. Now for that, one has to work
very carefully with what is in between the words.
Inside the whipping wind, the muddled sky
and cloud shift, halo bleeding gold and round
in the beryl and gray. A shard of light,
a crescent moon between dark and daybreak,
a glorious blur between you and me.
The past, present, and future are encoded in time. Art can be used as a tool to decipher time. Break the code and consciousness will expand. When consciousness expands, freedom expands. The philosophical underpinning of jazz is the expansion of freedom. We have entered third-stage modernism, which is a global aesthetic based on otherness. Like jazz, third-stage modernism insists on the expansion of freedom. Experimentation is the key. I believe that there are sounds we have not heard. I believe that there are colors we have not seen. And I believe that there are feelings yet to be felt.
-Jack Whitten, excerpt from Five Lines Four Spaces