Month: June 2017

Politics and Poetry: William Butler Yeats

Yeats, by Alice Boughton

In the last year, I’ve been giving a series of lectures titled Politics and Poetry for The Socialist Party USA. This is an excerpt from the Slam Poetry section of that lecture.


Ireland, under the thumb of England, rebelled against English control Easter weekend 1916, during WWI. While both the Irish and English were participating in WWI, England was more heavily engaged and the Irish Republicans used that opportunity to try to form an independent Ireland. The battle lasted six days but England sent thousands of reinforcements as well as artillery and a gunboat. While there was a fierce battle, Ireland ultimately lost and surrendered and the English inflicted heavy casualties on the Irish.

Maude Gonne, by Bain News Service
Maude Gonne, by Bain News Service

William Butler Yeats, native Irishman, nobel prize winning poet, and poet of the Irish Revolution and poet of the Irish Free State, was born in 1865. He was educated in both Ireland and England and fell in love with Maud Gonne, a woman that was engaged in the Irish Nationalist movement.

Yeats proposed to her in 1891 and she rejected him because he wasn’t political enough. Yeats, while agreeing with the sentiments of the Irish Republicans, hesitated to outright join the cause. He proposed yet again in 1899, 1900, and 1901, but was always met with a refusal. In 1903, she married another Irish Nationalist by the name of John MacBride. Heartbroken, Yeats still remained good friends with Gonne and even helped her file for divorce years later against her husband MacBride.

By 1912 and 1913, Yeats supported the idea of an Irish Parliament with control of domestic affairs, but pulled back from his full support of an independent Ireland. Then the Easter Rebellion happened. Yeats wrote a poem titled “Easter, 1916”:

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Writer’s Block: 23 Ways to Find Your Muse

writers-block

You’re not writing, but you know you should be. And the guilt is starting to eat at you. How do you overcome writer’s block? Here are a few tips.

1. Listen to music.

The general consensus is listening to music without lyrics is best, though something soft and poetic—The Shins, Iron & Wine, Regina Spektor—works for me too. When I’m in the right mood. Or maybe just a mood.

2. Talk to yourself out loud.

Or a friend (even an imaginary one) if it makes you feel less crazy. Turn on your voice recorder, let your mind wander. Later, listen to the recording. Follow the thread of your thoughts, and see if any of it inspires a piece.

3. Wash the dishes.

It’s the sort of mindless task that allows your mind to shut off, drifting into a meditation-like state. Keep a notebook nearby to jot down story ideas.

4. Pick a character and find out what they want.

Any character. From a story you’ve already written or one that’s yet to be realized. Now decide what their goals are—what their motivation is. Write it all down. Bullet points. Sentences. Nonsense. It doesn’t matter. You’re writing! Look at you.

5. Turn off your inner editor.

Seriously (we’ll probably add this to the list a few more times, slightly reworded, for good measure). Writing isn’t the time for perfectionism. Words. On the page. Remember: they don’t have to be good, they just have to be there.

6. Research.

Read, watch documentaries, and take notes. When one discovery carries you away, let it. But don’t forget to write it all down. Consider using a literary swipe file to organize your research.

7. Commit.

To your idea. To yourself. Is it any good? It doesn’t matter! Write a shitty first draft. With placeholders and cliches and characters who are empty shells and settings that are bland and lifeless. Let your plot meander. Create the bones of your story. Then go back and give it meat and skin and bite. Refine it and add layers. Take your time. Take years if you need to. There is no deadline, no ticking clock. There’s you and your story. You’re the only one who can tell it.

How to Build A Literary Swipe File

Savvy copywriters use swipe files to build collections of tried-and-true marketing materials to reference when they feel stuck. But whether you’re a writer, artist, or designer, we can all use a little inspiration every now and then. Building your own swipe file could be the very way you find some.

A Collection of Examples

So in the literal sense, what exactly is a swipe file and where is it stored? It is, simply, a collection of words and images that serve to aid your creative endeavors.

Everyone knows artists steal from each other. Okay, not actual theft, and do not plagirize. Instead, let’s call it inspiration. When you place something in your swipe file, your goal is to analyze the text. Why does it work so well? Study and improve your writing skills.

Where To Start

For one, there’s no point in a swipe file that doesn’t get used. The goal isn’t to be a hoarder of images and words and ideas that, once squirreled away, are quickly forgotten. Make sure to create a system that works for you (more on that later).

You can create different swipe files for different purposes. If you work by day in marketing while pursuing your own creative projects at night, create a separate file for each of those pursuits.

What To Put In A Swipe File

Take pictures or screenshots of passages that made you pause, laugh, or cry. The ones that connected with you. Save links to articles with topics that interest you or headlines that grab you. If you’re having trouble locking down the mechanics of your story, you might find what you’re searching for when you pinpoint what about other people’s writing drew you in.

I’ve started to make a note of first sentences. How do authors begin their stories? What about that string of words made me want to keep reading?

As someone interested in digital marketing, I also have a swipe file for advertisements and copy.

If you can’t relate to this, I don’t even want to know you.
If you can’t relate to this, I’m not sure I even want to know you.

MFA Programs: Are They Worth It?

A student writing in a library

So you want to be an author. You’ve graduated, survived a few writing workshops, and produced pieces you’re proud of. But you still need to learn a few things. You need to find your voice. You think, if I could find the time or had people to read my work, I could do this. Your mind drifts toward thoughts of MFA programs and wine-fueled discussions of literature. Of the day you’ll move to New York City and walk the same streets so many of the greats have.

You’ve even had your doubts—is being a writer something you are serious about? Could you be happy doing something else? Because if you can, then you should do it. Being a writer isn’t for the weak of heart. But you’ve pushed past those doubts, sort of (we all have those days), and came through better for it.

You may very well be the voice of your generation, but there’s more than one way to go from writer to published author. So before you enroll, take a step back and consider your options.

via GIPHY

The Cost

According to CostHelper, the average cost of an MFA program at a public university is $30,000. But if you’re attending an out-of-state university, you’re looking at closer to $50,000 or $60,000. In fact, one term alone at a private university can be roughly $18,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s May 2016 report, writers and authors earn a median annual wage of $61,240. But this number is flawed for several reasons. Certain authors, like James Patterson for instance, earn millions, while less-established writers’ income varies drastically. The lowest ten percent earned less than $29,380. Some have compared the cost of an MFA program in relation to what graduates can expect to earn to highway robbery.

Writing Apps for Every Writer

Writers may not be cooks, knives at the ready, but we certainly need our own set of tools to get the job done. The problem is what works for one writer may not (and usually doesn’t) work for every writer. There are no set rules: don’t use a bread knife to carve a chicken, for instance. If the bread knife leads to a finished novel, then fuck rules, right? Instead, focus on which tools work best for you, which brings me to writing applications.

To be clear, I will be focusing on internet-based, no downloading necessary writing applications in this post (the majority of which are free). In the course of my research, I was a bit stunned by how many options are available to today’s writers. Below I’ve included some of my favorites. Take a look, and see how incorporating the writing apps below into your creative process could help you be a more productive writer.

750 Words

I’ve been using 750 Words for less than a week, but so far it’s keeping me on task. That is, I’m accomplishing the goal of writing 750 words, at least, daily. For thirty days, the website is free to use. After that, the creators ask that you become a member to continue using the service. The fee is $5/month. It offers a distraction-free writing environment, foregoing bells and whistles. The goal-based, minimalist environment encourages you to produce something (anything) every day, a habit many find necessary to being a writer at all.

When I sit down and log into my account, I don’t necessarily have a plan. I free write. I resist the urge to edit, to self-critique. Whether you continue to use the service or not after the end of your thirty-day trial, you’ll still have access to your writing and stats—another great feature. And honestly, at the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee, if it keeps you trudging onwards, do it.

An example of stats from 750 Words
An example of writing stats from 750 Words (Credit: 750 Words)