Creative Writing

Story Shots: Renew

While The Poetics Project was on hiatus for a while, the blog has now been renewed. To celebrate this renewal, we’ve revived our popular blog series called Story Shots. Story Shots a place where our writers all write a short creative non-fiction piece around the same concept and we share the stories with our readers. We have three short creative non-fiction pieces here for our readers today around the theme of renewal.


When your best friend dies at 26, you find what little strength you actually have. You thought you understood death by this point, that you knew how to best cope. You knew your grieving process and you knew how long each stage took. Too logical. Death is not logical.

I remember vaguely my phone ringing at 5:00 in the morning and hitting the dismiss button. I was in a dream with my best friend Jessie. We were at Disneyland and Paris and all her favorite and want-to-visit destinations at once. I ran to keep up with her, but she always seemed out of reach. The sky was a mixture of pink and reds. Strangely beautiful, and unsettling.

My alarm went off for work and I jumped on Facebook; my typical morning read. I thought to myself “what if Jessie is gone” when I spotted a belated birthday wish on her wall. My heart threatened to stop beating and I shrugged it off as another weird and morbid thought. I then realized her mother had called me, that she was the dismissed call. My heart threatened me again. I called her, convincing myself that everything was fine.

“Nicci?! Where you with Jessie yesterday?”

“No? I know she went to Disneyland with Richard, but I don’t…” At this point, I sensed the panic in her voice and was pushing the sheets off me to locate my dirty sweats in the hamper. I got caught in the sheets.

“Well did you know that she was in a car accident and died!?”

I had freed my legs in time to sit up straight, “What?”

“She’s dead!”

“What….” my throat started producing croaks.

“Nicci? Nicci, call your mom. I don’t want you to be alone.”

“O…okay.” I live in the back house of my parents’, so I got up and stumbled like a zombie to their door. They leave it unlocked. My mother was up before I collapsed against her dresser.

“What happened? What happened?!” I mixture of fear, anger, and distress.

“Jessie…Jessie’s…she’s gone. She’s dead.” My father was rounding the bed when he turned to stabilize himself and let out one sob. He covered his eyes. My mother shouted and held me as the floor threatened to consume me. My lungs kept pushing air out and wouldn’t let me breathe. And then, I stopped. “Mom, I don’t know where Richard is.”

Politics and Poetry: Ezra Pound

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.


So we’re going to do things a little backwards for this one and look at the poet’s works first before jumping into his biography. This poem penned in 1926 is one Ezra Pound’s most famous poems, in part because of how short it is:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Pound was an American poet, born in 1885 and lived through both world wars and well into the cold war and the conflicts that prevailed during the time (and subsequently died in 1972). This next poem of his is titled “The Coming of War: Actaeon” written in 1917.

An image of Lethe,
and the fields
Full of faint light
but golden,
Gray cliffs,
and beneath them
A sea
Harsher than granite,
unstill, never ceasing;

High forms
with the movement of gods,
Perilous aspect;
And one said:
“This is Actæon.”
Actaeon of golden greaves!

Over fair meadows,
Over the cool face of that field,
Unstill, ever moving,
Host of an ancient people,
The silent cortège.

Ezra Pound is credited as being one of the creators of the Modernist poetry movement with his focus on imagery. He translated Chinese and Japanese poetry and in both his translated works and original works he pushed for clarity, precision, and economy of language. He founded not only several American literary magazines, but he is credited for discovering and shaping poets such as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway.

Image of young Ezra Pound
Via Wikimedia.org

Then came Word War I.

3 Things Stephen King’s On Writing Taught Me

One of the problems beginning writers have is everything about creative writing seems so mysterious. There’s a blank page. You’re expected to put words on it so that your would-be reader has something to look at. That much is clear. That much we understand. A beginner may have a great premise—a scene they play on repeat in their head, an entire world they are filling with characters and adventures. Maybe they’ve even written it down.

But at some point, there seems to come the big question: what next?

How do you go from premise to story? How do you make a character relatable? How do you make sure that anyone will care? More to the point, how do you make sure that once the muse has arrived, she actually wants to stick around? How do you not start but finish a story?

Writing is hard. There are so many intricacies. Description. Dialogue. Narration. One scene alone does not make a story, and even the best premises can fall short when fleshed out.

Stephen King’s On Writing is one of those creative writing guides that tops nearly every reading list, but I only recently read the book. If you’re looking for a kick in the ass—someone who can pull back the curtain and reveal that it’s only old man Oz pulling the levers—then I recommend you stop putting King’s book off for another day. Crack open that spine and get ready for the world of creative writing to get a little less mysterious (but no less magical).

Here are just a few things the book has taught me.

Book Adaptations: Are Television Series the New Cinema?

American Gods

As many of you have probably noticed, there have been several book adaptations made into televisions series or miniseries of late and I am LIVING for them! In fact, I have noticed that overall fan reactions and critic reviews tend to look favorably on adapted television series. This has launched a property scramble among television stations and independent streaming services to create shows centered around the many books that we love. And while this is still a relatively new pop cultural trend, it does seem to be a profitable one. So what is it that causes serialized book adaptations to be more successful than their cinematic predecessors?

NOTE: There are some spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t binged or read American Gods, The Handmaid’s Tale, Game of Thrones, or Anne with an E, be aware that I’m talking about them here and highly recommend you check them out.

1. Minor characters you secretly wanted more of are further developed:

Fan-fiction has often been devoted to the development of those side characters you were craving more of before they exited the story, either of their own violation or in a body bag. Series adaptations, however, are playing with this idea to elongate the show and keep the bucks flowing in. This is probably most noticeable in the American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale series. Mad Sweeney, the down on his luck leprechaun, got more screen time than book time and was received incredibly well by fans and critics alike. He gets to go on his own road adventure with other minor characters, Laura Moon and Salim. And while I’m not a huge fan of Laura Moon’s fleshed out character in this series, some did find her likable. Critics, apparently, enjoyed her apathy.

Ofglen’s expanded storyline.

The second property has created quite the buzz given our current political climate and the additions made to this story have proven to be welcome ones as well, namely the development of the original “Ofglen” and her story. She is made a more complex character by being a lesbian, or “gender traitor,” in an environment that is incredibly homophobic and religiously influenced. Fans were stricken with grief to discover that Ofglen underwent female castration. The lines still haunt me to this day: “you cannot desire what you do not have.” Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, is also more colorful as the true antagonist of the show, helping to create the laws that currently oppress the women of Gilead. I find myself hating her more than I do the Commander at times.

How To Manage Being A Managing Editor

For those who don’t know me, I have a lot of little side gigs outside of being a master’s student and my work as an advisor on campus. Three of my multiple little side-ventures are in the world of editing. I am the co-founder and managing editor of this blog, The Poetics Project, as well as the managing editor for The Socialist, the Socialist Party USA’s national magazine. This summer I was also selected as the lead editor of the Editorial Board of Pomona Valley Review’s 11th issue.

So how do I do it? Am I some insane monster that never sleeps? Am I in it for the money? Wait, is there money? Hold on, I’m off track now with the hypothetical questions. Do I just half-ass all of my roles and call it a day? Do I have no life to speak of? Am I a lonely person? Do my academics suffer? Do I have no hobbies?

With the exception of the first question, all of the answers to the above are no. I’ve literally been asked these questions multiple times, so let me go into each one and elaborate a bit on my answer of no.

Am I some insane monster that never sleeps?

Okay, I totally sleep. I don’t know why this is always one of the first questions people ask when they find out that I’m a busy person (then again, maybe it’s the bags under my eyes. That’s just how I look!). Sleep is important and we all need it to function; in fact, when I don’t sleep, I get a terrible case of what I like to call homophones—i.e., I start writing in homophone (think they’re/their/there or your/you’re or new/knew, etc.). I need to sleep just like a normal person—although, as a grad student, eight solid hours is generally something I never get. I do get a good six to seven hours of sleep a night most of the time, and I enjoy strong coffee in the day time to make up for that extra hour I never seem to be able to manage (like, even on the weekends—I may just not be the kind of person that sleeps for eight hours at night).

Am I in it for the money? Wait, is there money?

I work as a managing editor because I want to, not for money. Even in my day job, I get to help a lot of people and that makes me happy. I could never just work for a paycheck—not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ve done it in the past and I’ve been terribly unhappy doing it. Also, there’s no money in what I do on the side. The Poetics Project, The Socialist, and Pomona Valley Review are completely free to users and contain no ads, so we don’t generate any revenue. All of my projects are projects of passion. I know there are probably managing editor positions I could find that would pay me, but I don’t know if I’d love their content as much as I love the content at the other places I volunteer at, nor do I know if I want to make managing editing into a career over being a potential teacher in the future.

7 Ways To Use A Writing Journal

Most of the writers I know have a bit of a journal obsession. Like our love of books, our desire to bring a new one home with us doesn’t actually mean we don’t have a stack of journals waiting for us already, their pages blank and ready to be filled. It doesn’t always make any logical sense. In fact, all those blank pages taunt us. They serve as a reminder of all the words we’ve yet to write, and we may not even be able to imagine how we’ll fill them.

Certainly, the possibilities are endless, but below you’ll find a list of just a few ways to use your writing journals.

Writer’s Notebook

A “writer’s notebook” may sound a bit generic, but I couldn’t decide what else to call this. This notebook contains a little bit of everything: story ideas, brainstorming, free writing, outlines. To organize all of that, I suggest employing some sort of color coding/tab system or purchasing a notebook with dividers. Once you decide to run with a story, you can start a project-specific notebook where you write down all of your research, background information, character notes, and more for that particular project.

Pocket Notebook

This is a smaller version of a writer’s notebook. The point of a pocket notebook is that it be carried with you at all times, somewhere easily accessible. As you go about your day, you’ll likely hear conversations and witness human interactions. You’ll be in the grocery store or at an intersection and, suddenly, inspiration will strike—a scene, a premise, a passage of dialogue, a few lines of poetry.

You’ll tell yourself, “don’t be that pretentious fuck who pulls out their moleskin in the middle of the frozen food aisle to write a poem.” You’ll tell yourself, “I’ll remember it this time.” But you won’t. You never do. That’s not how this whole creativity thing works. So forget about what everyone else thinks or whether it’s any good or whether it will amount to anything in the end and write it all down.

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.