Creative Writing

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

 
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The Difference Between Myths, Legends, and Fairy Tales

Myths, legends, fairy tales—we know them well, the stories we pass down from generation to generation. Add in folktales and fables, and you have yourself a plethora of names for the sort of stories people often lump under the same category. Yet each of these represents a story with its own distinct characteristics. The terms are not interchangeable. Editors and …

The Ways I Use Poetry

When I was in grade school, I used poetry for entertainment. My grade school had regular book fairs, and one of the first books I bought on my own was The Random House Book of Poetry for Children because, in the first few pages, it had a funny poem about a boy that would take off all his clothing and could never figure out how to put it back on. The book was large and full of various poems. When there wasn’t anything to watch on television, or when I finished some of my homework, I’d sit in my room and read through my book of poetry and try to memorize the poems that were on the pages. As I aged, the appeal of the book of children’s poetry faded, and it was placed into a box and given to Goodwill.

It wasn’t until high school that I started to use poetry again. This time, I used poetry as a form of self-expression, as many teens end up doing. Sometimes I wrote poems and sometimes I wrote song lyrics, but they were always dark and angry and honestly, not very good. I used poetry to help form my self-identity and to work through an extreme level of teenage angst. These works often found themselves on napkins, or on ripped up pieces of paper, or inside of one of my textbooks. The poetry I wrote back then is long gone, which is probably a good thing. If I had to classify the type of use this poetry was, it would fall under the category of misuse. (more…)

We’re Back!

Well, folks, it has been one long hiatus, and for that, we apologize.

Last year, as graduation loomed before me, I decided I needed to take a step back. I was worried that I was putting too much pressure on myself to “do it all,” and that because of that, any posts written here would ultimately suffer.

A lot has happened since I made that decision. Back then, I was living in Portland, Oregon, while earning a master’s degree in writing and book publishing, juggling a flurry of internships and part-time jobs. After moving back home in March 2015, I started working at a Southern California nonfiction book publisher, editing everything from “serious” art books for adults to quirky books about literary dinosaurs for children.

Now I’m freelancing and returning to the world of blogging, which for years has been a much needed creative outlet—one that I’ve been anxious to get back to. That’s the short of it, at least.

So for those new readers who stumbled to this post and for those past readers who gave us a chance, here’s a little bit about what you can expect from this blog. First and foremost, a lot about the writing life and the stories we love (and probably the ones we don’t). I don’t promise to be an expert writer or editor. I just turned 26. I go into each project assuming most of what I write will be crap, but that’s okay, because within all that bad will be a little good that I can shape into something I’m proud of. For me, this blog has always been a way for me to explore, learn, and lay the groundwork for a creative life.

Expect posts about that journey.

A new post will be up next week (an updated edition of one of our most popular, so I hope you enjoy it!). For now, be sure to read my co-editor’s post, The Ways I Use Poetry, which she wrote in anticipation of us presenting several of our published poems tomorrow on a panel titled, “Poetry in (Digital) Process: A Poetry Reading and Publishing Discussion with Pomona Valley Review,” at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association Conference in Pasadena.

Until next time.

Poems for National Poetry Month

April is my favorite time of year. Not for the showers (although, rain’s nice), nor for the beginning of spring; rather, April is my favorite time of the year because it’s officially National Poetry Month and that means I get to spam everyone I know on Facebook with poems everyday, and sometimes twice a day, for a whole month. It’s also the month of William Shakespeare’s birth and death, so I like to pay special attention to his sonnets and poems, as well as poetry that celebrates his work, during my favorite time of the year.

It’s really an English degree holder’s dream.

I want to share poetry with everyone this time of the year, and you are not immune. Here’s a poetry month starter kit of poetry for you to share with your friends, or to just read an enjoy, during my favorite month of the year. (more…)