Tag Archives: creative writing

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.

MFA Programs: Are They Worth It?

So you want to be a writer. You have graduated from high school and college with a few creative writing workshops under your belt and produced a few short pieces you’re proud of. You think, if I could just find the time or had people to read my work, I think I could do this. I could be the voice of my generation.

(Credit: Huffington Post)
(Credit: Huffington Post)

You still need to learn a few tricks. And you just know that if you jump straight into a full-time job that you’ll never get around to writing that novel. Life will happen. You’ll head straight for the fridge and then your bed after a long shift instead of opening up a blank page and writing.

This is a valid concern. If I wasn’t in grad school right now (albeit for publishing and not creative writing), I don’t know where I’d find the time to write. Or rather I do know where I’d find the time, but that notion is scary because it requires dedication and commitment. It requires long nights and early mornings typing away on your computer rather than going out for drinks with friends or binging on Netflix.

You have to find your own motivation rather than being motivated by your fellow students or professors. Being able to find your own motivation isn’t bad. It’s good. And certainly after finishing an MFA program, it’s a skill you will need to develop, but it can be hard to motivate yourself when you’re still figuring things out. When your own writing style isn’t fully-formed. Or when you haven’t found that story inside of you yet that is just dying to get out.

But it’s important to be realistic about MFA programs and to consider your options before jumping straight in.

Story Shots: Gloom

Story_Shots

The shorts below were written by some of our contributors for the month of June, which, as we know, is typically a month associated with gloom. But rather than focus on April showers and May flowers—the weather and nature that springs up this time of year—our contributors focused on the way gloom has seeped into their own lives.


The story of how I ended up naked on the internet seems a lot more complicated than it actually is. The truth is simple.

It started with a boy named Tyler. Six-foot, thin, baby-faced Tyler.

He was my first date since my breakup with a longterm boyfriend, who was completely his opposite. It was a big day, and I was really just looking for a hookup, and yes, women can say that, too.

But the night came and went, and I remained firmly unlaid. It was full of science and art and history and music and booze and food until 5 a.m. but not a look down my shirt, not a grab for my ring, not a tongue in my mouth, let alone anything else in my anything else.

I walked out of his apartment after the sun was up with a hug and some new music but completely bereft. What the hell? What man would rather have a friend more than a vagina? What was wrong with me? It must be because I’m…fat? Am I fat? Did he hate my thighs?

It was then that I missed my old boyfriend more than ever—my boyfriend who knew what he wanted, took charge, could fuck like a man, and called me the right names. And who always made me feel sexy as hell. Maybe I’d made a mistake in letting him go.

So I did what any 28-year-old, freshly graduated girl living in Gresham, Oregon and looking to win back some of her self esteem would do: I slapped a pic of my boobs on a site called ratemeplease.com and waited to be judged—obviously a classy choice, since the domain name had “please” in it.

The average scores of others were lots of threes and fours, and the highest on the hall of fame didn’t even hit 8, so I wasn’t expecting much.

But then my scores and private messages started pouring it by the hundreds, and before I knew it, I was #12 on the entire site out of thousands (not now, so don’t bother looking)—my highest achievement after my master’s degree.

And the messages, or “fan mail,” as I like to think of them, well, they included it all, some sweet and others nasty enough to get me pregnant just by reading them. The only thing they always left out were negative comments. I never got one.

There’s more to this Missy’s-naked-on-the-internet story (so much more), but the only relevant thing is how one rejection in June can devastate the usual confident woman, and apparently winning a boob competition is the way to respond. Also: Tyler missed out, and I’m a respectable 7.8.

–Missy Lacock

5 Creative Nonfiction Writing Tips

We here at The Poetics Project regularly partake in the Creative Nonfiction genre with our monthly Story Shots posts. I have a lot of fun with the genre, but I know that many people struggle with creative nonfiction.

Specifically, how much is creative and how much is nonfiction? Where does the line blur and creativity starts taking a nonfiction piece into the realm of fiction?

There are no solid boundaries nor are there any set percentages, e.g. 25% of your story must be “creative” while the other 75% must be nonfiction to obtain the label creative nonfiction. Essentially, the creative part of creative nonfiction refers to how the story is told and the nonfiction part of the creative nonfiction refers to the subject matter of the piece.

Can you make up dialog? No, but if you don’t remember the exact words spoken but can approximate them, that’s fine (in my book – others may disagree). Can you change names, dates, and locations of a creative nonfiction piece to distance the people involved from the story? I think you can, as long as everything else in your story is true.

In other words, use your best judgement when it comes to how much “creative” and how much “nonfiction” goes into your creative nonfiction. If you started out writing a creative nonfiction story about an experience you had in high school and it suddenly becomes an epic fantasy-romance, it’s probably no longer creative nonfiction. Lots of fiction is based on true and real events, but once enough of that story is manipulated, it’s no longer nonfiction and crosses into the realm of fiction.

But you don’t need to add a ton of fiction into your creative nonfiction to make it interesting. There are some very basic tricks you can use in creative nonfiction, as well as in other literary forms, to make your story creative without sacrificing the nonfiction part of your story. Here’s a quick list of 5 tips to help make your creative nonfiction really pop.

AWP 2014: Writing Unsympathetic Characters

Last week, I attended AWP in Seattle with other students in my program and fellow contributor, Tiffany Shelton. For those of you who haven’t heard of AWP, it’s a conference and bookfair held in a different city each year and hosted by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Both AWP and Write to Publish took place in February, and both conferences have set me on a roll. Recently, I’ve been writing anywhere from five hundred to a thousand words or more a night—and because I just told you, reader, I feel a certain obligation to keep up this stamina.

Because I’ve already written about how inspiring writing conferences can be, I won’t linger on the subject too long. Just go to one, if you can. They’re terrifying and uplifting; you leave feeling you have the permission to write, to struggle, and to succeed. And they make you realize that “success” doesn’t look the same for every writer—and that’s okay.

At AWP, I went to several panels, but this post will focus on a panel titled “I’m Just Not That Into You: Unsympathetic Characters in Fiction.” Author Irinia Reyn moderated the panel, which consisted of authors Hannah Tinti, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Maud Newton, and agent Ryan Harbage.

I attended this panel, because as both a reader and writer I have come to the realization that I am drawn to characters who others may deem unsympathetic. Irinia began by asking the panelists what they mean when they say a character is unsympathetic. Responses varied from “They appeal to our dark side” to “They are the characters I want to read about.” One panelist—and this stuck with me—said that sometimes unsympathetic characters are just people “put in a difficult situation who have to make a controversial choice.” Are unsympathetic characters the same as unlikeable characters? No. That was the response from the majority of the panelists. There’s no writer’s handbook that says your readers must like character a, b, and c. As one panelist said, “It’s good when someone has a reaction.”

Writing Goals: Poetry Addition

April was National Poetry Month. So, of course, on my Facebook page, I posted a poem or two a day. And, inspired by all the poetry I was posting, I tried to write more poems than I usually do.

Now that April’s over, I want to continue pushing myself to write poetry. I’ve written in the past how deadlines work really well for me when it comes to writing, but how arbitrary ones, not attached to a literary journal’s deadline, kinda never seem to have the same effect on my writing.

My new goal is to write two poems a week. Is that doable? Maybe. I’m older and more mature now, so maybe I’ll be able to hold myself to my writing goals. But there are a few other tricks I’m using to motivate myself to keep my writing goals.

First and foremost, I’m telling all of you about my goal. When other people, like my co-blogger Melanie, know about my goals and can ask me about them, I tend to do better at holding myself accountable for my goals. So I’ve told her, and you, that I plan on writing two poems a week and now there’s an expectation that I will be writing two poems a week.

Wasting Time & Not Giving a Damn: The Art of Being A Young Writer

Maybe we have to waste time to be writers.

A year ago, in the car on the way back from Seattle, I had the talk with a few friends. The I-can’t-finish-anything and I’m-not-sure-where-it’s-going talk that all writers seem to have with their reflection or a peer at some point in their career, particularly early on.

Really, what I meant was that I’m not sure if I’m good enough. And that’s tough to admit.

Maria Popova tackled this topic in her recent post “The Art of Motherfuckitude: Cheryl Strayed’s Advice to an Aspiring Writer on Faith and Humility” over at Brain Pickings. Before Wild, of course, Strayed wrote The Rumpus advice column “Sugar.”

It’s self doubt. According to Popova, “the same paralyzing self-doubt which Virginia Woolf so elegantly captured; which led Steinbeck to repeatedly berate, then galvanize himself in his diary; which sent Van Gogh into a spiral of floundering before he found his way as an artist.”

The same self doubt that caused one “Sugar” reader to write to Strayed. The reader was twenty-six—a classic writer who can’t write. She tells Strayed, “I am sick with panic that I cannot—will not—override my limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude, to write well, with intelligence and heart and lengthiness.”

Strayed’s response is beautiful and raw. You can and should read it.

Highlights for all my fellow twenty-somethings struggling with how exactly one perfects the art of being a motherfucker:

Should Writers Get Paid? A Conversation.

In a recent post, I asked whether or not paying to submit to writing contests is worth it for a writer. Money and writing often spark conversations about worth. The kind of value we as readers give the written word and the individuals who work tirelessly to create it.

Now that I have graduated and moved back home to Southern California (oh, Portland, how I miss you), I am pushing myself to write again and write often. Although I try to squelch all hopes of publication—getting the words down at all is step one—I do find writing in smaller chunks to be less daunting. Because of that, I often approach a piece of prose as a short story, even if I plan on turning it into something larger one day. Most publications are willing to publish writer’s short stories, personal essays, and flash fiction, but perhaps not their 100,000-word novel.

But the only conversation worth having is not whether a writer should pay someone else to read their work, but whether an author should get paid because they wrote the thing.

In truth, this conversation is a matter of opinion. For as long as there are writers willing to submit their work and go unpaid, there will be writers who refuse.

I don’t believe the answer is so black and white. If you’re still trying to figure out where you stand, ask yourself “Why am I submitting in the first place?”

Is it for the prestige? Is it for the recognition? Is it to be validated? Is it because you’re a professor and your boss told you to? Is it because you’re a student and your professor told you to? Is it because you see writing as a career and this magazine or journal as a stepping stone?

Story Shots: Rejection

Story_Shots

J.K. Rowling said, over a Twitter interview, that Harry Potter was rejected “loads” before it was accepted by a publisher. And, after that story was published, J.K. Rowling not only became one of the most popular authors of her time, but one of the wealthiest as well. What’s the moral of this story? We all get rejected, but it’s what we do with our rejections that makes us who we are.


No one likes rejection letters.

You know the ones: “Your work was one among many excellent submissions, unfortunately…”

However, have you ever been on the other side of the editing table? If you have, you know the task of an editor is arduous and exhausting. And maybe somewhere along the hundredth rejection you decide on, you start to forget that these are writers your dealing with behind the blind submission numbers.

My mistake during this process was using my position as an editor for a literary journal to my own advantage: getting to listen in on the discussion process about my piece. I submitted my own work, which I knew would not be sent to me or my group of editors, but would be sent to another group I worked with for consideration.

Once blinded and given a number, it was handed out. I decided to find my submission’s number and locate the group it was assigned to.

I sat close to them as I eavesdropped on their deliberation, but this did not last long.

“So what did we think?”

“Mediocre at best.”

Suddenly, the passive rejection letter didn’t sound so bad.

– Nicole Neitzke


“Everybody gets rejected straight out of their bachelor’s degree,” Professor Powers, soon to be Dr. Powers, said.

I got the first rejection January 31st, 2015. It was from USC – the school I had been able to visit and speak with professors at. I didn’t take that as a great sign.

I was applying for my Ph.D. in Early Modern English, with an emphasis in critical theory, namely performance theory, and digital humanities.

I was applying so I could one day teach and share my enthusiasm for Shakespeare.

“If you want to teach Shakespeare,” my friend and former professor yet again continued offering much needed insight and advice, “you’re going to have to do lit. If you do rhetoric they won’t ever let you teach literature, especially not Shakespeare.”

Other rejections soon followed. On February 6th, 2015, UCLA rejected my graduate application. Ten days later, Cornell sent a rejection. Three days after that, UC Santa Barbra rejected me as well. UC Santa Barbara had a professor there that had, kindly, sent her regrets at my rejection.

“In my graduate program at the University of Iowa, only one student of the thirty was straight out of their undergraduate degree. Only myself and one other student of the thirty were two years out. It’s really competitive. They want to know you’re a serious student. They don’t want to waste their time on English majors who are just continuing school because they don’t know what else to do,” Professor Powers continued.

UC Santa Cruz rejected me February 27th and the University of Pennsylvania rejected me March 10th. I was getting numb to the rejections by now. My last hope was UC Davis.

Make Reading “Diverse” Authors The Goal, Not the Challenge

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed Staff member, Alexis Nedd, published a post called “My 2015 Reading List Includes Nothing Written By White Men.” According to Nedd, “After a long time reading books written by people in publishing’s privileged majority, I want to spend a year seeking some balance in the perspectives and voices I take in.”

Are white men overrepresented in almost every aspect of the publishing industry, as Nedd states? Sure. Male authors still produce about 75 percent of the work being published. And while men make up only 26 percent of the publishing workforce, 89 percent of that workforce identifies as white.

Putting those numbers in perspective, however, also means that there is a great deal of work being published by authors who are neither white or male. Forbes estimates that somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year (nearly half of those are self-published). If even a quarter of those books are written by diverse authors—women and men of all shapes, colors, and backgrounds—then that’s still more books than one person can hope to read in a lifetime.

It’s hard to be critical of a personal commitment, like Nedd’s, that 1) gets people reading, 2) gets people talking, and 3) points readers to books that they may not have otherwise heard of. But my own bias is this: most of the books I read every year are written by women. That isn’t because the publishing industry shoves those books at me. It’s because I gravitate towards them, and I believe that’s how most readers are. Nicole, a fellow blogger, reads graphic novels because she wants to. And Tiffany reads YA because she wants to. Entire blogs are dedicated to specific genres because those are the types of books that audience can’t get enough of.