Tag Archives: creative writing

When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

This is a concept I personally struggle with. I’ve been writing poetry for years, had my first poem published in 2013, and have had multiple piecing of writing published since. I’ve been a writer on this blog, as well as the managing editor, since its inception in 2012. I’ve been published in The Socialist before being asked to join the editorial board and becoming the managing editor for my political party’s magazine as well.

But when people ask me what I do, these are projects of passion in my mind. I don’t call myself a writer. Instead, I say I work at Cal Poly or that I’m a student. I say that poetry, writing, and editing are all hobbies.

I do them, I’m good at them, but because I’m not paid to do them, I don’t see myself as a writer first. I think part of my reluctance to call myself a writer does have to do with capitalistic ideals—you are your job, not your hobbies. When people ask what you do, after all, they want to assess your income and living.

That’s how it was when I was growing up. That’s how it was in movies. But times have changed, and I think my idea of when to call myself a writer should change too.

Story Shots: Fall

The fall is a time of leaves changing colors, weather cooling down, harvest, pumpkin festivals, people going back to school, and so much more. Story Shots, our creative nonfiction series, has taken on this theme in our latest installment. Below we have four fall-themed pieces from different writers for your pleasure.


A List: We fall…

into bed.
and asleep.

in and out
of love.
into another’s arms.
in and out
of bad habits.
apart, and
together.

into debt.
onto hard times.
into a deep depression,
and on our knees.

down the rabbit hole,
like fall leaves;
ashes, ashes,
we all fall down.

– Nicole Embrey


As a child, I mainly remember triangle sandwiches at bible camp, but I also remember believing in the God of Israel as much as I believed the sun would come up each day. I was raised by a Christian, single mother and attended those camps at my grandma’s church every summer in an old logging town pared into mountains as green and buckled as elephant apples. The fundamentalist church preached a tough no-sin doctrine, and I pled for salvation at camp the summer before I turned fourteen, old enough to engage with an ancient text about God’s chosen people and a certain Israeli.

I entered the Bush administration wild with purpose. My love affair with Israel had begun.

Writing Prompt: Dungeons & Dragons

D&D Books

If you are a writer then you have inevitably run into the dreaded writer’s block. You have probably scoured the internet for writing prompts that might just yield something. You may have even dived back into your own favorite stories in the hopes that something will inspire you. Well, I’m here to provide you with one more tool to combat this unwelcome guest.

Play Dungeons & Dragons.

Aside from the fact that geek chic is apparently “in” at the moment, renewed interest in this classic table-top game seems to be growing. Perhaps this is because it was featured prominently in Stranger Things, or maybe the 5th edition release made it easier for new players to join and became more accessible. Either way, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a group of willing victims to play with you while you battle your own personal writer’s block demon. Here’s some of the intricacies and how it can help you with your own writing:

Start with character development: Build your own character
Having a tough time creating characters that are likable? Untrustworthy? Or just down right evil? D&D can absolutely help with this. To even start playing, you need to build character on your “character sheet.” This includes picking a race, class, backstory, and alignment. (Actually, it includes quite a bit more than this, but these elements help you write a story for your character.) If one were to purchase the 5th edition Player’s Handbook for D&D, one is provided with extensive race and class break-downs that also give you some insight as to the kind of character you would create, should you choose those prompts. For instance, elves have three different sub-races with drastically different characteristics. High elves, as one might imagine, are often arrogant, but incredibly noble. They are wicked intelligent and are often interested in their own self-preservation. Wood elves, on the other hand, are a bit more mischievous, sometimes to the detriment of themselves or their team. Dark elves, known in the game as Drow, are dark and mysterious beings, and at times very dangerous. There are many other races and sub-races within the game to choose from, each with general strengths and weaknesses to play on. Selecting a class also adds some characterization. Druids are keenly and primarily concerned with nature and gravitate to the more natural elements of the world. They can even transform into animals, and some druids even prefer that form over their human one. Clerics are a bit more complicated, but incredibly fun to create. You can have your standard, holy cleric driven by a divine deity aimed towards healing the weak and innocent. Or you can create a trickster cleric that does best when they deceive and talk their way out of confrontations. Your deity could be, oh I don’t know, Loki? Characters are so customizable in this game that creating something as contradictory as that actually works!


Next, you work on the backstory, but perhaps that writer’s block is just too darn heavy to push, even for this. Do not fret, you can turn to the backstory chapter in the Handbook and roll for it. That’s right, roll the dice and leave it to chance. What are one of your ideals? Roll a 2: To protect myself first. What is a weakness you have? Roll a 4: I am incredibly clumsy. Now how would a character constantly worried about their own self-being be able to survive in the world by being a klutz? You get to act that out. Lastly, your character alignment helps make your character more complex. You have probably seen those memes floating around on social media where they place characters from popular television shows into an alignment chart, starting with lawful good and ending with chaotic evil. While these are fun to look at, they actually go a bit more in-depth. One character I currently play is chaotic good. This means that she is drawn to freedom and kindness, but has little use for laws and regulations. She performs good acts to help others achieve their own freedom as well. The way this is enacted in play is by keeping my actions in check and making sure I stay true to my character. Killing someone out of spite would have negative affects on my character, whereas showing mercy would be more in line with her views. Dungeon Masters will also help with this by giving you real in-game consequences if you stray. It is possible you can change your alignment, but that requires cooperation with your DM, which leads me to my next point.

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.”

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.

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.

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?