Tag Archives: Writing Advise

Busy? Break Your Writing Projects Into Small Chunks

I have a confession: this blog has been going strong for 3+ years and lately, because the other editor (Mel) and I have been really, really busy, we haven’t been posting nearly as often as we used to.

That’s because writing takes time, and with her new gig as a publisher (everyone say CONGRATULATIONS to her, by the way) and my 5-6 academic jobs (and I’m not exaggerating there!), we’re fairly low on time between the two of us.

Time slips though my fingers like sand falls from the hourglass and - wait, I don't have time to write poetry!
Time slips though my fingers like sand falls from the hourglass and – wait, I don’t have time to write poetry!

Today I was helping a student plot out a large paper assignment and the advice I gave him is the advice I need to follow myself and that I recommend anyone without a lot of time and a penchant for writing follow: break down your writing assignment into small, digestible chunks you can finish in about a half-hour every night.

I know that sounds pretty easy, but being able to judge your own ability to get a task done isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Here are a few tips that’ll help make the process easier.

1. Planning should be sessions 1-3, at the least. Planning takes time, and sometimes people feel that if they aren’t at a keyboard typing, they aren’t getting any work done and that simply isn’t true. You’re going to need to start planning before you can really start doing anything else.

Harper Lee and Introductions

Harper Lee (Credit: PBS.org)
Harper Lee (Credit: PBS.org)

This summer I decidedly drove to Northern California to spend some time with my family and simultaneously tutor my younger sister. Surprisingly, my sister has been excited about studying at home and continues to show eagerness in most of her subjects. When I arrived, my mother handed me an impressive copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a Barnes and Noble hardcover classic edition with olive and violet images pressed into the leather-like texture with silhouettes of Atticus, Scout and Jem. It’s been quite some time since I last read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and it has been a reanimating experience while I annotate and rediscover all the details that make this novel an all-time classic. While I spend my time rejoicing in my revisit of the novel, there is something in this edition that I have never noticed in my prior experience. Before the first chapter begins, there is a Foreword which states:

Please spare Mockingbird an Introduction. As a reader I loathe Introductions. To novels, I associate Introductions with long-gone authors and works that are being brought back into prints after decades of interment. Although Mockingbird will be 35 this year, it has never been out of print and I am still alive, although very quiet. Introductions inhibit pleasure, they kill the joy of anticipation, they frustrate curiosity. They only good thing about introductions is that in some cases they delay the dose to come. Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble.

Harper Lee

12 February 1993

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.

So You Want to Write A Villanelle

Okay so maybe you don’t want to write a villanelle, but that’s only because you don’t know what a villanelle is yet. But once you do know what a villanelle is, you’ll totally want to write one because it is a fun form to write.

In 16th century Italy and Spain, dance songs known as villanella or villancico were peasant tunes without any fixed form. French poets started to write poems called villancelle that again did not follow any fixed rhymes or schemes shortly thereafter.

The first villanelle with a fixed structural form, Jean Passerat’s Villanelle also known as J’ay perdu ma tourterelle, came about in the late 19th century. While the villanelle started in France, it never really caught on there but American poets claimed the poem form and are most known for executing its rigid structural form.

One of the most famous practitioners of the villanelle is Dylan Thomas, with his poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Now that you’re familiar with the form, let’s talk about the specific features that make the villanelle a villanelle.

Choose Your Own Unreliable Narrator

We’re all biased, for we are all thinking, feeling beings with opinions and experiences all our own. This means that, no matter what we write, the nature of the text will always be slightly unreliable because what is presented through the text is a projection of our understanding of reality, not reality itself.

Now you can do your best to hide your bias and hide the unreliable nature of your text, or you can embrace it and choose to present your literary vision through a set of unreliable eyes.

There are a few different varieties of unreliable narrators used in text and some great examples out there in literature.

Humbert Humbert from Lolita

Lolita, if you haven’t read it, is a book with a charming, literary, intelligent, protagonist who tells the story of his love affair with a 12-year-old girl to justify the murder of her other lover. Let that sink in for a minute. The opening lines of the book illustrate just how seductive this unreliable narrator is:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Humbert Humbert’s command of language can sometimes mask his unreliable nature, but in the book the audience he is addressing with his tale is a jury that is trying him for murder. Humbert Humbert is being charming and displaying wit to literally try and get away with murder. When it comes to unreliable narrators, Humbert Humbert is a plain old liar, or an unreliable narrator that deliberately tells a skewed version of events that take place within the story. Humbert Humbert is most certainly twisting reality to serve his purpose of avoiding a conviction.


The Narrator from Fight Club

Fight Club‘s never-named narrator isn’t unreliable by choice. You see, he suffers from insomnia and, despite everything he tries like visiting doctors or joining support groups for diseases he doesn’t actually have, he cannot sleep. This lack of sleep creates a split personality and a disconnect from what is really taking place in the story that completely catches a reader off guard.

Pinterest For Writers

I use Pinterest for a lot of things like looking up tasting recipes, crocheting projects, and, of course, for inspiration for writing. No, really. Pinterest is great for writers.

Earlier today I was playing on my Pinterest account and found this wonderful infograph:

All great tips you should follow!

In addition to this useful infograph, here are some boards I follow that I think would be useful for any writer to follow as well:

Avoiding Plot Holes

Plot holes, the bane of every writer’s existence. It’s not as if writers put plot holes in on purpose – sometimes a writer gets so caught up in a story that they miss the fact that there’s an inconsistency in the plot, or editing and rearranging a story leaves a plot hole where one wasn’t before. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay.

Inconsistencies happen to the best of us, but there are ways of avoiding, correcting, and eliminating them within your story.

1. Map out the multiple plots of your story – major and minor.

That is one intricate plot.

This requires a few things, such as a wall, a lot of colored string (I use yarn), and either post-it notes or index cards.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – “If I do this, I will come off like a murderer.” Fear not! With the use of bring, colorful yarn and the lack of bloody photos and decapitated girls around, your plot chart will most definitely not look like you are a murderer. Although, I suppose if you’re writing a book about murder, then it might.

Anyway, this is great if you’re the kind of person that needs to visualize their work. Even if you aren’t, being able to tangibly layout your plot, your character interactions, and connect all of what is happening in your story in such a way can help you avoid any plot holes because you’ll be able to see where part of your story doesn’t make sense.

In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, after Act III scene VI, the Fool disappears from the story and the reader, or viewer, is never told why. Is this a plot hole? Sort of. Some directors have used this gap in the play to their advantage to explain why the Fool is never heard from again, but as far as the text goes, there is no real explanation for the lack of the Fool in the rest of the play. If King Lear‘s plot were put up on a wall and mapped out the Fool’s string falls after Act III scene VI.

As a writer, being able to see where things just drop out of the story like that can help you figure out if you have any plot holes or inconsistencies within your work.

How To Write A Last Minute Love Poem

Well, it’s February 11th. What’s the significance of that? It’s three days away from Valentine’s day.

If you ascribe to the capitalist tradition of giving gifts once a year on February 14th to begrudgingly express affection, you’re in deep shit if you haven’t purchased anything yet.

Fear not! Nothing says love like a poem. And if poetry isn’t your strong suit, continue your fearing not, because I’m here to help you write the perfect poem to express just how amorous your amour is for your paramour.

1. Bigger isn’t always better. Can’t pull off a big love poem? Write your lover a haiku and promise him or her it will be longer next time.

Example

Short Love

We are but two souls
Brought together by our love
More to come later

2. Commit, hardcore. I generally advise people to avoid absolutes in writing, but, hey, go for it – in the name of romance. Tell your lover you will always love him or her and never leave. This can’t bite you in the butt later.

Example

Sonnets from the Portuguese 43: How Do I Love Thee
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight.
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, –I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

3. Show them you know them. Be sure you know the person you’re writing your love poem about REALLY well. Like, too well. Like, follow them around for a day and write a poem based off of their daily activities.

Example

Helen’s Day

3:10 – Helen goes into the bathroom.
3:30 – Helen exists the bathroom. She has taken a long time. I did not hear her wash her hands.
3:33 – Helen sneezes. I say bless you. She looks around, confused, because she thought she was alone. She can’t spot me. She starts to walk faster.

This Is Not Ralph Waldo Emerson’s BBQ Chicken Recipe

Titles are important. They draw readers in and make promises about what the content of your work is going to be. If your title has absolutely nothing to do with your poem or short story or novel or book or article or blog post, people are going to get annoyed.

That is the power of titles – they lead the expectations of readers.

This title is completely and utterly honest, because Ralph Waldo Emerson doesn’t have a BBQ Chicken Recipe. It doesn’t exist.

Here’s a really good mustard-based barbecue sauce to make up for it. I love using it on tofu.

Sorry, but I’m not sorry. This is the exact tactic used by many articles known as “clickbait.” While this is a shady practice online, it’s also a good lesson on how to write titles that accurately represent the content of your piece of writing while also drawing a reader in.

This site which supposed that a new Shakespeare book had been found in an addict is a good example of clickbait bullshit.
This site which supposed that a new Shakespeare play had been found is a good example of clickbait.

Here are a few tips we can glean from clickbait articles for catchy titles.

Throwback Thursday: Resolutions For Writers

Happy 2015 blog readers! Let the obligatory celebration and vast hopes for the next year begin.

Maybe.
Maybe.

So out with 2014 and that novel you didn’t finish, or the promise to yourself you (and I) didn’t keep about writing poetry every day and in with trying it all over again for the upcoming year.

Here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions, in no particular order, that will help you be the writer you want to be in 2015.