Tag Archives: Writing Tips

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.

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.

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:

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.

Throwback Thursday: Authors, Editors, and Readers Alike All Hate the Word Very, a Lot.

I’m guilty of using the word very. It’s probably appeared in more than one of my blog posts and academic papers. I have one professor, though, that always points it out in my writing and tells me to take it out. He says it’s useless. He says it adds nothing to further my point. He says it’s lazy writing.

He’s right, and there are others that agree with him.

So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.
N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
Mark Twain

Well, you could take Mark Twain’s advise, but I feel like damn wouldn’t be deleted as often by publishers now as it was when Mark Twain uttered those words sometime before 1910 when he died. There are other ways of avoiding the word very.

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:

Want to Learn a New Literary Technique? Turn to Disney.

While Disney is controversial in the feminist realm for weak female characters, selling the image of a passive woman being the only desirable type of woman and a host of other things I won’t list here (but will rather link the reader to instead), at the root of every Disney story is writing from a team of talented individuals that know what they are doing.

For a well written theme, look no further than the Disney classics. Theme is defined as the main topic of a text, or in this case, movie. In Disney’s Hercules, for example, the main theme is true strength comes from sacrifice. Looking back even further to earlier movies like Sleeping Beauty, strong, well-represented and almost cliche themes like true loves conquers all are clearly portrayed throughout the film.

And I shall awaken her with true love’s kiss, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll just be some kind of weird pervert that kisses sleeping 16 year old girls.

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.