Category Archives: Writers on Writing

Poetry Class at The Writing University, Iowa

I decided to take the free, online, six week class on How Writers Write Poetry, offered by The University of Iowa. I do so much duty writing these days, I feel like my creative chops are a little dry (ever get that feeling, writers? It’s a drag!). Anyway– so far it’s really been interesting to flip words around a bit and play with some exercises. I’m not a poet– at all– so this is a real creative challenge for me.

Our first exercise was led by one of my mentors in school, American poet Robert Hass. I highly recommend his books, Sun Under Wood and Time and Materials. He’s utterly brilliant and the most lovely man. We had to write four poetic sketches: one, two, three, and four line bits just to play with technique and get our ideas down. Here’s what I submitted to class this morning.

sugar cookies, death, and broken teeth: 1-4 series.

1.

The coarse sugar cookie grits my teeth as I stare at the floor, waiting.

2.

Two suits sit on the train.

Nodding at the air in agreement.

3.

The left eye beamed brightly still.

Beneath the swelling and scars and smoke-stained nails.

Somewhere, under it all, she was there.

4.

A hidden tongue on a chipped back tooth.

And pangs of want of the world.

He sits flat with his twisted jaw,

and wonders why she left.

 

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Me,me,me. Copywriting vs. Citizen Journalism

I started writing for GaijinPot about a month ago and I have to say it’s a totally different kind of writing than I’m used to. I’m a copywriter by trade, which means my writing takes on the client’s voice. I write for your vision, your company, your brand. But op-eds or citizen journalism is about what goes on in my sick little brain. Let me put it this way… if you’ve been a back up singer whose job is to make the pop star look good, and then you get handed the center stage mic, one of two things will happen.

1) You’ll either wet yourself and run off stage or

2) You’ll go big, even if you suck, just to have your moment in the spotlight.

Not sure where I’m at just yet… but I’m loving it so far. 🙂

Check out my articles here. I’m writing weekly so stay tuned. 🙂

 

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The 25 Greatest Quotes About Writing

I’m a huge fan of Thought Catalog. Add these quotes to your Random Awesomeness file. ❤

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Charlie Kaufman’s “What I Have To Offer”

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The Professional/Creative Paradox or Why Writers Are Emotional Disasters

So a few weeks ago, I was up in Portland for meetings and received a text from my fellow writer and partner-in-office crime, Chelsi. She’s a dear friend and holds a mighty pen, and I don’t think she’ll mind me telling you that she’s also completely insane. Text reads as follows:

I’m leaving. Right now. I’m serious I can’t take this bullshit.

Hallway phone intervention. Turns out she was being pressed to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite pieces she had finished months ago, pieces that were finished, done, off of her desk and out in the world. That morning she had hit her limit.

Now from a practical perspective writers often recycle research, finished work, and text scraps for other uses, so the reworking request certainly wasn’t unreasonable, but a repeated request to do so without any end in sight will make a writer want to kick a hole through a door. But we have to do it, we know we have to do it, and we have to do it often… herein lies the tragedy of the desk writer. Writing anything worth reading requires some level of emotional investment, but conversely, professional writing requires a level of detachment. Birth a bouncing baby blob of text, drop it at the doorstep, and walk away. Then come back and look at it again. And then walk away again. Now come back. Now go. Some days it’s just not easy.

In a recent creative workshop, Eric Maisel spoke about the emotional and cognitive output required to create. The math is rough here, but it takes about twelve bazillion neurons to create meaning in any artistic endeavor. That meaning… whatever it is… is like crack to a writer. We write (or do any creative thing, really) to create meaning of some kind and when it’s fucked with we become bitter, emotionally bereft, sometimes even depressed.  I felt for Chelsi—she was about to blow and not completely able to express precisely why, other than she was seriously over it.

Chelsi’s super cute, but make no mistake. She will cut you.

 

So you might say getting upset over creative differences in the professional space is just taking things too personally, or being too sensitive about your writing and I’d say you’re probably wrong about that. If you love what you do and you’re pretty good at it, chances are you’re somewhat emotionally invested in it and getting pissed off is going to be part of that process. Now people can’t run around kicking holes in doors, but there are a few things writers can do to help things go smoothly when differences occur.

1) Be briefed. It’s tough to get a vague assignment and misinterpret the lack of direction as free reign, only to have the project plan completely change last minute. Sure, changes will happen along the way… agile business and all of that, but there’s a big difference between course correction and a total rebuild. Writers need to ask a ton of questions to be clear on project expectations and version deadlines.

2) Pick battles wisely. Collaboration is always a compromise, so know what you’re willing to change or remove and what you’re willing to fall on the sword for. If you’re going to fight for something, make sure it’s for the good of the project and not an evil match of wills.

3) Step away from the monitor. Gain clarity on your project by doing something completely different for a while. Working for too long on a piece that keeps landing back on your desk only frustrates you, so go do anything but that particular project. When I was in grad school there was a guy who’d literally put his fieldwork notes in the refrigerator to “cool off” before moving onto the next draft of his thesis (I called bullshit on this one because it sounded so lame but I’m told by reliable sources that it’s true). Whatever. Do what you gotta do…

So Chelsi didn’t leave that day, and in the end, she turned out her usual awesomeness that everyone was happy with. I think it’s always interesting when creative process and professional timelines evolve from a raging, amorphous blur into something new and hopefully unexpected. Painful, daunting, and ever so worthwhile.

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Punctuation botanica: thoughts on interrobangs and fresh tattoos

I’ve been mildly obsessed with punctuation since college. Learning about what to use, and when, took time (and I still go to the guides when a heated debate of dash use erupts at the office…).  How often–as with most forms of professional communication at least–less is so much more. For beginning writers, use of punctuation can be the textual equivalent to a child getting into Mommy’s makeup. But creative work? Go freaking bananas– in fact I love when I see writers and poets do cool things with astrisks and em dashes and ellipses.

Here’s my favorite scene involving the discussion of the “dot dot dot”, from one of my all-time favorite movies.

I could go on right now, about how punctuation is either a visual cue for the eye or a timing mechanism for the brain, but frankly that sounds pretty boring and not really what I wanted to talk about.  Fluidity, syntax, style… got it? Moving on.

I want to talk about tattoos.

I’ve been researching my most favorite punctuation for my next ink session and came across a super cool article on rarely-used marks.

This article has a few especially cool ones… which had me saying “interrobang” repeatedly just because it’s fun to say. Naturally I had to learn more so I went to my most favorite dubious source of information, and found a fine list of punctuation and usage.

My favorites so far:

The irony mark

The astrisk… although it seems a bit fashionable at the moment.

The one I really think is cool is the hedera… Latin for “ivy”.  It’s pretty and rarely seen today. Back when people actually wrote Latin, the hedera was used to block off large sections of text or long paragraphs. I studied Latin in college, but personally never came across this mark.

It’s pretty, timeless, less pedantic, and less obvious than the irony or other admittedly cool marks. There are lots of different variations too, from clean to frilly. I want one.

Now the question is… where does it go?

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Give it up girl: Writerly advice on creative control

It’s always interesting when my worlds collide as a writer and actor.

A while ago I auditioned for an independent film that, really, sounded like a fantastic project. The story concept was novel and sharp, the characters were relatable but not cliche, and a surfeit of zombie killing was inevitable. I was thrilled.

I went to the audition, submitted my headshot and information, and was handed sides to go over for the read. But the script I was given wasn’t full of zombie-killing awesomeness. It was a scene from “Pretty Woman”. I was confused… and slightly nauseated. When I asked the casting assistant what was up, she gave me a loaded look and shrugged.

Actor hat on. I dug in, read, and felt pretty good about it. The next day the director called me and said I was being considered for the female lead, and would I meet him for a second read. I said yes of course, and asked if he wanted to send me sides to prepare. He said no, because he trusted no one with his script, not even his sister, and that I’d be required to sign an NDA to even look at the script in person. Long story short, you won’t be seeing me killing zombies any time in the near future. Sad, but true.

;

Here’s the thing. As a writer, your words go out into the world, where you can’t protect them. They run around and party with bad words, misspelled words, and words that make no sense. You can’t shield them from corruption or abuse. Hollywood knows this, Silicon Valley knows this, hell, TMZ knows this. Yes you have implicit copyright, but creative control is hard to wrangle when you’re blasting buckets of text into the internets. I’d hazard to guess it’s pretty much impossible. Just like photography… (and if you know me you know why I say this), the copy/paste option can create a lot of conversation in a model’s life. At some point, you just have to stop thinking about it. It’s out there. Deal.

Writing is an art, and like many artistic endeavors, it’s highly collaborative. Yes you can create art alone… I’m not saying you can’t or that it doesn’t happen. When I start a project it’s usually when I’m alone. Most artists I personally know do start working on their own. But it can get lonely sometimes, and you can get a little bit of what scuba divers call “rapture of the deep”. You lose perspective on a piece and forget which way is up. Aside from perspective, a lot of projects simply require collaboration. Directors use actors, assistants, makeup, hair, and wardrobe people, DPs, grips. Painters use models, other painters, muses. And even the solo, curmudgeon-y writer has editors, publishing house readers, proofreaders, and yes… even a boss sometimes. We have to trust each other and work together, knowing that the end result might not match precisely what is in our minds’ eyes, but that together, for all of us, the vision should be something we’re all pretty happy with.

A willingness to share is risky, no doubt, but in the end, it’s part of why you’re making art in the first place. To share.

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