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Memoir Writing Lessons #4 and 5: Check

Yesterday’s memoir writing lesson (#4) from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away couldn’t be posted. The prompt is to write “I don’t remember,” and the idea is to dredge up the dark stuff. Her point seems to be (and I have to guess because she doesn’t draw it all out for the reader) that a memoir about only good things happening (what she calls protection) wouldn’t be a memoir/book/story/have-enough-conflict. A story, as you know, has to have conflict–that is what creates the story. Otherwise it is merely a description.

She gives permission to destroy what you write from this exercise–so that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands–at least until you’re ready.

Today’s lesson (#5) is:

Tell me what you will miss when you die.

When I die, I will miss the missing. The longing for something that is just out of reach or long past. When I am dead, this life will be completed, a finished product. It can be altered only by perspectives, as different people revise their thoughts of me through time. But my life will be boxed up and sealed with packing tape. Somebody will write with a fat black marker on the side of the box: Luanne 1 of 1. There will be no more dreams and goals, no more maybes. None of that glorious unexplored space that makes up all that world that is not the self. When I die, I will miss my family. They won’t be my family any more because they will move on and change and become different without me within the family as a living presence. So I will miss them in a physical sense, but also miss them as they are now. I will miss my cats. Since I will no longer be able to worry about them, I will worry about them now and make arrangements for their care when I do die. If the gardener and I die together, the cats will be divided among our two children (they want to take them). 5 + 1 + 2 = 8 cats. They will each have 4 cats, although my son might be in a better spot to handle 5 and daughter 3. I will miss helping them negotiate who takes which cats. When I saw this assignment I thought I would list all my favorites: pumpkin pie with whipped cream, fried zucchini (you knew that was coming), chardonnay, sake, Mountain Dew, trees and lakes, peonies and hummingbirds, cats and elephants and bears, the colors coral, ivory, and black, but when my fingers hit the keys I knew it would be the missing that I would most miss.

 

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These are getting harder!

 

Go ahead and try it. Tell me what you will miss when you die.

young Siren is available at Home Fur Good in Phoenix

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Memoir Writing Lesson #3: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away:

In this exercise, Goldberg asks us to respond to several prompts. They are derived from the “I remember” prompt, but are more specific.  I will choose a couple to publish here.

Give me a memory of the color red. Don’t use the word “red” at all.

In high school I had a pair of floral hot pants that were designed with an overall-style bib front and straps that crossed in the back. The yellow daisies bloomed against a background the shade of a chili pepper.  I’d bought them while shopping with my best friend who went to the high school across town. My high school was far more preppy than hers, so when I walked through the halls in fake patent leather knee-high lace-up boots, a yellow T-shirt, and those shorts, my face and throat flamed with a rosy-hued rash. It didn’t matter that my outfit was the height of fashion on TV–it didn’t fit at my school. I felt as if everyone was looking at me and when I would look at individuals who quickly looked away, I realized I was not being paranoid. I wished I were that little birthday girl in her chiffon dress–the one with the pink top and a skirt decorated with twin-stemmed cherries. In the shorts I felt like a girl with that well-known letter on her chest.

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Tell me about a time you remember rain. Rain does not have to be the main focus.

While walking in the rain, I tend to look down at my feet. As a kid, the sidewalks on my street were uneven and sometimes damaged, so water would puddle easily both on and off the sidewalk. The brown water seeped over my Buster Browns and onto my socks when I made a misstep. Even worse were the worms and nightcrawlers that had come out of their undergrown homes to find death on the sidewalk. I remember walking home from Mrs. Blair’s house (my next door neighbor babysitter), and the time it took to walk down her driveway, up the sidewalk, and up my driveway in the rain amidst the dying worms (that smelled . . . wormy) seemed interminable. In some tiny part of my brain I am always walking that worm gauntlet between babysitter and home.

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Why didn’t I just run from her front door, across our lawns, to my front door? Was I wearing my school shoes and worried that the rain-soaked lawn would be like quicksand? Had I been taught to use the sidewalk?
The red prompt wasn’t nearly as easy as lessons #1 and #2. But the rain one was even harder for me. I couldn’t even remember any events that had happened to me during the rain, other than this memory loop of walking between the two houses. Having my memories narrowed down like this is more difficult than just writing from whatever comes to mind.

 

Go ahead and try it. Start here: Give me a memory of the color red.

Lily Lane (my grandcat and smartest cat in the world)

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Memoir Writing Lesson #2: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away:

Write for 10 minutes on this topic that “hits smack-dab into the heart of memoir.” Don’t sit there and wonder what to write about. Just write what you remember: a list of memories, a sustained memory, something in between, WRITE.

 

I remember . . .

those summer suppers. My mother, often brittle or rigid–afraid?–loosened up in the moist heat of Michigan summers and served those marvelous easy-going summer suppers. Bisquick strawberry shortbread for main course–one summer on the picnic table out back and one summer in the dank basement during a tornado warning. Huge zucchinis from ripping brown bags brought by family and neighbors were sliced, then dipped in beaten egg and flour and fried individually in my mother’s trusty electric frying pan. She carried that pan with her from our house in town to our lake cottage where we lived for three months every summer. The pan’s striped black cord snakelike between outlet and the pan heated right on our table, but the breaded slices were forked and eaten almost the moment she slipped her spatula under them and placed them on the paper-toweled plate. Large red tomatoes, also sliced, dripped seedy juice over the plate and then down our chins. Peapods, just hours off their stems from a farmer’s roadside stand, we ate with the zucchini and tomatoes. Boiled new potatoes. When I bit into one, its flesh so creamy and smooth, I barely recognized it as related to the aging Russets we ate in winter. I remember that in the winter, my mother built our meals around fried chicken, fried “hamburgs,” calves liver (‘n onions), pot roast, chicken (n’ dumplings), ground beef spaghetti, pork tenderloin, and the like. But in the summer, the only meats I remember were from my father’s grill–chicken breasts and hamburgers–and hot dogs for the fire pit Dad had built on the sand in front of the cottage. Summer foods were Michigan cherries, the raspberries my father grew because I loved them, strawberries, and peaches. They were the vegetables from my grandfather’s garden, from our neighbors’ gardens, from the farmstands. And I remember the ice cream that we swirled with Hershey’s syrup. The cherry and orange popsicles, the creamsicles and pushups. The fudgesicles.  Next morning we had blueberries or strawberries with our cereal. When I make fried squash today I can have as much as I want–I don’t have to share with my parents, my brother, the ubiquitous guests at our table. I can have as many popsicles as I like. There is nobody to say, “One is enough.”

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I went over the 10 minutes a bit as I didn’t feel I had finished what I wanted to say.

When you have a lot of memories it is sometimes hard to grab just one and write. I could have listed memories, but instead I took the very first memory that showed up right before my eyes and went with it for the assignment. When I look back at it, I see something interesting about memory and memories. I created a bit of a palimpsest.  From Merriam-Webster:

palimpsest

noun pa·limp·sest \ˈpa-ləm(p)-ˌsest, pə-ˈlim(p)-\
Popularity: Top 40% of words

Simple Definition of palimpsest

  • : a very old document on which the original writing has been erased and replaced with new writing

  • : something that has changed over time and shows evidence of that change

The palimpsest in this assignment can be found in the layering of the ages I was for these memories and the layering of the houses we lived in. For the strawberry shortcake memories in the basement and at the picnic table, we lived in the first house I remember. We lived there until I was past 8 1/2; that house had a bomb shelter in the basement. But we didn’t have the lake cottage until I turned 12. And, at the time we lived at the lake, we didn’t even live during the winter in the house we moved to after the bomb shelter house. We had already moved on to a third house! But you can’t see evidence of this in the assignment unless you have more information. This is one thing that makes memoir writing so difficult. Our memories form this palimpsest, where we are the documents upon which “original writing” memories have been erased and replaced with new memories. But the original memories are never completely erased. We retain them in bits and pieces and they meld with the new memories. This creates these complex human brains of ours, but it makes memoir writing super difficult.

 

Go ahead and try it. Start here: I remember . . .

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Memoir Writing Lesson #1: Check

Looking for a way to get back into writing, I picked up (again) my copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away, a memoir writing text. The beauty of this book is that it doesn’t lecture about craft; rather, each tiny chapter gives at least one short writing assignment and a fascinating exploration/explanation of what the assignment will do for your writing.

To keep myself on point, I plan to publish some of the unrevised results of my “assignments.” The idea is to respond to the prompt and go for ten minutes. Write crap if that is what comes out. But write for the full 10. Write “What am I looking at?” whenever you need a jumpstart.

What am I looking at?

A light filters down from above through wood-framed glass shelves. The top shelf is so well lit that I can read the labels on the corks making up the hand-crafted pumpkin: Glass Mountain, Torre Fosca, Murphy Good. The plump green insides of the tea cozy. A white porcelain teapot with a faint green Japanese scene. The funky mauve print teapot. And another tea cozy–burgundy–hidden in the corner, but the light seeks it out. On the middle shelf, on the top of the white teapot, the knob of the gold-leaf lid gleams, a reminder that this elegant pot came free by mistake from the company. It throws the rest of the shelf into shadow–teapot, books I’m using in a small stack, a bobblehead Puss in Boots that reminds me of Macavity who died over a year ago. Hard to believe that the movie makers had never met Mac and his larger-than-life personality. The bottom shelf’s contents are dark against dark; I can only make out their shapes–no colors–, the dancing light on the rhinestones of the business card display, the white greeting card from a friend. Tucked against the wall are smaller dark shapes, but I know them by the feel in my hand. Plastic mice laser pointers for the cats. If I hold one and push the button, its red light attracts a cat who tenses. Her eyes follow the red. Another cat tenses.

Underline the last sentence: Another cat tenses.

After finishing my assignment I wondered about the word funky. It has so many meanings, including something icky. But I mean it more in the sense of fun and quirky, a bit hip, but a bit of a “miss.”

Then I was instructed to go for another ten minutes on “I’m thinking of.” Follow the same instructions for the above assignment.

Goldberg says to go back to these assignments over and over, like a dancer or athlete practicing and putting your muscles through the same paces.

 

Do you want to try it? Go ahead: What am I looking at?  Then: What am I thinking of?

 

Felix

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C.D. Wright on Revision

Off playing with my uncle and aunt who are visiting from Mountain Home, Arkansas.

The other day I was watching video clips of poet C. D. Wright who passed away January 12. Coincidentally, she was born in Mountain Home. I found this video where she talks about revision and “the writing mind,” as I would call it.

From what I can find online, they still don’t know how C.D. died. She went to sleep that night and never woke up again. Tests could not determine a cause of death. She was 67 years old and in great shape. A very vital member of the poetry community.

Here’s an article about her death that quotes her brother. Family Mourns Death of Poet Born in Mountain Home

I love how she talks in this video about the way her own mind works regarding writing and revision. She talks about her mind idling after it takes in information. That she can’t respond immediately. I well know that feeling! How about you? 

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You Wanted to Hear What That Flash Nonfiction Course Was Like?

Marie from 1WriteWay and I completed our Flash Essay on the Edge course. It was offered by Apiary Lit, which offers editorial services, as well as courses they call workshops.

The course instructor was talented writer and teacher Chelsea Biondolillo. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, Passages North, Rappahannock Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Shenandoah, and others. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is a 2014-15 O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University. You can check out Chelsea here or do a search for her pieces in online magazines. Her knowledge of the genre and generosity to share that knowledge with her students was outstanding.

I took the course because I hadn’t written for months, mainly because of my father’s illness and death. Knowing the way I operate, I figured that a course would force me to focus and get a little writing done.

As planned, Marie and I evaluated the course when we were finished. We are both posting a list of the pros and cons of the course, as we saw it. At the end of the list, I’ll give you my additional impressions. Check out Marie’s post because she will give her own impressions.

Course Textbook

PROs

  • The teacher prep was outstanding. She provided a wealth of readings, which were useful in showing me what flash nonfiction can look and sound like.
  • The course was only four weeks, so I found that to be very manageable. If it had been longer, I would have been too stressed during the summer and at this time in my life.
  • The instructor generally gave useful feedback, seemed qualified in the subject, and was very nice. She seemed to love her subject.
  • The instructor was accessible, responding within the same day if there was a question or concern.
  • Other than a problem I will list under CONs, the website was pretty easy to negotiate.
  • The online classroom had various forums that enabled you to share your work with the other students and have discussions.
  • The writing prompts were generally interesting, but I didn’t feel tied to them, which was good.
  • The course was not graded.  I could focus on what I wanted to turn in, not what I thought I had to turn in in order to get an A.
  • The course got me writing without adding stress to my life.
  • I got more writing done in this past month than I would have otherwise.
  • I feel that I know where to go with flash nonfiction now. It would be ideal to get more feedback down the road on attempts at Flash Nonfiction, but at least I feel much more comfortable with the genre from taking this course.
  • Above all, I had fun with the readings and the writing.

CONS

  • Although there were forums available, we had no real discussion of any of the readings. We were not strongly encouraged to interact with each other. We had maybe one discussion prompt during the whole course.
  • The readings and essay examples were available through either some kind of Adobe program that took a bit of time to figure out, or through hyperlinks that weren’t always easy to download.
  • We posted our written assignments privately to the instructor so I had no way of learning from what others had turned in or from reading instructor comments on the work of others. I didn’t care for this method as it diminished what I could learn from the course by a hefty percentage. I suppose this is the difference between the workshop method and a traditional style class.
  • We felt isolated in this class and had little interaction with anyone but each other and the instructor.  In the discussion forum, one other student interacted with us, and another made a couple of independent comments.  Other than that, it was a strangely quiet class.
  • Two platforms were used for the course:  an online classroom and a blog, so sometimes I had a little trouble negotiating the course. Sometimes I had to login in two places. This inconvenience turned out to be less of a problem than I first anticipated, but it could be streamlined.  The blog material could have been included on the classroom platform.
  • Since I don’t know how many people were in the course, I don’t know the instructor’s workload. My belief is that in a course that is short in length, the instructor should return assignments in short order. The lag time between turning in an assignment/beginning reading for a new lesson and getting the instructor’s feedback on my previous assignment was a little too long for my comfort.
  • The price at $199 was a little steep for four weeks and no discussion/no workshopping.

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 I want to make clear that I am really glad I took the course. Apiary hired a qualified instructor and offered a solid, contemporary course. There was so much that was right about the course. But I think it needs a little tinkering to make it better in terms of both learning environment and the economy of the course.

The above list really hits the main points of what I liked and didn’t care for about the course. The oddest thing for me was working in such an isolated environment. I’ve been in many workshops, and this isn’t a workshop. In workshops, your work is presented to the teacher and classmates. Typically, you receive feedback from both the instructor and at least a fair number of peers. I learn this way from what several people have to say about a piece. And I learn a lot from reading the work of others and seeing what all, especially the instructor, have to say about a variety of writing.

That said, there are people who hate workshops, generally because they have had a bad experience with one. I also find it fun to diss them sometimes. But, overall, they are an effective way to improve one’s writing.

The class seemed eerily quiet, perhaps because it wasn’t a workshop. But if we had had discussions about our readings, that would have provided some connection between students.

One other student (besides Marie and me) did participate in the class as much as possible. The course had a feature that she and I both used. It was called the Work-Sharing Blog. We were allowed to post anything we wanted to and see if anybody would give us feedback. It was not encouraged by the instructor or the course setup, but this other student and I both took advantage of it. I was thrilled to get feedback from her and from Marie on a piece I’ve struggled with.

I’ve taken online writing courses from a variety of schools/companies. They all have their pros and cons. For what I wanted this summer, Apiary’s course satisfied me fairly well.

If you are looking for an online writing course, my suggestion would be to decide how you want to learn and then ask questions. If you want a workshop, ask if all students will be sharing their work with the class and if the class will be providing peer feedback. Will there be guidelines for providing that feedback? The guidelines protect the writer from snarky or downright mean classmates. If you don’t want a workshop, ask those questions, too. Be aware that the majority of online writing courses are workshop-based.

Have fun! It’s so rewarding to get motivation, specialized readings, and writing feedback all in one place.

Once I get my thoughts together on the subject, I’ll post something about the genre of flash nonfiction, to give you an idea of what we were working on.

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Mourning, Memories, Story, and Reflection

Between extra work, mourning, and a new project, I am wiped out. My cats have sad faces and obviously miss Mac. Felix, my big tabby, hid under the bed during a thunderstorm–something he’s never done before. He’s frightened not to have Mac around to protect him.

Grief has an insidious way about it. There is the past and then there are the stories we create about the past and our reflection upon them.

I’m still trying to rise out of the swamp around me.

To that end, along with Marie from 1WriteWay (yay!), I’m taking a four week course from Apiary Lit in “Flash Essay on the Edge.” You’re right: the title is perfect for me right now.  I’ll keep you posted. When we’re done, Marie and I will review the course.

Have a wonderful fourth of July. When I was a kid, I used to spend it on the lake with my father.

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Let’s Talk About Writing Process

Sherri Matthews who writes A View From My Summerhouse tagged me to write about my writing process.  She wrote about her own here. Sherri’s very welcoming blog shows her wonderful personality, her stories, and her photographs. I particularly love the way she crosses the pond by writing about her life in the UK and her experiences living in the US.Sherri

Sherri discovered her true calling to write three years while supporting her daughter through her diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.    Since then she has had articles, poems and a short story published in magazines and two anthologies. She is writing her first book, a memoir telling the story of her three years spent with her American G.I. and the catastrophic events that changed both their lives forever. A born and bred Brit, Sherri moved to California in the mid 1980’s where she raised her three children for seventeen years.  Returning to the UK after her marriage broke up in 2003, today and happily remarried, she lives, writes and takes endless photographs in the West Country of England with her hubby, daughter, two cats and an African Land Snail called Vladimir (her daughter’s). Sherri publishes regularly on her blog, ‘A View From My Summerhouse’.

You can read about Sherri’s memoir book project here.

Writers meme

When I agreed to be tagged by Sherri, I had forgotten that I already wrote about my writing process last spring. At first I thought, why bother to think about this again. But after reading what I wrote at that time, I realized that a lot has changed. For that reason, I thought I’d think about the process again. Also, I wrote a lot about blogging at that time, but today I’ll focus on my other writing

1. What am I working on at the moment?

Last spring I was putting together my full-length poetry manuscript and working on my book-length memoir.

Since then, my poetry collection Doll God is being published by Aldrich Press. I finally started thinking of poetry beyond the book and began to write a series of poems based on old family photographs and the results of my genealogical research. Maybe I’ll collect them into a chapbook, eventually.

However, I just heard from the publisher of Doll God. Kelsay Books plans to put the book out earlier than expected! Perhaps mid-January. I’m getting excited, but I’m also getting too nervous.

I started working on short memoir pieces to send out. A chapter of my memoir was published here. Several other pieces are in various stages of completion and two have been submitted to magazines. Since I’ll be working on my memoir during my Stanford University certificate tutorial this winter, I will have to set aside the shorter pieces.

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I wasn’t given this question last time. It’s a very difficult one to answer because I haven’t looked at my own work with the analytic eye necessary for that. Instead, I write by instinct, using my own individual voice, experience, and outlook. I’ve been told often enough that I’m a little bit of a nut or that my view is “idiosyncratic,” so I’m pretty sure that means that my take is a little different. But I’ve also been told that my experience resonates with others, so maybe everybody is a little different, a little “nutty.”

My memoir is a story that is specific to me and to my family, but it has commonalities with the lives of many other people. It’s an emotional history of a family.

My poetry springs from the interaction of heart and head.

3.  Why do I write what I do?

I write poetry because I love to play work with language and see a poem take shape that is more complex and rich than what I envisioned when I began.

Why memoir? Because I am writing a burdensome history out of my body. Once it is shaped on the page, I no long have to carry the burden. The more well-crafted it is, the better job I’ve done at moving away from the raw material. Additionally, I am learning (in a therapeutic sense) how to recast my history in a light that feels healing.

4.  How does my writing process work?

The process I go through is the same as it was last spring:

For prose, I write in Word, one scene at a time. When I feel that I’ve taken a scene as far as I can at that moment, I put it away and move on to another scene. But I always print out drafts, revise by hand, and then make the corrections on the computer. I revise over and over and over again, often times for several little changes each time. It’s a big tree waster, but one I can’t seem to avoid at this point in my writing. However, I do turn the pages over and re-print on the other side.

Poems sometimes start out by hand, but in general, I don’t have an affinity for writing by hand and wonder how Jane Austin ever did it.

Process also includes what I do once I’ve taken a piece as far as I can. I do like to have a trusted reader read my work. My in-person writing group–Rudri at Being Rudri and Renee at Unpacked Writer–give me great feedback on where to improve and what to rethink. I have another long-time friend who is a fabulous writer and editor who is also a fabulous reader. These women help me bring my prose to completion. I wish I had friends who were this reliable as poetry readers, but I have not been as lucky in that genre.

I would like to introduce my three  four (rules are meant to be broken) nominees who will post their responses to these four writing process questions on their blogs. 

First up is American Ellen Morris Prewitt, an award-winning fiction writer. I love her stories. She’s recorded many of them in audio format, too, and listening to her read is quite the experience. She has a southern accent and a sort of deadpan delivery. What a delectable combination! Have a listen here.

Here’s a description of Ellen’s fascinating life right from her own distinctive southern voice:

My life has been shaped by two very early events: I was born into the racism of the civil rights South, and I carry the grief of my daddy being killed by a train. Much of my writing carefully picks at the nuances of racism, and many of my stories involve the child trying to understand the space left by a missing parent. The two jobs for which I’ve been well-paid are lawyering in Jackson, Mississippi and walking the runway in Memphis. I follow my own peculiar definition of God, which led me to start a writing group of men and women who have experienced homelessness. I love all the people in my life but mostly my husband, my dog (yes, she’s a person), and my two grandbabies. I’ve been known to appear in public in costume.Ellen

Ellen blogs at www.ellenmorrisprewitt.com under the tagline “Ellen Morris Prewitt: My Very Southern Voice.  In addition to Ellen’s skillful and engaging stories, I love reading Ellen’s posts for their heart and inspiration. Her work with the homeless is so important.

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Next up is my Canadian buddy Sue Fletcher aka Menomama3. Sue writes two blogs.  I’ve been reading her first blog since I started blogging. She’s got a great voice and wonderful sense of humor–and I think eventually she will need to start sending out her memoir pieces. What she shares on her blog are wonderful stories and observations. This is what she says about herself:

Here’s a confession: When people read and comment on something I’ve written, I am thrilled to bits. But I also blog because it feels good to explore what’s in my head and work it out through writing. In a way it’s like taking your clothes to the dry-cleaners. Inside the closet they looked kinda dingy and lost among all the dresses and blouses and skirts and slacks. But when you show them the light of day and look at them one at a time and give them a good cleaning they look all new and fresh. Just like memories.

I call myself Menomama3 because when I started blogging four years ago I was deep in the throes of menopause, and my three daughters were like hormonal pressure cookers. Release was essential and writing was the form. Better than running away from home – me, not the girls.

Anyway, there are two Menomama3 blogs. “Wuthering Bites” is poetry, photos, and a few little stories. The other, “Life in a flash”, is an assortment of whatever comes into my head during dog-walking. Then I have to bolt home and write it down before I forget. Which I suppose is also what the blogs are about. Writing memories down before I forget.

menomama

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Let’s go Down Under to meet novelist Dianne Gray.

Dianne is Australian author who lives in tropical Queensland, Australia. She has won numerous writing awards for her short stories and novels and is currently renovating an old club house she had moved to the family farm in 2012. She is currently working on three new novels which will be published in the coming months.

Dianne’s Freshly Pressed adorned blog can be found here. She blogs about her life on the family farm, as well as other aspects of daily living in rural Australia. Her resume is chockfull of book publications and writing awards.

Dianne

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Quite recently, I found Adrienne Morris’ blog. And I love it. It’s intelligent and quirky and always has something new to say about the past.

Adrienne Morris is a writer, living in the country, who milks goats, chases chickens and sometimes keeps the dogs off the table while writing books about the Weldon and Crenshaw families of Gilded Age Englewood, New Jersey. Her first novel, The House on Tenafly Road was selected as an Editors’ Choice Book by The Historical Novel Society. http://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-house-on-tenafly-road/

You can find her blog, Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained–Books & Writing at Middlemay Farm, here.

Adrienne MorrisEnjoy getting to know these bloggers if you don’t already read their wonderful blogs–and watch for their writing process posts!

 

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You Did It

I experimented with something new in my writing. I wrote a poem and a story in second person. Everywhere I wanted to say “I did” this, I wrote “you did.” It’s not a point of view that would work for every piece–and it has to be used sparingly–but it really got me out of my writing ruts (craters, according to the mean editor in my head).

EWE WITH WRITING  OR  WRITING WITH YOU

EWE WITH WRITING
OR
WRITING WITH YOU

In the story, writing about “you” instead of “I” gave me that needed distance between the me of today and the me of 1979. The two women are barely the same person.

Here’s a sample from the story:

Not that long ago, you’d partied in your college town with a friend and her boyfriend, an ugly drunk. When he got you alone in the kitchen, he’d blown rum breath in your face and fingered your long brown hair, the hair you straightened with giant rollers . . . .

Here it would be in 1st person:

Not that long ago, I’d partied back home with a friend and her boyfriend, an ugly drunk. When he got me alone in the kitchen, he’s blown rum breath in my face and fingered my hair, the hair I straightened with giant rollers . . . .

There’s nothing wrong (in my estimation haha) with the second one, but writing in the “I,” I need to show more introspection and accountability for myself. In the “you,” I don’t need to do so and that forces the reader to read more sharply and pay attention more closely. For a short piece like this (500 words total), that’s the reading effect I wanted. Notice that I also felt funny about saying “long brown” about my hair. Too many adjectives about the self. But in 2nd person I can get away with it.

In the poem, experimenting with 2nd person added a mysterious layer that lends depth and texture.

In both pieces, the reader is approached more intimately and encouraged to participate in the birth of the piece (writing + reading = birth).

If you feel that you’re in a rut with your writing, why don’t you give it a try? Either write a story or poem from scratch in the 2nd person point of view (POV) or take an existing draft and change it. But when you revise into the new POV, be sure to keep yourself loose enough to make other changes as you go. Once you change POV you are changing the story in more ways than you can imagine.

 

Write a story or poem in 2nd person point of view. Or revise a 1st person story or poem into 2nd person.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Editing, Essay, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Poetry, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

Writing with a Side of Music

The other day I tweeted a question:  When you write poetry do you listen to music? Or do you find it a distraction? #poetry #music #writing. And by poetry I was thinking “writing.”

Meowsic

Meowsic

Since I have soooooo many twitter followers (huge winky face) I got back exactly, um, one response. This person said he listens to Mozart and Vivaldi for poetry writing.

That made some sense to me because I remember when I wanted to stimulate my first child’s creativity, I sent him to Suzuki class to learn Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi.

I want to make good citizens. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.

But, even with The Four Seasons (Vivaldi) going in the background, I couldn’t write with music playing. Not poetry. Not prose. Nuttin.

Go ahead and try it yourself. Can you write to this version of “Autumn”?

How do people do it? My mind is going off with the music and not going where the poem wants it to go. It’s like patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time. Or running a marathon while I’m sleeping (or ever).  It just can’t be done–not by me.

So I tried to figure out what my writing habits are. They have developed over time. I grab whatever 30 minute block of time I can find, a piece of chocolate, and a soda (and you thought it would be tea?), and I start typing on the computer keyboard. Is that a good habit? I don’t know. I feel it was born out of desperation.

What are your writing habits? Do you write to music?

You can make my day if you follow me on Twitter here, by the way.

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Filed under Art and Music, Essay, Poetry, Writing, Writing Tips and Habits