"I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I'm doing." - John Cage

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

And if I successfully write a shitty first draft in November, then what?

It's always more fun with a friend.

You can re-enter your work, re-vision the draft, on your own.  Go for it. 


Continue to set up accountability, what worked for you in November and supported you to produce this fantastic, exciting, ambiguous first draft:

Starting January 2017! Revision and Development Writing Workshop for Fiction, Essay, and Memoir.

Attention Nanowrimo-ers!

This workshop is deadline- and goal-oriented to complete the next draft of a project for publication. In this small workshop, the goal is to revise your first draft by pushing further to the next level, strengthening your writing skills, and simultaneously exploring meaning in your writing. Plot, structure, character development, voice, setting, time, subtext, dialogue. You will get professional feedback for developing the heart of your subject to unearth what really matters. Learn techniques to creatively so that your writing stands out as surprising and original to an editor. Call for details.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ask not what you can do for Nanowrimo, but what Nanowrimo can do for you (and still make a donation)

I've been saying for a long time now that before I can experiment with writing prose (essay and short story) that I need to complete my poetry manuscript. A few weeks ago I woke up with the knowledge that it was time to commit to writing the prose, to moving on to a new project, that "shiny new thing" as Neil Gaiman called it in this talk at Google Authors.  Taking on this new project in no way means I'm leaving the manuscript in the dust.  In fact, I have a new fire under my butt to get it ready for submission.

Some of you have committed to Nanowrimo and some are still on the fence.  Nanowrimo.org inspires and supports nearly 300,000 writers each November to write the first draft or 50,000 words of a novel (or other prose/hybrid creation) by November 30th.

Here's an excerpt I'm reading by Elisa Albert from her essay titled The Snarling Girl that might speak towards making this commitment:

"I write to make sense of things, to make order from chaos, to make something from nothing, to examine my own thinking. Because what I have found in the writing of others sustains me. Because while I am struggling to live, the writing—a kind of parallel life—helps me along. Because language is my jam. Because I never learned to play the guitar and no one ever asked me to sing in a band.
I mean, writing is liberation! Or so I tell my students, over and over and over again. Flex your muscles, I tell them. Feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair! Struggle with your shortcomings. Leave everything out on the field! Do it again tomorrow! What rigor. What joy. What privilege. Say whatever the hell you want to say, however you most accurately can! Complete and utter freedom. Work.

And this:

"'The notes for the poem are the only poem,' wrote Adrienne Rich. There it is. There’s my ambition: Notes.

And then this too:

"Keep your head down. Do your work. Focus on the work at hand, not the work that’s done. Do the work you’re called upon to do. Engage with what moves you. Eventually you’ll get recognition. And if you don’t get recognition? Well then, all the more badass to continue working your butt off. Recognition has nothing to do with the work, get it? The work is the endeavor. The work is the process. Recognition comes, if/when it does, for work that is already done, work that is over. Recognition can really fuck you up. Remember the famous koan? The day before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water; the day after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. Substitute recognition for enlightenment, putting aside how ironic that is, and there you have it."

So - personally, I'm looking forward to having a fire under my ass to do the work I've been talking about for a while.  That's what we'll offer each other, myself and my writing buddies.  And some good opportunities to write and drink wine together!

If you are working on a novel, memoir, or book-length writing project, get in touch with me - maybe you'll want to join our writing tribe this November or the revision workshop I'll offer in January to follow up on our 50,000 word drafts!  More on that workshop later -

Thursday, October 13, 2016

How can poetry be an agent of change?

“Poetry is a call to action and it also is action. Sometimes we say, "This tragedy, it happened far away. I don't know what to do. I'm concerned but I'm just dangling in space." A poem can lead you through that, and it is made of action because you're giving your whole life to it in that moment. And then the poem — you give it to everyone. Not that we're going to change somebody's mind — no, we're going to change that small, three-minute moment. And someone will listen. That's the best we can do.” - Juan Felipe Herrera

I was honored to speak on a panel about poetry as an agent of change for 100,000 Poets for Change at the Sierra Arts Gallery in downtown Reno on September 24th. 

The New York Times recently published I, Too by Langston Hughes as the voice for what they wanted to declare:

“Appropriately for a public museum at the heart of Washington’s cultural landscape, the museum’s creators did not want to build a space for a black audience alone, but for all Americans. In the spirit of Langston Hughes’spoem “I, Too,” their message is a powerful declaration: The African-American story is an American story, as central to the country’s narrative as any other, and understanding black history and culture is essential to understanding American history and culture.”

I, Too
I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,"

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

What would be lost in the poem if the simple word “too” was not included? These three letters link the poem to the history and context of ongoing conversations about race and what makes America America.  Poetry is a conversation between the speaker and the reader – an engagement with the reader.  This word “too” gives the poem its timeless relevance.

America is this abstract idea in the poem that is distilled into a person and a kitchen and a table and a meal.  This abstract involves beauty and shame.  For me, poetry merges oppositions in a way that makes ambiguity and emotional truth become the Ah ha! Moment.  And this happens because the reader is in the poem, experiencing the poem as a present act, like Juan Felipe Herrera describes.