Last Southern Recitations Workshop for Fall

Raleigh Review‘s Southern Recitations workshop and reading series is almost half over! The final workshop for this fall is with Zelda Lockhart November 8-9, 2014. I’m really looking forward to this one as it is a generative workshop, i.e., a lot of writing time. How ’bout you? Need some good, productive, creative-writing time? Sounds like this one will be good for poetry, fiction or memoir! (I’m going for poetry myself.) Incidentally, I recently read Zelda’s novel Fifth Born and found it very compelling.

SouthernRecitationsLogo2_resizedMining the Mirror: Turning Emotional Landmines into Good Literature

November 8-9, 2014 | 10am-4pm Sat & 10am-2pm Sun | 410 N. Boylan Ave., Raleigh | $250, Early bird price $187 through October 25, 2014 | Lunch included both days

Zelda Lockhart

Zelda Lockhart

Writers of all kinds use their personal experience as a starting point for their work, but they often neglect, avoid, or simply don’t realize the deep, rich potential that is there. The Mirror Exercise is designed to help writers use the complex layers of their relationships to bring depth to literary plot. This and others of Lockhart’s writing exercises within The Soul of the Full-Length Manuscript reveal the ways in which our personal plots parallel and are the artistic building blocks for literary plot.

Participants will create a whole short piece of fiction, memoir or small collection of poems within this two-day workshop. Whether you are experienced or novice, this workshop will offer you a way to instill emotional depth into your writing. Register now.

Zelda Lockhart is Director of LaVenson Press Studios, and author of novels Fifth Born, Cold Running Creek and Fifth Born II: The Hundredth Turtle. She was awarded a Barnes & Noble Discovery Award and was a finalist for a Hurston Wright Award and a Lambda Literary Award. Lockhart served as the 2010 Piedmont Laureate for Literature.

What I Learned from Stephen King

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I’ve never read Stephen King. I don’t like scary stories—books, movies, campfire tales. But I’d heard so many good things about King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that, as a writer, I had to pick it up. And…

Wow. I liked his writing. I may have even learned a bit of craft simply by reading his prose. But more than craft, what hit me hard was his advice on process (which, let’s face it, you kind of have to have before craft really matters—I mean, if you don’t write, craft is kind of meaningless, yes?).

Here’s what resonated most for me, at this point in writing space and time:

  • Set a daily writing goal – King writes 2000 words per day and completes it regardless of the time it takes. Alternatively, you could set a time-based goal regardless of word count. Setting goals is nothing new, but it’s nice to get affirmation that the pros do it too. (Or, wait—maybe that’s what makes them pros??)
  • Write first – “Mornings belong to whatever is new—the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on TV, and any revisions that just cannot wait.” Again, prioritizing is nothing new, but how many of us do it well?
  • Write every day – Another piece of well-worn advice, but the rationale was enlightening. “Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind—they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death.” Aha!
  • Get your novel done in three months – At 2000 words/day for 90 days, King’s right—three months yields quite a decent length novel. But again the rationale is key: If you take longer than three months, you get tired of it yourself. See “Write every day” above. Aha!
  • Eliminate distractions – Close the door, close the blinds, and (I’m sure he’d add) turn off email/social media. We’ve all heard this advice, but have you heard a rationale other than “in order to focus”? How about this one: Get rid of the mundane world so that you can create your own. Aha!
  • Rest between drafts – Let your first draft rest (King suggests a minimum of 6 weeks, at least in the context of novels—your boss probably won’t wait for that report past Friday) before looking at it fresh; it should appear alien to you upon rereading. Have you ever thought “Did I really write that? I don’t remember writing that.” No, the writing brownies did not sneak in overnight to write for you. The mind can play wonderful tricks to help you see things anew, allowing you to become a more effective editor.
  • Write the first draft with the door closed and the second (or maybe third) with the door open – Close the figurative door as well as the literal. Listen to yourself and your characters to get the story on the page. Don’t get distracted by others’ opinions or questions about what you’ve written. Responding to someone asking about the symbolism of the apple or to someone telling you how wonderful you are is likely to send you off on the wrong path (focusing on explaining symbols or being wonderful) rather than getting the story on the page. When you’ve revised enough to be comfortable that the story is “done” (i.e., not chock full of holes), go ahead and get the feedback—see what a few select audience members think. I used to have an affirmation “I listen to my own voice.” That’s why!

Thank you, Professor King, for the lessons on process. I will be back when I am ready to learn more about craft. And before then I may even pick up one of your novels.

7 Books to Inspire the Writing of Poetry

After discussing writing prompts and exercises with a friend the other day, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the books I’ve used over the years. With any of these, you have to jump in and try the exercises, even if they don’t necessarily appeal to you. Not everything will work out, but you might find some surprises. And if nothing else, you continue to prime your creativity for “the real thing.”

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The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron – A 12-week course to get you more in touch with your own creativity, whether it’s writing poetry, painting, or something else. You can sometimes find facilitated classes based on this book; I’ve not taken one, but from people who have, I understand it is quite a meaningful and enlightening group experience. I found the book itself to be revelatory for me.

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron – Short chapters with exercises that are not necessarily designed to give you a prompt, but to help you tap into ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that may lead to something. Great book if you want to write but need some encouragement.

The Practice of Poetry: Writing exercises from poets who teach edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell – Exercises from well-known writers such as Rita Dove and Stephen Dunn (as well as poets I’ve never heard of) with some insight about why they use these exercises in their teaching. This is one of my favorites.

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge – Reflections on poetry along with suggestions for practice.

Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse by Mary Oliver – An excellent guide to understanding the formality of poetry: feet, scansion, iambs—it’s all there for the learning.

Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio – Examples of poetry, what makes it work, ways to think about it, and suggestions for practice.

In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit – I’m in the middle of this book right now. The author provides detailed analysis of sample poems and why they work or don’t, in some cases going through iterations to show how a poem can be improved. Quite a lot of ideas to generate your own poems.

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What other books do you suggest to inspire the writing of poetry?