Praise Does Not Make a Writer Better

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Over the years I’ve taken many writing and English classes. I enjoyed most and did learn some stuff. But only one has ever had a major impact on me and drastically improved my writing. It was a creative writing workshop I took once I returned to school. For the first half of the semester I dreaded it. Once I befriended a classmate we commiserated regularly about how much of a hard ass the instructor was.  The first piece I handed in, he gave back to me refusing to grade it until it was properly proofread and edited. He once told her to completely scrap a piece she shared in class. Essentially he had high standards and was brutally honest when we fell short. It took a while to sink in but we eventually realized he wasn’t tough on us for the hell of it or because we were bad writers. Actually, quite the opposite was more likely.

He was hard on us because he knew we could do better. I eventually came to appreciate it and realized that it was exactly what I needed. Throughout school I always had basic grammar issues and struggled proofreading and editing my work. It was often filled with typos, missing words, and grammatical errors. I don’t remember a time I didn’t get something back filled with red marks. However, my grades were usually pretty good, teachers praised my writing and encouraged me. My first college writing class was a reality check, it was the first time those minor errors had a major affect on my grade. However, I was able to hand in revised papers for a better grade. Unfortunately, my proofreading skills did not improve, instead I relied on the professor to point out the issues in my writing. Despite many of the problems being basic grammar issues I didn’t understand, ie run-on and fragment sentences, she also encouraged me and complimented my writing skills.

The instructor for the workshop, was the first person that ever pushed me to improve. All the praise I had received over the years made me a lazy writer. I had a false sense of confidence and couldn’t see where or how to improve. He did not sugar coat things, he cared more about the writing than hurting my feelings. The last assignment of the semester was a one act play. That’s the one area of writing I never had any interest in so my I didn’t put much effort into it. I don’t remember the exactly what I said but it was some excuse for it not being better. He said, “No, it’s because you gave up.” It was the absolute truth and was better than any amount of praise I could ever get.

Have you ever received feedback that hurt your feelings but helped your writing?  I’d love to hear from other writers about who or what helped you improve your writing. Tell me about the teacher, mentor, etc. that helped you along the way in the comments below.

Book vs Movie: A Simple Favor

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It’s been a while since I did one of these posts and this one is the result of pure coincidence. I had no idea the movie was based on a book and checked it out of library hoping to just watch an entertaining movie. A day or so later before I even got the chance to watch it, I came across the book. My crazy brain decided it was a sign, so I held off watching the movie until after the book. I was able to finish it in a matter of days, it’s a pretty quick read, although I may have rushed it a bit.

The book is okay, it’s a good read. It jumps into the story quickly, with a blog entry from Stephanie about her missing friend Emily. Stephanie is a stay at home mommy blogger, very sweet, and innocent seeming. She comes across very sympathetic especially placed opposite the darker, mysterious Emily. Most of the book is written from her point of view and we get a really well rounded picture of her. She has some questionable actions but she still seems like the victim and you can’t help but root for her. On the other hand the few chapters from Emily’s point of view kind of just make you not like her, at all. It sheds a little light on her motivations, however, she really seems to lack substance. It’s all very surface level making her seem selfish without any remorse of self reflection.

The movie is not so different from the book, we get the same basic story with a few different twists. Some are completely understandable and necessary, for example changing Stephanie’s written blogs into videos. One change I really liked was adding to Emily’s backstory which was pretty non-existant in the book. The movie does a much better job of creating a well rounded character and we can almost understand some of her actions. I really liked the movie, until the end. I’ll start by admitting that the ending of the book is pretty far-fetched and unrealistic, but not half bad. The movie on the other hand is not just unbelievable but actually bad. It ends with this scene that completely does not fit with the tone of the rest of the movie. While the movie does have some humorous moments, mostly due to Anna Kendrick, it’s pretty dramatic. However, the ending is almost comedic. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it felt like a parody of the rest of the movie. (If that makes sense.)

I think the movie did a good job with the source material. In fact, many of the deviations made it better than the book. But I just can’t get over the ending. In the end neither was that good.

Have you read the book, seen the movie? Let me know what you thought of either or both.

Celebrate National Poetry Month

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OctPoWriMo Day 30 – Celebrate

Come join the gathering party

Cares thrown to the wind

Caused by strong libations

Caressing intimate places

Consumed by the spirits

Careless and uninhibited reveler

Cautions bring nobody joy

Visit my poetry blog to read more.

Writing Trouble

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The past couple of weeks, I’ve felt pretty good about my progress writing. I have several blog drafts I worked on and other projects offline I’ve been working on. I really started feeling like I could do this, you know get ahead and just basically get somewhere. There are so many things I want to do. Things I’ve been trying to do. Goals I’d like to accomplish. Stories I’d like to write. Just in general moving forward. I thought I’d gotten past the excuses and bullshit that I let get in my way.

Then today I sat down, very motivated to finish writing and editing some of the drafts. Before starting I ended up going onto Youtube, big mistake. I wasted an hour watching a video. Okay that’s fine I can recover, it’s early I still have all day. So I finish up the video, move over to WordPress and try to work on something. I ended up trashing the whole draft. The topic, the approach, everything seemed right. It seemed like exactly the kind of thing I should be writing and posting about. Nothing I typed seemed right though. I thought maybe I’ll switch over to something else. Just looked at them and felt absolutely no inclination to work on them. Again a great idea until I actually start to execute. I feel stuck. Now I just don’t want to do anything.

Thought maybe writing this might make me feel better. It hasn’t. But hey I’m posting something. (That is if I actually go through with posting this.)

Book VS Movie: The Shining by Stephen King

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Despite watching the movie The Shining a bunch of times and being a huge Stephen King fan, I never got around to reading the book. When I started this series of posts I decided it was about damn time.

It’s a different experience reading the book after already having seen the movie. I found it really interesting to get more background about the Torence family, our main characters. The novel includes details about their life before moving to Denver, Jack’s alcoholism, how he lost his teaching job, and even memories of his own abusive father. I’ve read that Stephen King didn’t like the adaptation mainly due to the lack of character arc. I can understand his point, Jack’s descent in the novel is much slower and you actually see his struggle for control. You really see a guy that wants to do the right thing for his family. And one thing I did always hate about the movie was Wendy. The character in the book is nothing like the weak and timid woman in the movie. I can’t really say I like the book better, but it was nice to really go in depth into the characters, even some of the minor characters like the cook, Dick Hallorann.

While the novel and the movie share a basic story, they are depicted in very different ways. Few of the iconic scenes from the movie appear in the book. There are not creepy twins,  the elevators do not spew blood, no hedge maze and the ending is completely different. Some of these do take inspiration from the book, for example the caretaker that killed his family had two daughters and the elevators were a major aspect of the haunting. Also the book featured topiary hedges in animal shapes instead of the maze. I assume the limitation of the time kept them from featuring these creatures come to life as they do in the book. For those that pay attention there are also very small details, for example the scrapbook that has a major role in the book does at least make an appearance in the movie.

So now I’ve read the book and really liked it. Still love the movie though. I can’t really say I think either is better. Yes the movie deviates from the book, a lot. But in my opinion many of the changes were due to the change of media. The movie was good because of the visual elements while the book was much more focused on the characters. I’m not sure the movie would have been as good if they tried to stick closer to the novel.

The Road So Far 2018

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It’s been way too long since a new post, and like forever since any updates to The Road So Far series. By now I have been living in Pennsylvania for over two years. Even after that it still seems so unreal to me. I attempted to dive right in and actually found a job just a month after moving, at a local department store for the holidays. Well it didn’t even last until Thanksgiving. Luckily I had savings and some extra cash due to a retroactive pay raise from my time at the college. So I managed to survive, financially at least. I may have lost my mind somewhere in the house during the winter though.

That’s the hardest part about getting used to living here, there is nothing to do. Even with working full-time now I can go absolutely mad of boredom sitting in the house, and until I start driving I wont have anywhere to go. Even then, it’s not what I’m used to.

Eventually, that first winter passed and I got my butt out of the house and moving. I started going on long walks and passed a temp agency with a posting about a clerical job. I ended up picking up a couple of hours a work in the temp agency office. Due to my impeccable my timing, just as the hours dwindled down, I started working at the local public library. I worked part-time until the end of the year when a fulltime slot opened up.

Things are good at the library, although there is a lot of down time and it’s easy to get bored. I also was disappointed in the lack of writing programs since before I started the job. So of course killing two birds with one stone I proposed holding a writing workshop. This past June I held my first one and have continued  monthly since. I can’t believe I get to lead my own workshop. Which I has gone a long way to help improve my motivation and mood in regards to writing. It’s only once a month and it’s rocky some meetings but it’s something I needed pretty badly.

I’ve been really struggling to get into a regular writing routine and finish up some old projects. I had a little success despite my lack of motivation, for last year’s OctPoWriMo I completed more poems than previous years. So far this year I missed a couple of days but am still doing pretty well. Last year’s attempt at NaNoWriMo, on the other hand was plain sad. I guess the time I would and should have spent writing was filled up instead with reading and–more than I care to admit–Netflix binging.

I think sometimes it’s what needed. A little bit of time, especially after a major change, to be easy on ourselves and figure out a new plan. I’ve been really thinking about my situation, my writing, the future and where the hell I go from here. Plus all the reading has made me so much smarter and well informed. (lol maybe) Anyway I think I might just be starting to pull it all together. In addition to my writing workshop, I will be hosting a program for NaNoWriMo. That should give me just that extra bit of motivation I need. I am really hoping to meet the 50,000 word goal and I think I can do it this year.

Generally, things seem to have turned around the past couple of months. I feel more motivated and have been working at ways to squeeze in small burst of writing on my downtime at work, lunch breaks and whenever possible. I scaled back the newsletter from monthly to quarterly; with the small amount of subscribers the amount of time and effort needed monthly just wasn’t worth it. I have ideas of how to build my list, speaking of that you can sign up here to receive the newsletters if you haven’t already.

I’ve been posting this years OctPoWriMo poems to Lex Poetry. Since I’m spending time on poetry, I’m working again on a collection I’d like to publish. Hoping to have a manuscript, at least in rough draft form by the end of the year. I know that’ll be here sooner than I think, but I’m working at it.

 

 

Creative Poetry Books

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I find it really sad that poetry isn’t more widely read. It was never really that popular among the general public, but it’s gotten worse over the years. Now I feel like the only people that read poetry are other poets. There are a number of reasons, but mainly I think it’s because poetry and poets are often is associated with a high level of pretentiousness. However, there are ways that poetry can be written and published in ways that are creative, fun and accessible. The following are a few examples I’ve found that I think might appeal to a wider audience.

Horror Film Poems

Words by Christoph Paul, Art by Joel Amat Güell

I discovered this gem at last years Brooklyn Poetry Festival. The title really just says it all. A book of poems inspired by the horror film genre. It includes a wide variety of films including some of my favorites. As with the movies themselves some are humorous, dark, and thought provoking. It includes along side the poems illustrations. I have to admit I’m not familiar with all of the titles. But that’s a bonus since now I have a bunch of new movies I’ll have to see. I really think this is the perfect book for anybody that’s a fan of both horror movies and poetry, but could be quite a fun read for horror fans.

Poetry Comics From the Book of Hours by Bianca Stone

I’m not even sure where or how I ended up reading about Bianca Stone, the article was about an upcoming book. Always interesting in new poetry I thought it’d be a good idea to check out her previous work before investing in the new one. Curious about the idea of a poetry comic, I figured I’d give it a try. One of the things I love about poetry is the imagery that it creates so why not combine it with actual images.

The artwork is very simple and raw. In fact the whole book has a draft like quality to it.  Both the poetry and the comics are strange. The illustrations don’t always seem to be related to the accompanying text. In general the whole process of reading the book is very disorienting. But I guess that’s the beauty of it.

 

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

By Lita Judge

The minute I saw this book I was intrigued. Not only do I think she is well deserving of the recognition and should be more widely celebrated, but also the concept is interesting. It’s an illustrated novel in verse about Mary Shelley’s life.  It starts with narration from the monster itself, stating the idea that some people didn’t believe a teenage girl could write the book. (It’s accepted that he edited and assisted in it’s writing but some theorize she was not the actual author at all.) Switching to the voice of Mary Shelley it begins with her father sending her away to live with friends in Scotland. While I knew of her relationship with Percy Shelly and the mythos of the creation of Frankenstein, I learned a lot more specific details. One thing I thought was interesting was the idea that it took as much time to write the book as a woman carries a child, nine months. Though coincidental it related to the central theme of the novel, creating life. Continuing through to the end of her life the book concludes with the monster speaking again, taking us full circle.

My Latest Obsession: The Verse Novel

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Obviously I’m familiar with the concept of narrative poetry.  Just like many others I was forced to study Homer’s epics in various literature classes over the years. I’ve also attempted and failed several times to tackle Dante’s Divine Comedy. However, the modern verse novel doesn’t seem to have the same notoriety. In fact it wasn’t until recently that I even knew they existed, much less read any. Now I can’t seem to get enough of them.

The most interesting thing I found looking into the genre is that it appears to be a growing trend in young adult literature. In fact, that’s where my obsession began. I happened to pick up a used copy of Ellen Hopkins Crank. When I bought the book I had no idea that it was actually targeted towards teens. I was a bit surprised because of the very adult topics and it’s graphic depictions. It tells the story of a young girl’s addiction to crystal meth. However, being written from a teenagers point of view and the simplistic style of the poetry, I can see how it appeals to younger readers. Hopkins has published several more verse novels including sequels to Crank. All targeted at teens, they take on difficult subjects such as sex trafficking, drug addiction and mental illness. Her simplistic poetry style makes it a pretty easy read.

The next book I enjoyed was Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Another YA book highlighting a difficult issue that can face teens The main character Will is dealing with the grief of his brother’s violent death. The narrative takes place as he descends the elevator of his apartment building on his way to get revenge. On each floor he meets somebody that was part of the cycle of violence that led to his brothers death. The story is incredibly gripping, and I’m fairly certain I finished it in one day.

I promise this is the last YA book. Sister Slam and The Poetic Motormouth Road Trip by Linda Oatman-High was actually my least favorite so far. It definitely felt more like a book intended for a younger audience. It’s a lot lighter in tone and theme. At first I wasn’t sure I would like it at all. It seemed very juvenile, in style and content. It’s a bit silly but that ended up making it a pretty fun read. In it we meet two recent high school graduates who dream of becoming famous slam poets. Their road trip begins with a poetry slam contest in New Jersey and the adventure continues to New York City. The story itself is ridiculous but the rhythm and rhymes really pulled me in.

My latest read was one of the few adult verse novels I could find available at the my library, The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth. Just looking at the first page I realized this was going to be very different. The YA authors played around with form and style. And for the most part, excluding Sister Slam, were written in free verse. Golden Gate on the other hand is written in a consistent form of sonnets in iambic tetrameter with a set rhyme scheme. It makes it no less enjoyable to read, but due to it’s style and much longer length it definitely not a quick read.  I’ve rather been enjoying the slower pace of action. The novel mainly revolves around John and Liz, a couple who met through a personal ad. The narrative then follows a eclectic group of characters connected to the couple.

I’d love to hear back about your opinions on verse novels. I will be on the lookout for new reads in the genre. Actually I already have my next one picked out Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. It’s about a pack of werewolves in LA, a supernatural horror verse novel. Now that sounds interesting. Leave a comment with your thoughts or any recommendations.

 

Words As Weapons

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I know Seether has a lot of critics, mainly because of their unoriginality. And even I have to admit when I first heard this song I thought it was a remake because it sounded very familiar. But I’m still a fan. Maybe they do borrow some elements from older songs but they usually are pretty original with their lyrics. This song in particular includes a part that I think most writers can seriously relate to.

“All I really want is something beautiful to say
To never fade away
I wanna live forever”

In fact that’s likely the exact ambition and motivation for many writers, past and present included.

In case you are wondering, “Mad World” would the the song that it’s eerily similar to. They aren’t exactly identical, identical but they are close enough that I really did think it was a cover.

But that wasn’t really my point here it was simply an observation about he lyrics themselves. Please feel free to comment with any thoughts, I’d love to hear what you think.

Book vs Movie: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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I have to admit I wasn’t too thrilled with either the book or movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. Mostly I’ve heard of it referenced in relation to other similar dystopian future novels featuring an authoritative government and a controlled passive citizenry. I never really saw the appeal, although I did recently read 1984 and liked it. In Fahrenheit 451, the story is centered on Montag, who’s job as a fireman is to burn books. Inevitably, conflicted about his work, he steals and hides books from the homes he’s sent to. I liked the story, it was okay and the ending was really good. But as Montag begins to read through the books he’s hidden, much of the text ends up being quotes from classic works of literature. Not only does it pull away from the story it started to feel like a chore to read.

On this rare occasion I actually preferred the movie to the book. Except for the one major issue. The movie really emphasizes the lack of text and reading in this world and maybe takes it a little too far. Their newspapers are depicted as pages of pictures only and even work personnel files are simply pictures of the worker at different angles. So how in this world where there’s no way to encounter words does Montag, of all people a fireman, even know how to read. The book doesn’t portray the world as completely lacking the written word, just no books. That makes it much more believable than the movie where there is literally not one written word in this society.

Ignoring that it was a good movie. I enjoyed watching it more than I enjoyed reading the book. Best scene had to be the guys flying around on jetpacks. The movie was made in 1966, so their idea of what the future would look like and the effects to create it are pretty damn funny. They made some minor changes to the story, and the ending was slightly different but it was a pretty good adaptation of the book.