When a Prompt Just Isn’t Enough

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There’s no denying the usefulness of writing prompts. They work great as a quick warm up to get your creative juices flowing. I’ve use them to generate new ideas when I have no idea what to write. I can’t count how many of my stories and poems that started as a response to a prompt. Even if you already have a project in mind they can give you a starting point, which for many people that’s the hardest part.

I have a number of writing prompt books, but have started to find them pretty boring. They’re all pretty much the same and usually very simple. I find myself spending more time looking for a prompt than I do actually writing. Lately instead of simple books of prompts I’ve been going for ones that include more involved exercises. While they can include simple prompts they also include activities that are more interactive or push you to find inspiration in new and different places. I’ve listed a few of the books I’ve found especially helpful below.

The Writer’s Lab: A Place to Experiment with Fiction

At first look this doesn’t look like a book for adults, but when you’re getting creative age doesn’t matter. I think this book would be incredible for people of all ages. It includes a range of different exercises, and some of them seem a little childish, but it’s an absolute gem when you want to get the creative juices flowing. They’re fun, different and get you thinking in different ways. I highly recommend it.

 


Now Write!: Fiction Writing Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers

This is just one in the series of Write Now books, all focused on particular genres. I love the way this book is set up. It’s broken up into sections focusing on different aspects of the writing process. The essays offer advice and lessons on a specific concept and an exercise that puts it to use.

 

The Artist’s Way

So this isn’t exactly a book of writing exercises, it’s not even focused on writing, rather it’s focused on expanding creativity. I include it because the exercises and writing tasks help open your mind to finding inspiration in new and different places. It might not directly lead to any new writing but the affirmations and reflective tasks can cause an attitude shift making it easier to focus on projects your already working on.

 

These are just a few I thought of immediately. I’ll update or post a longer list sometime soon.

If Rushdie Can Do It So Can I

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I was first introduced to Salmon Rushdie’s writing in a college course where I read Midnight’s Children. I was immediately a fan. Since then I’ve read several more of his books and attended readings and speaking engagements. I’ve always believed the old adage of learning how to write by reading. But it always felt like a very general concept until I started reading Rushdie. I feel like I’ve learned more casually reading his work than I ever did studying other writers in depth in school. I will likely go on to write more about the things I’ve learned from him and his writing. For now I want to discuss one of the simplest things that has impacted my writing.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Rushdie’s writing is how much he includes from his own life in his fiction. Some of these things are very clear, like basing a major character in Fury on his then wife Padma Lakshimi. But other’s I only realized after reading his memoir, Joseph Anton. Reading it I found several instances of people, events and even dialogue that was very similar, if not exactly the same, to what I had read in his fiction. For example when he relates telling his father he is going to be a writer. Clearly disappointed his father says, “What am I going to tell my friends?” A line that appears in The Satanic Verses. 

There are many more examples, he specifically points out experiences and the stories inspired by them, and characters based on those close to him.  He seems to have no problem using his life and those around him as source material for his writing. This is something I have always struggled with. I never felt right including people or events from my life in my writing and avoided it at all costs. Part of it was insecurity, I don’t even like writing about myself in nonfiction. But really it was self doubt about my ability as a writer. It seems too easy to fictionalize elements of my life and take myself seriously as a writer. I also worried about what other people would think. Like I wouldn’t or couldn’t be considered a good writer if I couldn’t come up with everything in a story from imagination.

It seems like a silly thing to think now. Who exactly would even know how much of what I wrote was real or made up. Well I guess my family and friends, but how many of them are even reading my writing anyway. Inspired by Rushdie I’ve learned to let go of these irrational fears. There is no reason I can’t include elements from my life in my writing. It’s more than likely to improve my writing if I draw from real world experiences and people. And I have had some experiences that would make some pretty interesting stories.

 

The Road So Far: Pennsylvania 2017

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Today makes it’s exactly five months since my move. I like it so far but it’s a big adjustment. I’m still not even used to the idea of not living in New York City. I’m glad to be out but do miss it, mainly because there isn’t much to do up here. The week of Thanksgiving I visited for a couple of days, hadn’t been gone long and it felt like I’d never left. With the chaos of the move followed by the holidays I’m finding real hard get back on track. Most of my time’s been spent getting to know the area, looking for a job and just getting settled in.

I let myself take it easy, trying to get my office together and working out new plans for my blogs, newsletter and Etsy shop. I’ve been slowly forcing myself to get back to writing, but my lack of concentration has made it very difficult. I did manage to write and publish a few new blog posts,  in addition to the last two months newsletters. I’ve been stuck editing (actually rewriting) my novel for a couple of months now, barely making it to chapter five. Between the frustration and lack of structure to my days, I feel like I wasted a lot of time watching TV, playing games online and basically sulking around trying to figure out what to do with myself.

I’ve been working on different strategies and practices to boost my motivation and creativity.  I have small library of books on writing with prompts and exercises I’ve tried working with. Also started reading The Artist’s Way again, before the move I got about half way through. I wasn’t really putting much effort into the exercises and tasks. I really like the advice and approach of letting yourself explore your creativity without judgement. That’s not something that comes easy to me and often beat myself up or give up when I can’t meet my standards. It’s been helpful as I start experimenting with other creative art forms.

I just hope that soon things will start falling into place. It’s no surprise that the move would cause so much disruption. I just didn’t think I’d be working at a snails pace to get back on track. At this point all I can do is keep pushing myself.

Here We Go Again

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So after weeks of procrastinating and second guessing myself I got my Etsy store up and running. Clicking the image below will take you there. Only have three listing up and it needs a lot more work. But I’ve learned I can’t keep pushing things back waiting for them to be perfect. I hope you’ll check it out, let me know what you think, hey you could even buy a little something. No pressure, seriously, I’d actually love to hear what you think or even ideas for things you might like to see. (If link below doesn’t work click here)

In coordination with the opening of my online shop, I’m starting a mailing list. I promise not to abuse it, constantly nagging you to buy stuff or selling your information. I am actually in the process of planning a monthly newsletter. My plan is for it to be a way to keep you updated on my work, new projects and share some more random writings of mine. I hope you’ll sign up and keep reading as I continue along this crazy road I’m wandering. (Just hope it ends somewhere near a happy writing life.)

Click  here to sign up now.

Post Festival Sale

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So the poetry festival came and went, along with some stormy weather that’s sticking around. It wasn’t a complete waste though, I was able to make a few sales Saturday before the downpour that cleared out the festival. Even one after, my best customer. (Thanks again Gonzo) Sunday I waited out the rain and went late. There wasn’t much of a turnout but I enjoyed the day just hanging out, listening to performances and even won a free raffle. I just have one little issue, more left to sell than I expected. So in honor of my first poetry festival as a vendor and the opening of my online shop, coming soon, I’m having a Post Festival Sale. I threw together some packaged deals in themed bundles.

 

Post Poetry Festival Sale Bundles

Deluxe Festival Bundle-$40

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Includes one of every item I had on sale at the poetry festival.

  • Dante’s Tall tales, short fiction pieces from Devilish Dante’s Domain
  • One copy of both Pocket Poetry books, Drunken Poems and Life & Death
  • “Clouds” painting
  • One of each poetry postcard featuring “The Dream”, “Clouds”, “Enjoy the Ride”, and “Black rose”
  • A top, mirror and buttons featuring poem lines.

Buy Now Button

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Pocketbook Bundle-$15

  • One copy of Life & Death
  • One copy of Drunken Poems
  • 2-1.25″ Buttons
  • 1-3″ Button
  • 1- top
  • 1-mirror


Buy Now Button

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Drunken Poems Bundle-$10

  • One copy of Drunken Poems
  • 2-1.25″ Buttons
  • 1-3″ Button
  • 1- top
  • 1-mirror


Buy Now Button

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Postcard Bundle-$5

  • One of each of my poetry postcards featuring “The Dream”, “Clouds”, “Enjoy the Ride”, and Black rose
  • Button featuring a line from “Enjoy the Ride”


Buy Now Button

Prices do not include shipping & handling fees; additional $3 for Deluxe bundle, all others $2.

Bundle prices are discounted and there’s a limited supply of some items, get them while you can. If you are interested in individual items feel free to contact me by email at lexc13@live.com, individual photos are available in my previous post. I am in the process of setting up a full online store and should have it up and running soon.

Losing One More Contest

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So I recently entered a writing contest where instead of judges the writers competing vote for winners. It seems like a very good idea, I guess it is. But of course I’m bitter because yet again I didn’t win. Like I said the concept is kind of cool. Not only do participants vote but they also can comment on the work. It seems like a great system, writers voting on other writers work and also being able to get much needed feedback. Unfortunately, I’m really disappointed with the result, and not just because I lost, okay maybe I wouldn’t be critical if I had made it past the first round of voting, or at least placed in the first hundred or so. But really I think I have some legitimate points about why it was a disappointing experience.

So writers are given six other entries to rate and your entry is sent to six other contestants. The rankings are tallied, the top third rated entries move up to the second round unless you get less than four . Seems a good number of people enter but do not participate in voting. I did not make it past round one. My entry was only ranked by four people and sadly I didn’t do well. Its seemed unfair to me those other two rankings might have brought up my score. But I checked out the top ranked poems and they seems to get all around higher scores even if they were ones that were moved to next round for lack of votes.

Okay so I didn’t win, didn’t make it to second round. At least I would get some feedback but that was even more disappointing.  So only four of the other contestants did voted on my work, but only three actually made any comments. One only praised the work, yet ranked the it pretty low. Another mostly praised the writing, except for pointing out that one particular poem was too repetitive. Okay I can deal with that, but really that’s it. The last a long comment but I don’t think it was very helpful. Reading it I was kind of like what the fuck and it didn’t make much sense to me. The first poem they commented on they obviously didn’t get. It was a funny poem about waking up in a race car bed after a night of drinking. “The rhyme was too obvious you should go for the image instead of the rhyme.” It was that way on purpose it was silly, cute and funny. Also they didn’t understand what a race car bed was, “is it the back of a car or a bed with covers that have race cars on them? But in the next sentence, “the imagery is clear and precise.” Yeah so they didn’t get that at all. After that I didn’t really bother to pay attention to the rest of the comments.

I guess some of the writers who’s work I commented on might have felt the same way. But it still felt like a waste. Have to keep trying, though. It was an experience, I tried and I’ll drink to that.

 

 

A Case of The Mondays

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The majority of my working life, I haven’t worked typical Monday to Friday jobs work weeks. Yet I’ve always felt the pressure to conform to that standard. With it has come the dreaded Monday syndrome. While it includes the feeling of having a fresh start, it also includes not wanting to go back to work after the weekend. It’s continued now that I am freelancing with no day job. Many a weeks have passed where Monday came and I just wasn’t really into doing anything productive. It was a day for me just to really begin preparing for the week ahead.

Hate Mondays

Image credit: 7thplanetout via DeviantArt

I wonder sometimes if it’s not just peer pressure to align my schedule with the rest of the business world or if it’s ingrained in me from years of school. Actually for a long time I’ve based my life according to academic calendars, whether I was in school or not. I spent many summers wasting away time, more concerned with hanging out and enjoying the weather. But the minute September comes, it feel like it’s time to buckle down and get to work.

I’m really not sure how to break out of these cycles. Honestly I feel like its a major roadblock to being more productive and successful. I also wonder if other people that work odd schedules feel this way. I’d like to know how many writers work out routines that resemble normal office hours. Reading about successful writers I realized I do need some sort of schedule but I haven’t been able to successfully implement one. I’ve tried but honestly unless I am accountable to somebody else I find it hard to stick with it. I wonder if there are any successful writers that simply wing it doing what they want whenever they feel like it. I suspect that doesn’t work very well.

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this subject. If you’ve found a way to chase way the Monday blues, or embraced a totally different weekly schedule fill me in on your secret.

Time To Give Back

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When I decided to leave my full-time job in order to spend this year focused on writing, I didn’t expect it to be easy, I know making a career writing is hard work. But I guess what I didn’t expect was for it to be hard to actually focus on the writing process itself. It sounds easy right, or at least like fun. It sounds like the dream life, spending all day, everyday doing the one thing I want to do most. But it didn’t work that way. Some days I just didn’t feel like writing, couldn’t think of anything to write, or started stressing the money making part.

Thing one thing that has really kept me motivated and writing even when I didn’t feel like it were attending writing workshops. Since I haven’t been making any money, my only option was to find free ones. Thankfully, The New York Writers Coalition had several different free workshops. While the workshops I attended were open to anybody, much of their work focuses on under served individuals in the city. They facilitate workshops for youth, seniors, women, LGBT communities, people living with disabilities, people who are incarcerated or have been incarcerated. While I have known about the organization for some time, even attended readings and entered a contest they held, I finally began attending the workshops this year. And it’s been incredible. In addition to writing a ton of new material I’ve also met some amazing people and shared some great moments with them. No matter how many days I wasted feeling sorry for myself, I could always look forward to the two hours a week (or more when I attended a couple a week) writing, sharing and listening to the writing of others.

Because of how much I appreciate the work that goes into providing these workshops I’ve decided to participate in the Write Your A** Off fundraiser this year. My goal is to raise two hundred dollars, the 500minimum for me to participate in a day of workshops. Yes there is something in it for me but honestly I’d be doing this even if there wasn’t. I sincerely want to give back to this organization that has helped me so much. I’m hoping some of my blog readers can help me reach my goal. I don’t like asking others for help, especially monetary donations, but I believe this is worth it. I just want to make sure that The New York Writers Coalition can keep doing their great work.

If you’d like to donate please click this link, it will bring you to my fundraising page. I’m not asking a lot, even if it’s only a few dollars, every little bit will help me reach my goal.

Battle lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War

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A little over a week ago I attended a reading and discussion at the Greenlight Bookstore with the authors of Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War, Ari Kelman and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Though it wasn’t really what I was expecting I really enjoyed it. I found the event on the Poets & Writers local app, listed as a creative nonfiction talk. The book in comic form consist of 15 chapters that open focused on a single object, and then open up to a larger story covering the war and later reconstruction from different perspectives. Since there’s very little text they were able to read two chapters from the book before discussing the writing process and taking questions.

They began with Chapter 2, which discussed the conflicting nature of a country founded on freedom but allowed slavery. It reviewed legislation that attempted to control the spread of slavery and protect the rights of slave owners. Discussing the clashes between abolitionist and slave owners that ultimately led to the war. Chapter 5 began with the image of a bullet and described how new technology changed warfare and more severely wounded soldiers. Focused on one dying soldier it outlined how the new bullets combined with lack of medical technology led to more deaths than previous wars and introduced women’s role in the war as nurses tending to the wounded.

Both the writers were entertaining and gave a lot of insight into the production of the book. Describing how they collaborated by Ari, the historian, emailing Jonathan a small synopsis of each chapter to be sketched out and scripted. It seems a lot of detail went into ensuring the accuracy of the stories and the images. They incorporated real stories from diaries and historic documents from the time. Jonathan also had to do research for the visual aspects, which luckily there were a few sources, including photographs and sketches. He also found that reenactors where very helpful.

As they spoke you could see that they seemed to complement each other well. They both seemed to have a vision of bringing to life the story of the war that most people never learn about. Ari said when they began, he told Jonathan he didn’t want Lincoln to appear in the book. Jonathan responded by saying he didn’t want anything people knew about in it.

I have to say for somebody that usually has little interest in American history I think I’d actually really enjoy this book. Unfortunately, due to my lack of funds I was unable to purchase my own copy. But I might have to pick one up in the future.