Back to Class: Poetry Exercises

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With all the different writing classes I’ve taken over the years, I’ve somehow never taken one on poetry. Which is interesting because my love of writing started with poetry. I very quickly realized it was pretty bad though. In my humble opinion I’ve improved a lot, mainly through reading more poetry and a few instructional texts. I still feel that some more instruction and education on the craft could definitely help me. So I enrolled, for free of course in Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop, an online course conducted by California Institute of Arts.

I’m up to the third week and so far it’s really gone down to the basics. Even with the instructional texts I’ve used in the past, I skipped over a lot of the beginning stuff. I skimmed over a lot of it and skipped almost, if not all the exercises, to get to the parts I thought were really interesting.  Participating in this course, I’m more committed to actually putting in the work, which means doing all the exercises even if they seem juvenile. Here’s a couple I’ve completed so far:

Week one–Poetic Lines

This exercise was for the lessons on lines. The following text was presented in a block of text I had to add in my own line breaks.

tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace

from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time;

and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.

out, out, brief candle! life’s but a walking shadow,

a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage

and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot,

full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The piece is an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Check it out, my version made the lines just a bit longer.

Week Two-Abstraction and Image

For this exercise we were supposed write a poem describing an object. The instructions said to be as literal and vivid as possible, and not to use any figures of speech. Not sure how vivid my image is but I like it. I’ll likely keep working it and who knows where it might end up.

 

Clear glass heavy in my hand.

Filled with dark liquid and ice

popping ever so often

as the whiskey melts it down.

A sip, cold

goes down with a slight burn.

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.

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.

Riding The Waves Of The Mind

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I started bike riding this year, an attempt to be active and get out of the house more often. I try to make it out everyday but usually it’s only a couple days a week. I’ve found that it’s a great way to clear my mind and sometimes I find sparks of inspiration. My regular route is along Shore Road in Bayridge, Brooklyn. Last week I was out for a ride and focused in on the sound of the waves. Then my mind started wandering. As I focused on the experience and the world around, the word waves kept rolling around in the back of my mind. Without thinking hard, I went through a little free association, and ended up with the line, “I’d rather ride the waves of my mind than keep up with modern times.”

It was a rather quick and random process, I wont bore you with the details. But once the line was in my head new ideas just kept coming to me. Immediately, I thought I needed to catch a picture of the waves to post on Instagram with the line. I also thought it was the great start to a poem. Which I ended up writing later that day. Then I realized that the anecdote about the line coming to me while riding was perfect for a blog post I had been working on about finding inspiration. I’d been working on the draft for a while but it just wasn’t coming together.

Waves

Riding the Waves of the Mind

One of the challenges of being a writer or any kind of content producer these days is always coming up with new ideas. Most of the time I push too hard trying to force it. But when I stop focusing on it and let my mind drift ideas just pop into my head. This isn’t exactly a new revelation, in many creative fields professionals advise doing something else to jump start creativity. But I thought it would help to see how a simple bike ride led to one line that turned into social media posts and a poem. I’m also even considering expanding the idea further to include other techniques and pitching it as an article to a writing publication.

Next time you feel stuck or out of ideas maybe you should go for a bike ride. If you don’t have a bike, go for a walk, or do anything that keeps you from thinking to hard. The point is to let your mind just wander, see where it takes you and enjoy the ride.

When You Get Past the Blank Page

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Scanning the web for articles on writing it’s impossible not to come across advice on getting started. Mostly they talk about the blank page syndrome, where people become so intimidated it paralyzes them. For some staring a blank page is the hardest and scariest part about writing. I’ve never really had trouble starting. I think starting is easy, I’ve started writing tons things over the years. For me the hard part comes after I start. For a long time I had to push past the feeling that what I was getting down just wasn’t right. I’ve fallen into the trap of editing as I write which makes it even harder to complete. But in time I learned to continue and worry about fixing it up in the editing process.

The editing is whole other issue itself. That is where I can become stuck and the idea of a finished product can paralyze me. I’ve had a tons of work that after a rough draft they were left abandoned or even completely started over. It’s easier to give up than toil over something I’m not happy with. Unfortunately there are those times I can’t just give up, whether for school or work I have to turn in a finished product. And while I know all good writing needs several edits, I feel like I spend an excessive amount of time on it. I tend to get stuck trying to make it perfect, going over the same sentences over and over again. If one isn’t right how can the rest be. I have things I’ve written that I could continue editing forever and never really be happy with the finished product.

I don’t know when to stop and can’t decide when things are actually finished. When working on deadline, I usually just run out of time and have to hand in whatever I’ve done. Many times you’ll find me anguishing over it up until the last moment before I send it off. No matter what I write I end up obsessing over whether I should have changed a word here or there, added an extra comma somewhere, or even if I should have organized it differently. When I don’t have a deadline I usually just stop working on it when I’m tired of looking at it.

I always wonder how other people decide a piece of writing is done. I’d love to hear some thoughts on the subject from other. Let me know in the comments if you struggle with this too or if you have any advice on how to overcome the anxiety of finished a piece.

My Newest Writing Anxiety

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I’ve written in the past about how nervous interviews make me and the mistakes I think I’ve made. While I’m still working on improving my interviewing skills I’ve discovered a somewhat new anxiety about writing nonfiction and reporting. These are related to the editing process and incorporating information and quotes from sources into the final piece.

I worry about paraphrasing people and simply how I use the quotes to support the story. I end up obsessing over how the person I interviewed will react to the story. I worry that I might misinterpret their words while paraphrasing or even when using direct quotes they’ll feel it was taken out of context. For whatever reason I feel like I need to satisfy them in addition to readers and my editor. I guess I feel like I do have a responsibility to them since I am using their words and taking up their time.

Though recently I had a big boost. After interviewing several people for an article I sent them all a link to the live story and more than one replied complementing me on the story. It felt like a huge weight lifting off my chest. Seriously, the stress has made me question if I should continue with this work. But those emails gave me the boost I needed to at least pick up one more assignment.

In the past I sent sources stories to review before submitting them, but that’s not always possible when working on a deadline. I’ve also read lots of mixed advice about whether or not this should be done. I wonder if anybody else deals with this kind of anxiety when writing nonfiction, or using sources for any kind of writing. I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have on the subject.

One More Opinion On The MFA

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Not too far in my past the idea of pursuing a masters degree would have laughable. When I returned to school, my goal was to at least get a two year Associates degree. But when I continued to get my Bachelor’s I actually started to consider the idea of graduate school. (After a considerable break that is.) But getting an MFA hadn’t really occurred to me. It’s been suggested since graduating, but I just kind of dismissed it. It seemed like most people went for the sense of approval to be a writer and the idea of simply studying writing wasn’t appealing. I was more interested in continuing with media and culture studies. Then recently I found MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction at the library. Reading it I started to see some of the advantages of attending a creative writing program. But still had some mixed feelings about whether or not it was worth the time or money.

So as I read this article, I understood the authors anxieties toward the idea of getting an MFA. In fact, reading the piece kind of felt like taking a tour of my own mind, mirroring many of my own thoughts. As Gersen points out, there is a sense of privilege associated with getting an MFA. I remember when I first found Poets & Writers Magazine, as I conjured fantasies about the programs featured in enticing ads, I couldn’t help feeling like it would only ever be a fantasy. While I’m sure some of it was a lack of confidence in my talent it was more about how distant and unfamiliar to the world I knew they seemed. I guess in a way they didn’t seem completely real, it a part of a life that was lead by people much different from me. In a way it’s part of why I never thought I could be a successful writer, or at least my idea of what a successful writer was. Getting older a lot of those ideas and images changed but nonetheless I still didn’t think an MFA would be a part of my future. I realized one that it wasn’t necessary to be a writer and two that it wasn’t much of a credential. In some ways it seemed like a luxury, one that I definitely couldn’t afford. Even now while I have taken the risk of quitting my full time job to try writing full time getting an MFA just doesn’t seem very practical. But I am starting to see the attraction. At this point it still doesn’t seem very likely but I haven’t completely eliminated it as an option in the future.

When Work Isn’t Working

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I started this series of blog post, The Road So Far, in the middle of last year. I wanted to review my progress as a writer and figure out where it was leading me. By then it had been over a year since I graduated and still wasn’t working in the writing field. Ironically enough I was doing almost exactly what I was trying to avoid when I returned to school in the first place. I was working as an accounting assistant.

During school I was assigned a work study position in the Finance and Administration offices of the college, later obtaining a part time position with the college. I continued working there part time after I graduated, when a coworker retired I started full time in a temporary position. For the next year I worked at paying off my credit cards and saving money.

I tried to continue writing, submitting work, and apply to writing jobs while working full time. But I didn’t feel I was making enough progress with the small amount of time I had to focus on it. I started getting picky about jobs I applied for eventually allowing myself to get lazy with the comfort of having a job. I was beginning to feel like I was settling.

I set a savings goal, I hoped to reach by the end of the year, and would leave even if I still hadn’t found a new job. I was pretty on track with my goal when I found out my appointment would end in November. I ended up too low on the list to get a permanent accounting assistant position. They tried to keep me under a different title but couldn’t get approval for the change. I decided then that it was time to leave. I would be a little short of my goal but I took this as I sign it was time to leave. I offered to continue in my old position until December to help train a replacement.

The Road So Far: Why CSI?

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It wasn’t a hard decision to continue with school. I was still only working part time and with financial aid I’d get paid to go. I ended up deciding to go to The College of Staten Island. The commute sucked, almost two hours, but it seemed like the right fit. The courses required for a communications degree looked interesting and I could choose journalism as a concentration. It’s also one of the few schools that has an actual campus. A feature that helped me to be more involved in the college experience. It wasn’t exactly one big party but I did end up spending more time outside of class with other students. It made it more enjoyable and I also stumbled into some writing and editing work.

Chilling on campus between classes.

Chilling on campus between classes.

A friend from class, Jay, wrote for the site concertconfessions.com. While it wasn’t a paying gig, there was the possibility of obtaining press passes and it was another way to gain more experience. By that time I was writing album reviews for a new music website, misformusic.com. I had also started to experiment with live concert photography and created a website, lastremains.net, to post the photos and music related writing. Jay helped convince me to sign up, arraigning for me to tag along to a Gwar concert.

While I was pretty excited about the school’s publications, clubs and radio station, I never found the time to get involved with any. I did end up working on a magazine started by a group of students. After reading the first issue I volunteered to copy edit articles. After a few issues I wanted to be more involved and expand my role. I suggested a music section that I could manage. While they already had somebody else working on the idea they said we could do it together. I got to work setting up interview pieces and recruited some new writers. Unfortunately, magazine never published any more issues.

To get my degree I had to do another internship. This time around I ended up at a marketing communications company on Staten Island. They designed websites, business cards, and other printed marketing stuff. I have to admit I don’t feel like I learned as much as I did at my first internship. I did gain more experience copywriting and picked up some new design tricks. Though I’ve probably forgotten them since I haven’t had much practice since. But it was a very interesting experience and I gained some new insights into marketing writing. Plus it lead to some paying work after I finished the internship.

I enjoyed the most of my time at CSI. I found a lot of the course material very interesting, especially the communication theories and media culture studies. I also met some really great people, students and professors included. Unfortunately, the last couple semesters got pretty tough, I was even tempted to quit at some points. I wasn’t enjoying the classes anymore and was worried about failing. Fortunately, my worries were for nothing and I graduated in January of 2013.

The Road So Far: Keeping Busy

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Pretty soon after I started classes I ended up leaving my job at the bakery. There were a lot of changes in the business and I was forced to split my time between working in wholesale and retail at the Manhattan location. I was discouraged and unhappy with the situation. Deciding to move back into office work, I found a job in accounting for a restaurant chain and franchise company. I enjoyed the change and quickly took on more responsibility. The workload steadily increased and eventually it became too much to handle.

Next I found a job working two days a week for the nonprofit company Seedco. I started out doing data entry for one of their programs. Later I got the chance to help out with the program newsletter. I wrote and edited articles, then reformatted it from print to email.

While there I used the extra time to to do an internship. I found one assisting the editor of a website aimed at expecting and new parents. I wrote small pieces for the newsletter, proofread articles, assisted with the editorial calendar and did administrative work. The internship was unpaid but I was hired as a freelance writer for several articles published on the site. By then I had built up some momentum and was writing more regularly. I even tried sending out some work for contests and publication submissions.

I stayed at the internship from April until December of 2008. I felt I had gained enough experience there and couldn’t afford to work for free anymore. At that point I thought it would be a good idea to find ways to expand my experience and explore different areas and industries I was interested in. I joined the internet marketing team of band, volunteered for a film and arts festival, and attended a conference on working in the magazine industry. I also wrote published a story in a heavy metal themed horror anthology and began writing music reviews for a metal website.

When I got my degree that May, I started to even more actively search for a second or new full time job. I didn’t have much luck and even considered taking on another internship to beef up my resume. I eventually decided that I would continue with school, getting my Bachelors degree. If I went full time I would be eligible for full financial aid. Tuition would be paid with money left over for me to survive.