Tag Archives: writing

A Fiercely Kind Word

OK, y’all, here’s the dealio. I’ve got a lovely new website, put together by the terrific folks at Tracking Wonder. It’s for writers who want to improve their writing craft with fiercely kind support, customized for their project, their writing challenges–because the writing process is messy, ambiguous, difficult, frustrating, exhilarating, elastic, forgiving and forbidding.

I’m a writer, so my engagement with writers through A Fiercely Kind Word will reflect my writer’s life. At this point (one more semester to complete my MFA), I’m not going to promise a koan of writerly wisdom every Wednesday. There’s no way I can guarantee a brilliant insight first thing Monday morning. Because: writing is messy, ambiguous, difficult, frustrating, exhilarating, forgiving and forbidding.

_C8A6964-Edit - Richard Mallory Allnutt photo - Lesley Howard - Blacksburg, VA - June 11, 2017

Richard Mallory Allnutt made me look good for A Fiercely Kind Word. Thank you, Richard!

When you hear from me, it will be the real dealio: my craft essays. My reflections on stories and novels. My practices. My stage of the journey, in all its messy, ambiguous, difficult, frustrating, exhilarating, forgiving and forbidding glory (or misery, depending). Sometimes, but not always, there will be a “craft frolic” at the end of my posts, giving you suggestions for how to play with whatever writerly craft element I’ve mused upon.

I’ve got a nifty manifesto you can download from A Fiercely Kind Word here; if you sign up for my Fiercely Kind Word prompts (at the bottom of this page), you’ll get five days of free writing prompts. And of course if you want to work with me, you can contact me through my . . . (drum roll!) contact page.

And I’ll still blog, occasionally, here, about the less-chronic chaos of having an half-empty nest and parenting the “baby adults” my sons have grown into since I started this blog five years ago.

Onward!

p.s. I’m still fine-tuning the behind-the-scenes components of A Fiercely Kind Word, so if you encounter any hiccups, please contact me at lesley@afiercelykindword.com and let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Party: Lesley’s post

For those who have no idea what “Blog Party” refers to, I encourage you to read this post to see what it’s all about. 

It’s glorious spring in my neck of the woods, and the woods I walk my dogs in is bursting with all shades of green: emerald, jade, sea-foam, M&M, spearmint. And these greens come in all shapes and sizes, from mayapple to fern to clover to rambling rose to cottonwood saplings. Each different, each thicker in some parts of the woods than others: the mayapples tend to cluster where sunlight makes its way through the thickening canopy; the ferns seem to prefer darker slopes; the saplings dot the areas where an older tree has fallen—they need the light that’s available to them in those gaps.

So many greens! So many shapes!

So many greens!                   So many forms!

And so it is with the forms that our stories may take: just as the majority of the plants in the woods are green, so many of our stories are made of words, words of all types: sacred, profane, Germanic, Latinate. And the form these stories take also varies: spoken word, poetry, creative nonfiction, drama, short story, novel.

I have been banging my head against the proverbial wall in regards to form for my writing: short stories are encouraged in the MFA program, I believe because getting a short story to “work” is a practice that can be applied to longer (and shorter) pieces of prose. But I’m only human, and I’ve worked with three- or five-act structure for years; I know Aristotle’s incline intimately, and Freytag’s triangle is my good friend. It’s like being in love with ranunculus or daisies and not noticing hyacinth and coral bells, and there’s nothing wrong with having a preference, for loving what we love.

For story structure, my love has been to include a fair amount of backstory. Last semester, while I floundered with a short story, my advisor suggested I get rid of all backstory and revise the story entirely in one scene. What?! No no no no my writer self hollered, I need backstory! At least a little bit!

I was wrong. Completely, totally, entirely wrong. When I cut out the backstory bits (carefully saving them in another file, because, well, because) the characters did and said everything necessary for the story in the present moment of the story. And in fact, once they were unencumbered by the backstory, they soared up and out and behaved in some startlingly interesting ways—the story blossomed.

Oh.

There are a gazillion ways to structure every piece of writing. OK, maybe not a gazillion. But more than three. How to become familiar with more than the major three? First learn the basics: Aristotle’s incline, Freytag’s triangle. There are all kinds of resources for this: Deepening Fiction by Sarah Stone & Ron Nyren. Imaginative Writing by Janet Burroway. The Practice of Creative Writing by Heather Sellers. In Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, page 19 has a wonderful jump-start process for an essay. Also Robert Ray’s The Weekend Novelist does a terrific job both teaching structure and providing the beginning writer with the scaffolding to complete the draft of a novel. And while learning, or reminding yourself, of the basics, read like mad. Take stories apart. Re-type them. It’s amazing how a writer’s process is revealed by simply re-typing their story. I’m doing it today with a chapter of Renata Adler’s Speedboat.

Because even if we love only some of the greens the world has to offer, our stories may demand that we expand our aesthetics. Writers are here to serve the stories that come to us, not cram them into the little boxes we’re familiar with.

Here’s to spring’s wild greeny excesses, its bounty of difference.

May your stories find their shape.

 

Blog Party!

Let’s Get This [Blog] Party Started!

Hi, it’s us. We know, we know. You don’t know us. Not the collective us, that is. We are Vienna, Lesley, Mariela, Zach, and Shannon…five bloggers coming together for the month of May to cross-promote each other’s work, and hopefully elevate our own work in the process.

We decided to call our month-long endeavor Blog Party, like a block party. If you are a podcast listener, you may be familiar with a similar endeavor by that platform called #TryPod during March. We were inspired.

So, here we are. Just the five of us. We all have very different blogs and very different audiences.

As there are five Mondays in the month, we will take turns posting on each other’s blogs, and therefore, you will get a chance to see each of our works. If you find you like one of these new blogs, please consider subscribing.

Here’s a little more about each of us and our blogs…

blog party viennaVienna: Hi! I began my blog, Vienna writes, in the summer of 2014 and blogged on an infrequent basis until very recently. This year, in the last week of March, I decided it was time for me to blog again simply because I wanted to get back in the habit of writing. My blog is an exploration of reclaiming my voice as a writer, and I have committed myself to one blog post every day. It includes posts of my thoughts, memories, and inspirations that are slightly longer than a drabble. Feel free to come along for the ride, the ultimate destination of which I have no idea.

Photo on 6-6-16 at 3.55 PM (1)Lesley: I’m a lifelong fiction writer who’s half-way through a low-residency MFA at Warren Wilson College. I began my blog in 2011, when my sons were pre-teens–its focus was on writing amidst the chaos of family life. My (infrequent) posts have of late focused on writing craft and engaging the world through writing. You can read my blog, the Art of Practice, here.

12819474_10110279046440424_7143565581058908509_oMariela: I have a passion for linguistics, culture and travel. Back in 2013, I started a blog to share my personal journey’s experiences with my family and friends, called El periplo de Mariela (or Mariela’s Journey). Although the blog’s name was in Spanish, posts were 99% in English. For the first couple of  years I wrote with certain frequency but then life took over and I eventually stopped. Fast forward to April 2017 and, after a 1-year hiatus from writing, I’m launching Mar Explora. For now, its main feature is still the blog but this site will be an ever-evolving project..I’m excited to see what path it’ll take me!

Zachary Steele BWZach: Hello, I guess. Is that right? I’ve never been good at social … things. I’m a writer of fiction, currently delving into Middle Grade fantasy, where the kid in me is quite happy, thank you. For the most part, I’ve morphed my blog into a collection of posts about all the truly bad choices I’ve made in life. I figure others should be able to laugh at me as much I do. So, if you’re up for feeling better about your choices, check out I Have a Wrong Way to Go, drop a comment, talk about operatic mice, share stories, or, you know, stuff.

DSC_2205Shannon:  Greetings! I’m a storyteller and story coach living in Atlanta, GA. I’ve been blogging since 2006. My current blog is embedded in my website. I tend to write irregular reflections on storytelling, projects, and my journey. My subscribers are almost entirely a part of my personal network, so I’d love to have a chance to grow beyond the people who just want to make sure I don’t starve. My blog can be found here.

So, look for the first edition from Vienna to be coming out on all our blogs next Monday. We look forward to getting to know you, getting to know each other, and helping you get to know us all. It’s a lot like mingling at a party, don’t you think?

Cheers,

Us

Writers: messy or meticulous?

Ever come across a notebook filled with your handwriting but no memory of it? Or a book with sticky flags adorning its pages, but no idea of why you attached them? Me too. When it comes to tracking my free-writes, story drafts, my analytical papers, I have verged on, and crossed into, chaos for much of my writing life. But pursuing an MFA has made it very clear that my creative impulses are worthless, and my craft analysis superficial, unless I can find what I need, pronto.

I have organizational tendencies–my grocery lists are made according to the store layout. My books are alphabetized. I meet deadlines. I’m sure there’s a Deep Psychological Reason that I haven’t treated my creative writing with the same respect I do food, books and freelance assignments. But since I spend plenty of time in therapy already, so rather than muse about what that Reason might be, I’m going to share the quick-and-dirty organizational habit I have begun forming.

I’ve come up with  three main components of my Effort at Organization.

  1. Deliberate intentions
  2. Direct interaction
  3. Daily integration

    Year-long planning to keep the Big Picture in mind.

    Year-long planning to keep the Big Picture in mind.

Deliberate Intentions: I spend 5-10 minutes each morning with my calendars. Two on the wall, a year-long, dry-erase one (available from Neuyear.net) and a weekly one (based on Jeffrey Davis’s Mind Rooms Guide). My third calendar is my online/phone calendar.

From Jeffrey Davis's Mind Rooms Guide

From Jeffrey Davis’s Mind Rooms Guide

I review what I’d intended to do yesterday, figure out if  I need to change today’s plan. Then I take a square of pretty paper and jot down rough time guesstimates for each activity and adjust if my total is more than the time I have available. Note: the process of setting up a year-long calendar will get another post. That’s a Big Process.

Notes . . . to action

Notes to action!

Direct Interaction: I scribble all over my books, my drafts, the feedback from my MFA supervisor. It’s the way I think. When I’m done, I put a big sticky note on the front cover of the book or the first page of the draft or the feedback sheets, and I jot down what I want to do next: type into ss draft ASAP. Type into “ideas file.” Ignore until after winter break. Re-read in June 2017. Submit to WHR by Nov. 30. These go into the Daily Integration pile.

Daily Integration: I allot time each day to tackle the accumulated direct interaction pieces. The pile of these isn’t so high that it’s wobbling, but I have yet to eliminate it entirely.

It has taken me YEARS to get here. And every single week, there’s at least one day where I completely, and I mean completely, fail. Maybe because the book I’m reading is so good I ignore everything else for the day (Like So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. And The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder.)

I’m befriending failure; all that therapy has gotten me to the place where I can forgive myself, take a nap, or just go straight to bed and start again the next day.

I’d love to hear how you organize your writing life–and if you occasionally verge or cross into chaos, how do you extricate yourself? Share with us in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Today I went live at The Write Practice . . .

. . . as a guest blogger. What fun! Check it out at The Write Practice blog.

Thanks to Joe Bunting and his terrific Write Practice team for giving me the opportunity. I’ll follow this post — about similes — with another one or two about metaphors later this year. Onward!

When your writing seems . . . weird.

Yesterday my writing felt odd, awkward, out of place. So I picked up Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and read some perspective-setting words and then filmed this.

 

Craft Matters: Timing is everything. Or is it?

We whirl through our days amidst commitments internally- and externally-imposed; some weeks we have to squeeze in our writing while waiting for the doctor, the oil change, the vet and yes that is my upcoming week.

But today I read this terrific post by Noa Kageyama, whose equally terrific blog, The Bulletproof Musician, frequently addresses matters of effective practice and discipline that applies to all of us aiming for artistry. This one looks at a study that examined how efficient learning is when it’s done at night rather than in the morning.

Don’t mess with my morning mojo, my writing muse whispered. You can’t write after three in the afternoon! I will not watch the sunset with you! 

No matter how gorgeous the sunset, my muse thinks evenings are Not a Good Time to Write. I'm going to see if she's right.

No matter how gorgeous the sunset, my muse thinks evenings are Not a Good Time to Write. Is she right?

 But the *evidence* shows that people learn and remember their learning more efficiently and effectively if they tackle it in the evening, go to bed, and then practice again in the morning. Huh. Is my muse really so special that she will be exempt from evidence-based research? Actually, is this really about my muse, that elusive spark of inspiration, or is this about the simple learning and practicing of craft?

I think it’s the latter. If I want to get the compound-complex sentence down cold (my current craft focus, inspired by David Foster Wallace’s jaw-dropping application of basic grammatical tenets), I need to learn its form and practice it.

Although I’d like to think I’m very special, I suspect that I’m no more special than anyone else when it comes to my grey matter. So based on Kageyama’s post, I am going to ignore my muse and set up some evening craft reading-learning-practicing exercise sessions for myself, followed by next-morning follow-up craft reading-learning-practicing exercise sessions.

I’ll let you know how it goes in about a month–and if you have any experiences with how you’ve learned specific writing craft, tell us all about it in comments below!