Lance Armstrong can cycle so well because he has huge heart. What do you need to write well? Fierceness. A fierce need to get to the page and say something every day. To connect with the keys, the pen, the pencil, the blood, the ink, your need to speak, your voice needs to be heard, you’re like a mockingbird, you won’t shut up. You’re like Emily Dickinson’s bird. Do not be quiet if they reject you, if they won’t give you work, if they say you dress badly, if they say you look like a Care Bear, if they say you look like a caterpillar, keep writing, my butterfly, keep writing.
Biography of Kate Gale: Gale is a poet, writer, essayist, librettist, and has a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University. She is the managing editor of Red Hen Press; an editor for The Los Angeles Review; president of the American Composers Forum, Los Angeles; and president of PEN USA 2005-2006. She is also a board member of the Claremont Graduate University School of Arts and Humanities, A Room of Her Own Foundation, and Poetry Society of America. Read Kate Gale’s daily blog of art, culture and self-reflection at kategale.wordpress.com. Visit her websites at www.kategale.com and www.redhenpress.com.
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Recipe for a Short Story
I’ve always found it strange that some writers and writing workshops perceive themselves to be too “advanced” for writing exercises. Specific constraints sharpen your skills and get you out of your comfort zone. If I just sat down with the vague idea that I was going to write a story, the protagonist would probably end up a lot like me, and the story would circle back to the themes that always interest me. Sometimes that’s fine, but other times…blech. That’s why I’m fond of this exercise (though it does take multiple people—a good excuse to schedule a writing date):
1) Write the following on a scrap of paper:
–a mode of transportation
–a small object
2) Trade your list with your writing partner, or if you have a larger group, have everyone pass his or her list to the left.
3) Write a short story or scene that involves all of the elements on the list you just received.
This way, even if you always default to “Michelle/spaceship/anger/paper clip,” someone else is now ignited by your comfort zone, and you get to get inspired by “Fluffy/unicycle/bemusement/golf ball.”
Biography of Cheryl Klein: Klein is a Writers at Work alumna and the author of Lilac Mines (Manic D Press) and The Commuters (City Works Press). She directs the California office of Poets & Writers, Inc. and blogs about art, life and carbohydrates at http://breadandbread.blogspot.com. You can read more about Cheryl’s work at http://cheryl-klein.com.
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I play cards with a few friends and when it’s Laurie’s turn to deal she always says, “Everybody loves blackjack.” Well, everybody loves haiku, too. Any kid can count out seventeen syllables (5-7-5) and I quickly take away the demands of traditional haiku (the frog, the pond, the inevitable moon) and ask them to write about what’s on their minds. Here’s a beauty from a 6th grader:
That sweater I bought
her, crumpled in the back of
Bobby’s red Corvette.
It’s also fun to take line one from Sam’s haiku, line two from Juan’s, and line three from Victoria’s. These collaborations are usually great surrealistic fun (they rarely make “sense”) and they suggest to young poets that writing might not be such a lonely occupation after all (the blank page, the crumpled drafts, the cold cup of coffee).
Biography of Ron Koertge (pronounced KUR-chee): Koertge is a long-time resident of Pasadena, a former teacher at PCC and a current member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA program for kids’ writers. Turned onto poetry at the U. of A. by Gerry Locklin, he’s never stopped writing and publishing poems (FEVER, Red Hen Press 2008). He is also the author of a series of award-winning novels for young adults. An e-trip to the website of Candlewick Press will tell you more about that.
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Credit: Rod Bradley
This romantic excerpt on writing from the essays of Pablo Neruda (translated by Stephen Kessler, Alcatraz—an assemblage, 1979), extols the virtues of excellent writing and applies equally to fiction and poetry:
“The sacred law of the madrigal and the decrees of touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing, the desire for justice, sexual desire, the sound of the ocean–deliberately excluding nothing–an entrance into the depths of things in an act of passionate love, and the resulting poetry stained….perhaps by sweat and use….Wow, here comes Time, with ashes… air and…water! The anguish- and slime-bitten stone suddenly flowers with the sea’s thunder, and the little rose returns to the delicate tomb of its corolla….Nothing–and nothing lasts in poetry’s house except what’s written with blood to be heard by blood.”
Apply Neruda’s philosophy to a moment of real-life epiphany and shape it into a story that defines your interpretation.
Biography of Wanda Coleman: “The unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles,” Wanda Coleman’s books include Mercurochrome, Ostinato Vamps, The Riot Inside Me, and Jazz and Twelve O’Clock Tales. She’s the product of workshops by playwright Frank Greenwood, novelist Budd Schulberg, poets Diane Wakowski and Clayton Eshleman, and the Beyond Baroque Literary Center sessions (1968-1975).
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