This is about the old chestnut: “Do you write every day?”
And if you answer, “yes,” then chances are you’ll hear another old chestnut: “What discipline you must have!”
Nope. It’s not discipline. I always think of discipline as beating yourself on the shoulders with a stick. It’s actually a writer’s “trick.” Let yourself fall in love with what you’re writing — so much so that you can’t stay away from it. I don’t mean infatuation. I don’t mean bliss. I mean letting yourself become so absorbed in the story you’re telling, the words you’re honing, the structural problems you are trying to solve, that it’s the most interesting thing you know to do. So you do it.
Biography of Janet Sternburg: Janet Sternburg’s books include The Writer on Her Work, Volumes 1 & 2, (W. W. Norton); Phantom Limb: A Memoir, American Lives Series, (Univ. of Nebraska); and Optic Nerve: Photopoems, (Red Hen). She is also a photographer and has exhibited in solo shows at galleries and museums in Korea, Mexico, Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles.
Punk Nerd Revolution Writing Prompt
Pick a central character you’d like to develop further. What is one thing you know for sure about said character?
Revolt! Take the one thing you know for sure about your character’s identity and turn it on its head. For instance, if your character is male, make your character female instead. If your character is straight, queer his/her life. If your character believes in the fantastic, make your character a rationalist. If your “character” is a constant presence of grey skies, make your character sunshine brightness. If your “character” is an urban metropolis, make your character pastoral.
Write at least 5 pages in this experiment. (If you’re applying this experiment to a work-in-progress, choose a scene you’re having difficulty with.)
Perhaps you’ll realize that this identity switch is exactly what the character needs to become dynamic and you will decide to replace the “original” character with the “opposite” character. More likely, there will be ways that the “opposite” character can inform the “original” character or your narrative as a whole. What unexpected details/perspectives/conflicts can be incorporated into a revision?
Enjoy. And let the punk nerd revolution begin!
Biography of Felicia Luna Lemus: Felicia Luna Lemus is the author of the novels Like Son (Akashic Books) and Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Her writing has appeared in numerous anthologies and in magazines including BOMB, ZYZZYVA, and Latina. For more information: www.FeliciaLunaLemus.com.
Photo by Rex Wilson
When it comes to fiction, my primary discipline, I’m brought to the page by character: his or her peculiarities, vulnerabilities, self-perceived shortcomings, and conflicts with others. If I’m stuck in any way with narrative flow, I’ll take notes on the character’s history, whims, scuffles, crises, and then come back to the page fresh with understanding. When reading poetry, the newspaper, or even the ending film credits, I jot down a word or name that pops out alien and seductive, emphasizing the art of language. Working in the yard, dancing, and going to see art are also juicers to get me back to the computer, feeling less enslaved by the editor in my head and more newly motivated to create.
Biography of Lisa Teasley: Lisa Teasley is the author of acclaimed novels HEAT SIGNATURE (Bloomsbury, 2006) and DIVE (Bloomsbury, 2004), and the award-winning story collection, GLOW IN THE DARK (Cune Press, 2002 and Bloomsbury, 2006). Teasley is writer and presenter of the BBC Television documentary “High School Prom”; her stories and essays have been much anthologized, appearing in publications such as the Christian Science Monitor, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times and Essence magazine. She has taught in the Cal Arts and Antioch MFA writing programs, as well as the UCLA Writers Program. Her website is www.lisateasley.com.
Write Against Yourself
Photo by Sarah Grant
I’m attracted to routine — the daily act of sitting down with my cup of tea and my attempt at cultivating a daily writing practice. But I easily revert back to writing poems that feel like a familiar place where I might be turning around in a circle over and over again without much new to say. Sometimes I only notice this when I pay attention to the patterns in my work — to the words, images and phrasing I return to again and again.
Find a writing buddy. Take ten minutes to describe your writing to your buddy – characteristic trademark moves, what defines your writing — and share a few pieces of your work (enough so your buddy can form an independent opinion). Have your buddy create a writing prompt that goes against the grain of what is comfortable for you (the prompt should include at least three suggestions). For instance, if you normally write very long, flowing sentences that comprise a narrative, your buddy could give you the directive to write in short, compressed imagistic fragments (or try your hand at the haiku form, for instance). You’ll be surprised at what may emerge!
Biography of Ching-In Chen: Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart’s Traffic (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press). The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she is a Kundiman, Macondo and Lambda Fellow. A community organizer, she has worked in the Asian American communities of San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside and Boston.
That throbbing cursor at the top of an empty computer screen at the beginning of a new tale is the Medusa that can often turn imagination into stone. To get past not getting started I still use that old trick of writing the last sentence first, regardless of whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction.
If I’m already working on something and the words aren’t coming that particular day, I will kick-start the keyboard by writing a letter from one of my subjects (either a character or actual person) to myself, using his/her voice, concerns, humor, life. I find they often confide in me this way. “Their” letters usually yield some new dimension or information and spark a detail or reference point I hadn’t previously known or considered. The subjects’ interior lives get richer and I get that cursor moving across the screen.
Biography of Eric Gutierrez: Eric Gutierrez is a writer, essayist and cultural commentator. His fiction has appeared in several anthologies, including Indivisible and the Lambda Award-winning The Man I Might Become. His essays and non-fiction have appeared in Harvard Divinity Today, huffingtonpost.com, NuestraVoice.com and the anthology Gay Widowers: Life After the Death of a Partner. He is the author of Disciples of the Street: God & Rap in the Holy Land of Hip Hop, profiled on The Tavis Smiley Show, and co-editor of Suave: The Latin Male. His scripts for stage and television include the Imagen Award-nominated theaterwork “By the Hand of the Father” (co-writer), and “Los Beltran,” nominated for an American Latino Media Arts (ALMA) Award for Best Television Comedy. He is the recipient of a Brody Fellowship from the California Community Foundation and a Burton Fellowship from Harvard and lives once again in Los Angeles.