Writing Tip by Leslie Schwartz

I run a weekly private workshop, and when my students say they are “blocked” I know that more than likely they are afraid. They fear that what they are doing is hopeless, that they will never get published, so why bother?  Or that the next “place” they have to take the work will be too painful or too dark to even consider writing.

This is not a “block,” it’s just your head telling you stories.  When you think you are suffering from “writer’s block” do the following three things:  1. Take a long walk, or a long soak in the tub or whatever relaxes you.  2. Read Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing.   3.Then write what you would write if you weren’t “blocked.”

Writers’ block is baloney.  So the next time your head is telling you it can’t be done, politely tell your head, “Thank you for sharing, now shut up.”

What this business of writing is really all about is the willingness to be fearless.   Writing takes conviction, courage and tenacity.   It is also an act faith.   Cleanse yourself- – write with audacity and bravery and truth.   And when the words come, give thanks.

Biography of Leslie Schwartz. Leslie Schwartz is the author of the award-winning novel, Jumping the Green, and the bestselling novel, Angels Crest, now a film debuting at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.   She teaches writing at Homeboy Industries, (www.homeboy-industries.org), and founded the literary magazine “Homeboy Review.”  She also teaches at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and holds a weekly private workshop.   Visit her web page at www.leslieschwartz.com.

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Writing Tip by Felice Picano

In the past few years I’ve begun to tune in to the wavelengths of the world — like a radio receiver — and now strangers tell me their lives.  I don’t know who they are until I’ve let them use me to narrate.  I think it began with my discovery of the unsolved murder in 1923 of a child, an uncle I never knew existed.  I searched but I never learned who killed him or why.  Yet. . . telling his story may have settled his spirit . . . a bit.  Since Vincenzo, I’ve heard other lives.  I always know it’s them because the story “writes itself,” often in a few days:  a woman who died of cancer in the Midwest married to a closeted man; an elderly writer stricken in a freak accident; a psychic boy in Northern Florida illness-bound to a wheelchair; a Venezuelan scientist facing the utterly unknown; a Victorian noblewoman in England, seduced, abandoned, and self liberated.  I called one story “Gift.”  They all are! . . . Learn to listen.

Biography of Felice Picano: Author of numerous novels, memoirs, nonfiction works and poetry, Mr. Picano has much of his work collected in references and collections including The Cambridge History of American Literature: Vol. 7Prose Writing, 1940-1990, A Concise Companion to American Literature & Culture since World World II, Eyewitness To America: 500 Years of American History: In the Words Of Those Who Saw It, The Readers Catalog: An Annotated Listing of the 40,000 Best Books in PrintContemporary Authors: Autobiographies: Felice PicanoContemporary Authors: Volume 20, Contemporary Gay Male Novelists; A Bio-Bibliographical Criitical SourcebookThe Post Modern Short Story: Froms & Issues, Gay Fiction Speaks: Interviews with 12 Authors, Vol 1, and The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill Club and the Making of Gay Culture.

Writing Prompt by Steven Reigns

I love how poetry (and most types of writing) can illuminate actions, items, and feelings that we might not normally explore or question.

For the past five years I’ve solely taught autobiographical poetry workshops.  The work generated from these workshops is the perfect mixture of poetry, my lifelong love, and my inherent fascination with others. I think autobiographical work helps the writer and reader see their lives in another way.

One of my favorite writing prompts with my students is to have them write a poem about their pillow.  Though scary scientific data suggests after a couple of years our pillows are weightier due to dust mite excrement, most of us don’t discard them often.  Think about how many dreams you’ve had on the pillow, when you first got it, how many lovers have rested their head on it, how many times you’ve cried on it, stayed awake with worry, been bedridden with illness, how it held your propped up head as you read of Scout and Jem’s adventures.  What about the times you’ve woken up with drool on your pillow? Or on hot July evenings flipping it over to feel the coolness of the other side? How many pillows are on your bed? Do you hug the pillow at night like one would a lover or does it get pushed aside in your sleep—maybe like a lover as well.  How many decorative pillows are ceremoniously placed on the bed only when guests are expected?

How does this compare with other pillows in your life?  When I was younger my father still used his Marine issued pillow and  I still remember how it smelled of him.  What about those throw pillows on your grandmother’s couch you used to take naps on?

If you’re interested in writing fiction, think of the pillow of your character.  It’s an interesting way to get into a story.

Biography of Steven Reigns: Steven Reigns’ newest collection of poetry, Inheritance, is being released in May of 2010.  A two-time recipient of The Los Angeles County’s Department of Cultural Affairs’ Artist-in-Residency Grant, Reigns organized and taught the first-ever autobiography poetry workshop for GLBT seniors and edited an anthology of their writings, My Life is Poetry. Visit him at www.stevenreigns.com.

Writing Tip by Sholeh Wolpe

Five nails to hammer into your writing desk:

–A poem is a sauce you simmer and simmer until your reach its potent and aromatic essence.  This you do with editing.  Learn to edit your work.  It’s an art.  It’s a skill.

–Use metaphors to render the most ordinary into extraordinary.

–Jack Gilbert in his poem, “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart,” (The Great Fires Poems, Knopf, 1984) writes about the simple Sumerian tablets that are assumed to be simple business transactions, as love poems:

…When the thousands

of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,

they seemed to be business records. But what if they

are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve

Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.

O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,

as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.


–Give your readers something to recognize or relate to, then surprise them by nudging them into a different direction.

— And finally, feel fully authorized to recreate language.

Biography of Sholeh Wolpé: Sholeh Wolpé is the author of Rooftops of Tehran, Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad, and The Scar Saloon. She is the associate editor of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (Norton, 2010), and the editor of the 2010 Iran issue of Atlanta Review. Her poems, translations, essays and reviews have appeared in scores of literary journals, periodicals and anthologies worldwide.  Sholeh was born in Iran and presently lives in Los Angeles.  For more info: www.sholehwolpe.com.

Writing Prompt by Rob Roberge

A revision prompt:  Go back through any story you’ve done (or essay or whatever) and highlight every simile or metaphor.  Usually our first attempts at these are pat—using the borrowed language dead with, as Shklovsky points out (in the great book for writers “Theory of Prose”), the weight of familiarity. Say you’ve written a clunker like: “We fought like cats and dogs.”  Take this simile’s beginning, “We fought like…” and then write five more similes. Usually, sometime around the third or fourth, a writer will find a sharp, original simile or metaphor that another writer (with a different history of experience and experience in language) would not have come up with.  It’s a way to distinguish your work from other people’s, and a way to give voice to your unique history with event and language.

Biography of Rob Roberge: Rob Roberge is the author of the upcoming book of stories, Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life (Red Hen, Fall, 2110), and the novels, More Than They Could Chew (Perennial, Dark Alley/Harper Collins, February 2005), and Drive (Hollyridge Press, 2006).  He teaches writing in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles, in the MFA program in Creative Writing at UC-Riverside’s Palm Desert, and in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where he received the Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing in 2003.  His stories have been featured in ZYZZYVA, Chelsea, Other Voices, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the “Ten Writers Worth Knowing Issue” of The Literary Review.  His work has also been anthologized in Another City (City Lights, 2001),  It’s All Good (Manic D Press, 2004) and SANTI: Lives of the Modern Saints (Black Arrow Press, 2007).  Newer work is scheduled to appear, or has appeared, in Penthouse, Black Clock, and OC Noir, part of the series that includes San Francisco Noir, LA Noir and Las Vegas Noir. He plays guitar and sings with several LA bands, including, among others, the punk pioneers, The Urinals.  In his spare time, he restores and rebuilds vintage amplifiers and quack medical devices.  For news and more info, visit & or email at www.robroberge.com or on Facebook.