On Daydreaming: A Writer’s Perspective

Kobo Writing Life

By Shayna Krishnasamy

Remember when you used to be scolded for daydreaming? Dreaming rather than paying attention in class was a real no-no in my elementary school. Daydreaming the afternoon away was also frowned upon when there were chores or homework to be done. To this day, being labelled a “daydreamer” is similar to being called “special”—not exactly a compliment. We’re taught to view this activity as lazy and a waste of time, something with little value. “Stop daydreaming and help me bring in these groceries,” your spouse/roommate/parent might say, and you jump up and comply, duly chastened, fully complicit in this vast conspiracy that daydreaming is of no importance.

Well, I’m here to tell you that everything you’ve ever been told about daydreaming is a total LIE.

DaydreaminDaydreaming_(1)g is essential to being a writer. If there weren’t authors the world over walking around bumping into things because their…

View original post 850 more words

The Role of an Editor: When to Put Down the Red Pen

0

In 1980, the author Raymond Carver famously confronted Gordon Lish, his editor at Alfred A. Knopf, for stepping over the editorial line. Carver in his impassioned letter wrote that his stories no longer felt like his own, particularly objecting to Lish’s “edits” of “A Small Good Thing”. I say “edits” but it would be more accurate refer to Lish’s contributions as a rewrite. Gordon Lish had not only shortened the story by over 20 pages (leaving eight), he had also renamed characters and changed the title of the story to “The Bath”. Carver felt his integrity as a writer had been compromised, writing, “I’ll tell you the truth, my very sanity is on the line here”. Lish felt he was simply doing his job.
This raises the question, what is the role of an editor? Henry James referred to editing as “the butchers’ craft”, and Christopher Hitchens says, “Authors who moan with praise for their editors always seem to reek slightly of the Stockholm syndrome;” however Steven King famously instructed writers to “kill your darlings”, a task easier said than done. Perhaps it is the editor’s job to be the merciful executioner of those darlings. Betsy Lerner, author of The Forest for the Trees, an advice book for writers speaks favorably of the editorial department, asserting, “For the writer who truly loves language, a trip to the copy editor is like a week at a spa. You come out looking younger, trimmer, and standing straighter”.
The role of an editor goes far beyond that of manuscript alterations. An editor is also responsible for acquiring manuscripts, acting as a psychologist for their authors, and pitching their manuscripts to their publishers. While the author-editor relationship can be fraught, it is often a relationship of trust and mutual respect. So where should the line between editor and writer be drawn? Comment below with your thoughts!

Elizabeth Bishop’s Letter to Miss Pierson

A few words on poetry from a wonderful Worcester native:

bishopyoung1

I am answering you because (1) You enclosed a stamped, self-addressed envelope. (This happens very rarely.) (2) You think that poetry discussion groups are ‘a bloody bore’ –and although there are exceptions, in general I agree with you completely.

I think you have set up difficulties for yourself that perhaps don’t really exist at all. I don’t know what ‘poetic tools & structures’ are, unless you mean transitional forms. Which one can use or not, as one sees fit. If you feel you are ‘moralizing’ too much–just cut the morals off–or out. (Quite enough young poets tend to try to tie everything up neatly in 2 or 3 beautiful last lines, and it is quite surprising  how the poems are improved if the poet can bear to sacrifice those last, pat, beautiful lines.) Your third problem–why shouldn’t the poet appear in the poem? There are several tricks–‘I’ or ‘we’ or ‘he’ or ‘she’ or even ‘one’–or somebody’s name. Someone is talking, after all–but of course the idea is to prevent that particular tone of voice from growing monotonous.

From what you say, I think perhaps you are actually trying too hard–or reading too much about poetry and not enough poetry. Prosody–metrics–etc are fascinating–but they all come   afterwards, obviously. And I always ask my writing class NOT to read criticism.

Read a lot of poetry–all the time–and not 20th century poetry. Read Campion, Herbert, Pope, Tennyson, Coleridge–anything at all almost that’s any good, from the past–until you find out what you really like, by yourself. Even if you try to imitate it exactly–it will come out quite different. Then the great poets of our own century–Marianne Moore, Auden, Wallace Stevens–and not just 2 of 3 poems each, in anthologies–read ALL of somebody. Then  read his or her life, and letters, and so on. (And by all means read Keat’s Letters.) Then see what happens.

That’s really all I can say. It can’t be done, apparently, but by willpower and study alone–or by being “with it”–but I really don’t know how poetry gets to be written. There is a mystery & a surprise, and after that a great deal of hard work.

A World of Difference: An Anthology of Short Stories from Five Continents Edited by Lynda Prescott

Image

Dear Readers,

I profusely apologize for my month long absence. What with finals and travel I was lacking blogging time. Having just returned from a year in the U.K., I would like to devote this post to the affect of cultural nationality in writing.  The Anthology A World Of Difference along with my year long expat experience has made me realize the enormous influence one’s nationality has on the art they produce.

A World of Difference is an Anthology of short stories that focuses on cultural encounters and differences. Writers featured hail from South Africa to Kentucky, from Cuba to Cork. The diversity of the geographical locations and cultures is echoed in the writing of each. After leaving my homeland for a year, the reason behind this variety has become obvious.  I had to leave America to realize how deep that part of my identity was ingrained.

As individuals, our identities are incredibly complex. Our gender, political affiliation, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic background, interests, and heritage all play a role in defining our place in society. A rich gay Swedish democratic atheist male interested in fashion living in New York has very little in common with a poor straight Irish Catholic female interested in shooting living in Arkansas, and yet both of these individuals have been brought up in the same nation that is at one divided and united. They have been raised with American values and though they may seem to share little, that national identity is much more powerful than one realizes.

I wouldn’t say I was especially patriotic before I left. Yes, I worshiped at the alter of the great Bruce Springsteen, I voteed, I rooted for the US in the Olympics, and relished the story of the Revolutionary War, yet I didn’t get teary during the pledge of allegiance, I didn’t read the US news everyday, and I toyed with the idea of leaving the US for a period longer than a year. That was until I lived abroad this year. Don’t get me wrong; I adored my time at St. Andrews. I met some of the best friends I will every make, but my time apart from America made me appreciate all of the wonderful things about our nation that I took for granted. America is the nation I grew up in, the one in which I formed my values, and whether I realized it or not, my nationality was a huge part of my identity.

The same is true for other nations. Each culture has it’s own valuable, flavor that is inimitable anywhere else. Your home nation is always a part of you no matter how far you go from it. That was obvious in A World of Difference. Each writer as an individual was clearly defined by his or her home nation. And so readers, think about your national identity. How does it define you and your art? I assure you, it does.

xx,

Critiqueen

Poetry-Phobia: A Battle Between Narcissism and Insecurity

Most people loathe going to the doctor.  My father intentionally chose an elderly physician so that when he died, he was left doctor-less; no more making up excuses to avoid appointments, no more irritated receptionists leaving messages when he “forgot” his yearly physical.  It’s odd that I, as his first born, the child with whom he shares the most similarities anticipates going to the doctor with as much enthusiasm as I show for kittens and my birthday.

I sit down on the paper covered aqua cushion, bouncing my legs in anticipation as I await the nurse.  She slides back the door and pulls out my chart.  “I’m going to have to ask you a couple of questions.”

I respond cheerfully, even though I’m disappointed that there will only be “a couple” questions. A hundred, a ton, or even several would have been a more satisfactory quantifier for the word questions.  The nurse allows me an opportunity to speak shamelessly and extensively about the only subject I can claim to be on expert, myself.  Regular doctor visits are decent, but specialists are better. (They have to take a whole family history, which generally takes a while).  The dentist is no good because my mouth is housing the fingers of the brutish dental hygienist, and I won’t even get started on the gynecologist.

My enjoyment of discussing myself has unfortunately become a detriment to my writing. I continually find myself inserting myself in places I don’t belong, usually making a grand appearance wearing parentheses and dripping in sarcasm and drama.  Sometimes I find ways to include myself a bit more subtly, thinly veiling myself in a character name, or sneaking into the story as an extra.  But the question is why? I’m certain a psychologist would have a few things to say about it, (another doctor to ask me questions) however because, as I stated as before, I am the authority on—well me, I think I should be able to answer my own question through examination of the very thing that this narcissism most obviously and destructively affects: my writing.

There is a comfort in non-fiction. The responsibility of creating intricate settings and complex characters is alleviated.  The writer’s job is not to create, but to record with his or her own distinctive voice and style.  A bit of the “blank page anxiety” is lessened. Perhaps my love of writing personal stories is a safe choice.  It is in my comfort zone. No one can discredit me because there are no sources to help him or her fact-check my life.  However, I think within that comfort zone, there is a tendency for me to create more easily and more beautifully.  More of my energy can go into making each sentence “sing” than into research and creating.  Within those constraints, my creativity flows freely, unburdened by stress or anxiety. And yet, limiting my focus to one specific genre has stunted my growth as a writer; fear of failure has prevented me from experimenting with other forms.

The form that scares me the most is certainly poetry, that indefinable, mysterious form that twists the mind of prose writers to no end. I had avoided poetry throughout my university creative writing career, taking Prose 1, and Creative Non-Fiction. Do I like reading poetry? Yes. But when it comes to writing it, I am lost. When I saw I had to write not one, but two poems for my second creative writing assignment my stomach dropped in horror. Two poems? To be graded?

My poetry-phobia is a relatively recent development. In fact, the first things I ever wrote voluntarily and seriously were poems. The summer I turned fourteen; read The Bell Jar, and discovered Sylvia Plath, I was inspired to start writing.

I devoured Sylvia Plath. After The Bell Jar I began reading her collections of poetry including The Colossus, Ariel, and The Collected Poems.  The latter especially appealed to me. The handsome brown leather cover with the gold embossed writing on the spine, and the slightly musty smell that lingered on all of the pages made me feel scholarly and important. I read it in an armchair wearing loafers and glasses, drinking a cup of tea without milk or sugar because I thought it was more literary that way. By the end of that summer I had read her complete works.

Sylvia Plath is a dangerous author for a fourteen-year-old girl to read.  Every word she wrote echoed the experiences I had everyday. Sylvia felt alone and so did I. She wasn’t sure of herself and neither was I. She suffered from clinical depression and so did I. The difference was she had written beautiful poems and novels out of her dark feelings, while I just lived in my angsty world, suffering and producing nothing.

It was then that I decided to write my feelings down into a tangible form. That tangible form was bad poetry, usually written in my chemistry notebook during class, but I was writing, and it was easy.

It’s so fascinating to me that I could be so insecure; yet write so freely and without care. Somewhere along the way, I grew up and became more confident, but while I was more assured in myself, I became afraid of my writing. At a reading of Danielle Evans’ work, the author made a very astute observation, one that could explain one facet of my addictive self-insertion and my simultaneous fear of writing.  She said that most writers have a bi-polar personality, switching from thinking they are God’s gift to the written world and thinking that they have written nothing of value. I insert myself, not only to hide my insecurities, but because I have the pure nerve of thinking I know what I’m talking about. I should not need myself on the page as a crutch, weighed down by the weight of my insecurities.  I need to trust that my words hold meaning and truth without putting myself on the page to advocate for them. The bipolar nature of my writer personality does not have to be in opposition.  Danielle Evans stated that there was a state between the manic and depressive ones.  In this state I can make the most progress in both writing and editing. Writing takes both ego and self-consciousness.  By learning to control my emotions surrounding my own work, I could avoid writing solely about myself.  By gaining confidence in my ability to learn and write about other things, perhaps my egotistical writing will subside along with my fear of literary failure.

Poetry is the genre that is the easiest to write absolute crap and have it look inspired by a layman. However, the experts know how to weed out those poems. There is a lot more to poetry than writing down emotional words. You have to worry about syntax, rhythm, syllables, and then there’s the actual words themselves; they still have to mean something. Possibly because I have personally written bad poetry, I am wary of writing more. But this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like anything, writing takes practice. If I always live in fear of setting pen to paper, I will never improve. I will have to churn out several if not hundreds of bad poems to write one good one.

The one good thing about assignments is that you do inevitably have to finish them. Unlike recreational writing, you can’t just shelve them away when the going gets tough and words stop flowing so easily. I had to write two poems, and no amount of fear or reluctance could stop me.

Were these poems the best ones I’ll ever write? No. But I wrote them, I practiced and that is a start.

I plan to force myself into more dangerous terrain experimenting in genres besides memoir, maybe even delving into poetry? Though I adore writing memoir and personal essay, I may be stuck in a rut. My comfort lies in these two genres, keeping me from expanding and refining my writing.  Practicing other forms can only improve my writing.

Babies are self-centered and disregard others and in some ways I am still an infantile writer. Luckily babies mature and grow; this gives me hope for my writing. Without proper nourishment, encouragement, and a certain amount of willpower, babies will not develop properly. Similarly, I must continue nourish myself by reading the writing of others, following the instruction and encouragement of my teachers, and devoting myself to improving and developing my writing.  Simply allowing myself a place to write without my own judgment gives me a safe place to practice and fall without consequences. It is perhaps in my failures that I will learn the most about writing.

Bastet

Image

 Stop looking like a New Yorker.

How could a New Yorker

kill birds so painstakingly

You slink towards me like a scorned lover

returning after a night in a motel

“You’re going to pay for this.”

I love you

for lounging like a woman with nothing better to do

Never apologize.

You share my bed, a selfish husband, taking up all the space

and snoring the whole night through,

but I can’t sleep without you.

Meeting Alan Bissett

Image

Alan Bissett is a Scottish author and playwright (and voted the 46th hottest man in Scotland). When he entered the classroom for his lecture for the literary society, he did so with the swagger and confidence of an actor. He is unapologetically Scottish, sporting a tartan tie to match his thick Falkirk accent. Though at first glance he doesn’t appear particularly “hot” the minute he begins reading it becomes clear why he won his title.  His eyes are constantly wrinkled in a smile and his demeanor is nothing short of adorable. He first reads from his novel Death of a Lady’s Man about a male schoolteacher.  He opens the book to the correct page but does not glance at it for the remainder of the lecture. Turns out he memorized the whole section he was going to read and performed it like a play. “Some authors would consider it vulgar what I’m doing, acting out my prose, but I find it’s a whole lot less borin’. You can’t expect a bunch of people to come and listen to ye when you’re dull.”  Could I understand everything he said? No. But the performance aspect kept me entirely engaged.

Alan Bissett has written several plays including The Red Hourglass, a play consisting of several monologues performed by Spiders. Alan played all of these characters including a southern belle black widow, a Scottish house spider, a Woody Allenish brown recluse from New York City, and a swaggering South American tarantula. As if he wasn’t versatile enough, he also wrote a play dealing with gender and class issues, the Moira Monologues.  Bissett is a self-proclaimed feminist and a political activist.

The next thing he read was a piece about Scottish Independence. Bissett in addition to his literary pursuits is also a big participant in the movement for an independent Scotland. As an American, I’ll be honest I know very little about the topic. Living in this country has exposed me to Scottish and British culture together and they could not be more different.

I bought his book Death of a Lady’s Man and he gave me a discount so my respect and adoration redoubled. Moral of the story, I love meeting and chatting with a genuine Scottish writer, and yes, one of Scotland’s sexiest men.

Gotta love Betsy Lerner. Her blog The Forest For the Trees gives advice for new writers on publishing, writers block, and fear of rejection. Her blog is a continuation of those lessons. It’s candid, sassy, and funny. If you don’t already subscribe to it, I highly recommend you do. I’m going to respond to her final question “The writers life. How would you describe it?” Danielle Evans, author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self came and gave a talk on her life as a young writer at College of the Holy Cross, my home university. She said that writers operate between two states: extreme egotism and crushing self loathing. To be a writer you have to think your words are worth something. Otherwise why would you even bother recording them on paper? You think your better than everyone else, that your special, a deeper thinker, a better writer. Behind all this ego is a lurking suspicion that everything you’ve done is a fluke, that you really can’t write worth a damn and that your readers have been fooled. Your a genius and a fraud, a prodigy and slob who just got lucky. That fear that you actually are worthless is enough to keep you learning, to make you improve. To write in the first place you have to have an ego. To become a good writer, you have to simultaneously nurture self-esteem issues. Without them, you’ll just remain the good writer’s greatest fear, bad writing.

By the way, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Betsy Lerner

There is a reason they don’t let me out much. What was it? The beauty of the buildings, slate the color of pigeons, the girl with striped tights, purple water bottle swinging astride.  I sat alone in a church and listened to an organist sigh between pieces.I dined with bright minds and tried a new food. I bought a notebook that always spells hope. Flimsy, gorgeous new ideas that blossom and die in a moment. I am at Kenyon College and tomorrow I will talk about the writer’s life. You know that lonely clacking train, that aggravated assault, that self mutilation, that particular hope, that elegant insistence, that awkward moment, that drone in your head, that never ending conversation.

The writer’s life. How would you describe it?

View original post