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Tasty tips and tidbits about the writing life from the students, alumni, staff, and instructors of The Writer's Studio.

Archive for the 'creativity' Category

Silence reason, take a risk

Friday, September 28th, 2012

I had a little “eureka!” moment I’d like to share with you. Something we’ve all been told countless times, but I keep conveniently forgetting. It has to do with the inner critic. Some days, it’s more like a panel of critics, isn’t it?

While working on a story set in Merritt, I felt compelled to write about a country music festival that used to happen there. For the life of me, I couldn’t come up with any rational reason to include anything about the festival in my story. Even a free write on the subject seemed like a waste of precious time.  After a few days, I’d made no progress on the writing, so I put it away. The chapter sat gathering dust for a month, and I was desperate to get back to it, so one morning I coffee’d up and let fly. Wrote down everything I could remember about the Merritt Mountain Music Festival, from the night Johnny Cash played to the “Walk of Stars” and buildings plastered with murals of smiling country stars in the nearly abandoned downtown core.

Out of this exercise came multiple esthetic and thematic ingredients for my piece, and what do you know, the festival itself did find a place in the story. Maybe it will be cut later. Who cares? Self-critique stopped my writing cold, and taking a risk paid off in spades. Duh.

Post by Carleigh Baker (TWS 2012).

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When the day is done

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Sit in your quiet room at night. Take out your pencil and notebook, listen to the clock click. Not so quiet anymore, is it? Begin listening to the sounds that float up in your body. Before they rise up and away, take your pencil, write them down:  wrench, riddle, rust, mantle. Rumble, rent, harbour of bliss. Blunder. Play with the sounds. Welcome them onto the page. Hear the rustling in the background. Get curious. Who’s out there? Why? With whom? Write it all down, let your pencil glide, explore. Take a swig of tea. Sigh. Celebrate. Keep writing. There’ll be time for editing later.

Post by Barbara Kmieć, TWS 2012.

Photo by the author.

Poetry’s Content and Form

Friday, June 29th, 2012

During Jami Macarty’s Sounds Like, Looks Like, and Feels Like Poetry, a core course of Southbank Writers’ Program, Claire DeBoer, a program mentor, and this blog’s coordinator, asked the following excellent, multi-part, and compelling question:

“On the few occasions when I have felt moved to write a poem (and have been afraid to do so because I had no clue about process) I have worked from the emotions I felt at the time and built words and images around that. What I am left with is lines on a page that don’t seem to reflect any particular type of poem or process. So – do I continue with this method and then try to shape my first draft into a processed poem (sestina, free verse, whatever format I choose)? Or do I leave the poem as is instead of trying to force it into a particular format?”

Here’s Jami’s response:

As I got half way through my response to Claire’s questions, it occurred to me that other writers may be interested in this topic. In fact, Toni Levi, another Southbank mentor, had a similar question a few days after Claire’s. With that in mind, though I am addressing Claire and her question directly, I offer all of you my response:

The way you describe the beginning of your process “when I have felt moved to write a poem” is, as far as I’m concerned, the perfect first step. That is, to allow for an arising movement within you to lead you to words and then paper/screen. And, yes, it’s often par for this course for fear to debilitate that movement.

Fear is one of the many manifestations performing the Inner Critic’s biding. When you “feel moved” to write a poem in the future, I invite you to focus as fully as you can on the energy within that feels “moved.” Write from there. If fear crops up, respectfully ask it to come back later for tea, because right now you’re busy writing a poem. Say it as loudly and as proudly as needed to get the critic to back off for a bit. I’m serious!

Now, it seems to me, dear writer, that “being afraid” to write a poem because you “had no clue about process” is in the category of putting the cart before the horse. It’s pretty common for writers to worry about process and form before they have material to process or form. From my point of view, as a creative writer, your number one and most important focus is to get the material out on the page/screen as authentically felt as possible. That’s first and foremost. So, your “worked from the emotions… felt at the time and built words and images around that” is exactly right.

Then, right! What you will be “left with is lines on a page.” That’s just the first movement. The process continues as revision occurs. Again, worrying about what’s there—”that doesn’t seem to reflect any particular type of poem”— sounds a lot like you’re putting high expectations on yourself to know what’s there before you know what’s there. This takes time. You cannot write a Shakespearean Sonnet (14 lines in iambic pentameter) before knowing what you feel compelled to say. Put the horse in front and let it run.

So, yes, I vote for continuing with the method you’ve been following. I urge you to go as far as you can with the content—getting it to be as true to heart as absolutely possible before the focus shifts to form. I believe content shapes form. In Black Mountain poet Robert Creeley’s words, “form is never more than an extension of content.

In a way, the writer doesn’t have to concern herself with form. Content takes care of it. I don’t think there’s a “trying” to shape. I think that happens organically from within and out of the poem. I don’t believe the writer chooses a form for a poem.

What if the writer takes as her first task to listen, patiently, for the poem to assert its form and shape? Now, that’s not to say that you can’t create a formal constraint for yourself, and say, choose to write a sestina, as an exercise—to get to know the form experientially. This is an excellent practice. Much is learned about the form, and in the process, the left brain (the Inner Critic’s territory) is highly occupied, which frees the right brain to run and skip and jump and cartwheel as it so desires.

It’s probably clear by now that I am not a proponent of “trying to force it [the poem] into a particular format.” A poem is like a butterfly caught in the house and cupped in the hands to set free outdoors. If you close your hands or hold too tightly, you’ll crush it.

Lastly, reading broadly, exposing yourself to as many different styles and types of poetry will offer you examples of and possibilities for form. Through reading, you’ll gain a sense of how form and content work with and for each other.

To your world of words,

Jami Macarty

Faculty, SFU’s Southbank Writers’ Program

Image credit: AJU_photography flickr.com

The pleasure of metaphors

Friday, June 15th, 2012

The exact evocation of one image, however beautiful, delights the human mind less than a lightning-flash comparison that fuses and assimilates two images (Brigid Brophy). This unexpected, sleight-of-hand metamorphosis is what gives pleasure.

Creative writing is a combination of the intellect and the imagination. Our intellect helps make our writing succinct and sensible. Our imagination takes us to undiscovered territories. Sometimes, when we sink deep into our minds in search of a metaphor, something marvelous happens. Something that can bring a knowing smile of surprise and accord, an unexpected spark of delight to you and your audience.

Post by Caroline Wong, who, inspired by her tremendously talented, energetic and hardworking fellow poets, finds herself writing and experimenting with different forms more than she has ever done before.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Imagine by night, edit by light

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Night thoughts are different from day thoughts. The late-night mind is less constrained, less rational. Not everyone rises early and writes for hours before noon. Let your mind slip into an altered state, and riff. Let your hands type lists of images, metaphors, one-liners, drafts. Then, in the logical light of day, choose ideas you can build on. Trust day light for the clarity to revise and edit your draft. Trust the night imagination to generate–when your inner editor is too dozy to stop the flow of sensation, emotion, and thought.

Post by Tanja Bartel (TWS 2012), a poet who teaches English at an alternate school and trades college in Mission, BC.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Listen and love

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Writing is about listening–listening to others, listening to nature, listening to your heart and the story there, listening deeply to what is true.

Writing is about paying attention to the voice in your head when it comes to whisper ideas; it’s also about getting out of your own way–quieting that voice–when it comes to whisper fears.

Writing is about learning to love. As the heart opens, stories and characters, their passages through time, and their journeys of change become more complex and authentic.

Writing is most fruitful when an artist is at one with pleasure: the aesthetic qualities of a writing desk, a warm cup of tea, solitude, or the particularities of a beach, tree, or a flock of birds, that pull words into our lives from a source we cannot name.

Post by Mary Fowles (TWS 2012). You can find her online at www.safranfilms.wordpress.com.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Investigate your roots

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Whatever your genre, it pays (I mean creatively, not financially) to be curious about language. Like people, words have homelands, genealogies, and personalities, and the more time you invest into getting to know them, the closer your relationship becomes. If you like, you can spend literally years of your life parsing syntax and researching Indo-European roots while everyone around you is doing regular things, like dating or building a career. But if you’d rather that language didn’t dominate your entire schedule, try looking up the origin of just one intriguing word every day. Richer writing (that’s -ing, not -er) guaranteed!

Post by Meaghan Rondeau, who is editing the TWS blog these days. Her playground can be found here.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Haiku in the morning, collage in the afternoon, dance at night

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Cross-training is a well known practice in sport. It exercises different sets of muscles so athletes develop core strength and a wider range of movement. In turn, new neural pathways arise in the brain.

This is also good medicine for writers, especially those who tend to stick to writing and to a specific genre as their one art. Engaging in diverse creative activities develops the writing muscles’ elasticity and plasticity, qualities whose properties include having the ability to fill whatever space is available and shape it.

Post by Ingrid Rose, an alumna of The Writer’s Studio. Image by aarmono.