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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 'language' Category

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.

Translate sound

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Try doing a homophonic translation of a poem or a page of prose. To do this, you need a poem or piece of prose in a language you don’t understand. Then, “translate” each line or sentence based roughly on the sound or sight of the words. For example, I turned Rilke’s line “Wer hat uns also umgedreht, da wir” into “Where has the sun also grumbled?” The idea here is to engage with language in a way that is not logical in a linear sense. This exercise often produces marvelous word combinations and interesting story/character ideas.

Post by Jen Currin, TWS poetry mentor.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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

Southbank Writer’s Group: Finding your Writing Germ

Monday, June 18th, 2012

The Southbank Writer’s Program in Surrey has been underway for 3 weeks now and we’ve been picking up some writing germs along the way.

Instructor Nancy Lee taught us that great writers are born, for the most part, of thousands of hours of writing practice rather than a God-given talent. She helped us to see that by worrying less about perfection and getting it right the first time, that our best writing comes from exploring our imaginations freely on the page.

Lois Peterson introduced the concept of ‘germs’ to us. Germs are those ideas for a writing piece that come to us when we’re driving down the highway, sleeping in our beds, reading the newspaper, or when we overhear a conversation. The trick is to make a note of these germs as soon as we think of them and then to spend some time watering and feeding them until they are ready to grow. “Don’t judge a germ”, Lois says, “just record it and start asking questions about it.” Don’t write until you are ready. You should feel so pregnant with the story that you will burst; that’s the time to begin writing.

Poet Jami Macarty showed us to look for the germ of a poem through a writing exercise than began with a most unlikely seed: cataloging the start of our day in reverse order. Simple sentences came out of the exercise, such as,”grab keys from counter,” “get up and feed the cats.” But once we focused on those words, sounds, images and letters that meant something to us, we began to find the germ to a poem and the unexplored seeds that lay dormant inside us.

We’re looking forward to some great insights from Jami this week before we journey into the world of non-fiction with Bryan Payton this weekend.

Post by Claire De Boer —Mentor, Southbank Writer’s Program

Claire De Boer is a fiction writer and graduate of both The Writer’s Studio and the London School of Journalism. She is the Wellness Editor and regular contributor for SheLoves Magazine and also provides professional writing services.

Creative commons image courtesy of flickr.com.

Write like a poet, whatever your genre

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Prose works written by poets hold a special place of honour on my bookshelf. The memoirs of Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, Johanna Skibsrud’s novel The Sentimentalists, and Molly Peacock’s two non-fiction works, The Paper Garden and Paradise, Piece by Piece, are a few well-worn examples.

The artful approach to prose and storytelling is what I love about each of these books. They are meditative in tone and setting, full of vivid, precise language, rich in metaphor and imagery, and mindful of the need for books to show us the wonder of words.

I’m not a poet (not yet, at least), but I hope I can learn to write like one!

Post by Erica Mattson (TWS 2012).

Photo courtesy of the author.

Sound out your rhythm

Friday, January 13th, 2012

When you think a piece is finished, or if you’re feeling stuck, the best thing that I have found is to take yourself to a quiet, private space and read your work aloud. Word choices that you thought brilliant on the page can seem excessive or not strong enough, and parts that are giving you a problem can come tripping out of your mouth when you let go of labouring over the page and let your body fill in the blanks. Trust the discoveries, and then get back to the drawing (writing) board and incorporate your new information.

Post by Jocelyn Pitsch (TWS 2010).

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

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.