Try This: Haiku

janav Creativity, Try This, Writing 2 Comments

While on vacation recently, I spent a lot of time writing haiku. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it’s a Japanese form of poetry that has very strict syllabic limits. The first line is 5 syllables, the second is 7 syllables, and the third is five syllables. Seventeen syllables total. They often mention the season or some natural element, and have a cutting juxtaposition that is meant to make a new connection in the reader’s mind. I was reading Matsu Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and got inspired since I was also pretty far north, in …

Write It Down, Make It Happen

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I came across this article a while ago, about how one of my favorite authors, Octavia Butler, wrote out her success before she had it. She wrote exactly what she wanted to accomplish: the awards, the bestseller lists, and why she wrote. If you haven’t read anything by Octavia Butler, she wrote science fiction as a black woman in a world of mostly white, mostly male writers. She succeeded in topping numerous bestseller lists, and won major awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grant – the first science fiction writer to do so. (Read the article for a fuller list …

Try This: Writing as Deliberate Practice

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And they still have to practice. In writing, we often assume that talent is enough, or the most important thing. We might accept that talent needs to be paired with writing a lot of words before we become good. We set our daily word goals, or have a goal to finish a major project like a novel in a year. Words are the units we measure progress in. Sometimes it’s a certain number of hours per day. But just putting down words, or putting in the hours, though crucial, isn’t enough. In the same way that guys who want to …

Ten Ways to Boost Your Writing (That Aren’t Writing)

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1. Sleep. Know how much you need, and create a schedule that allows you to get enough. I wish I was one of those people who can survive on 5 or 6 hours per night, but I’m not. I need 7, preferably 8 hours if I’m not going to fall asleep every time I sit down to the computer. 2. Eat. If you want to have enough mental and physical energy to do creative work, you need to feed your body healthy food. Too much sugar, caffeine, or foods you’re intolerant of (that cause physical symptoms or brain fog) will …

Your Summer Writing Plan

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Last weekend, as we wrapped up our day-long writing workshop, my writer’s group went around and stated what we planned to work on over the summer. We’re meeting again in September, so it was good to state our goals, especially after having received feedback on our work. Hearing others’ enthusiasm for their work and mine got me jazzed up to get back to working on a project I’d set aside as having too many thorny story problems that needed sorting. Summer is often the odd season out. Vacations, the lure of weekends spent outdoors, kids off school, and all the …

Summer Reading

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In the era of blogs and binge-watching tv shows and addictive online games, even writers can be distracted from one of their most important pursuits: reading. It’s easy to forget that we can learn a tremendous amount from simply immersing ourselves in other peoples’ words. There’s reading as a writer, which involves careful analysis of craft elements to see what works and how we might apply it to our own writing. But there’s also the task of absorbing story and language, keeping up with what others are writing in our genre, or actually (gasp) reading for enjoyment. After binge-buying books …

Critique Groups 101

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I’m excited because this weekend my MFA alumni critique group is meeting. We’ve been getting together for five years now, with slightly different configurations of people. The one thing we have in common is that we’ve been through Lesley University’s MFA program in creative writing. We didn’t all graduate at the same time, or in the same genre, and some of us have branched out to other genres over the years. We meet about three times per year, in someone’s house, for a day-long workshopping extravaganza. Writers write in isolation, and often work for years before gaining any audience for …

The Writer’s Life List

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Some people find writing whole-life lists daunting. Others find that what they write at one time in their life no longer applies ten or twenty years later (that has certainly been my experience). I like to brainstorm a list and choose one or two things to focus on for the year. That gives me a manageable time frame to work with, as well as a deadline. One of these is always related to writing. It can be great to think about the all-time experiences you want to have, and to work toward more than one goal at a time. But …

Try This: A Sense of Place

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I attended a week-long conference in Denver last week (hence the lack of posts). I’ve been there a couple of times now, and don’t really have a total feel for the place, but to be fair when I’m there I’m not in explorer mode – I’m working, or hanging out with a good friend. What I have seen, I like. The parks, the restaurants, the laid-back feel, the sense of space around the city, and the snow-capped mountains in the distance… it has a very different vibe from the northeast, where I live. Unless you travel frequently, it’s rare to …

Friday Favorite: Literary Agent Databases

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So how the heck do you find an agent anyway? It can be daunting to figure out, among all the hundreds (thousands?) of agents out there, who would be a good fit for your book. One way to do this is to look at books you’ve enjoyed, and see if the agent is listed in the acknowledgments in the back of the book. But for many, that might not be the best way to get to know who’s acquiring what types of manuscripts now. Similarly, print books go out of date so quickly, they are useful only in the broadest …