Poetry. Writerly Advice. Memoir. Literary Analysis. Book Reviews. Serious Journalism.
After several months of planning and writing, several colleagues and I published a writing reference book for poets. Many of my editor friends and myself completed MFAs either for free (well worked off in a GAship), or for a hefty tuition. After emerging from said MFAs, we all felt like we didn't get much from the programs...nothing we couldn't give to ourselves.
The MFAs tend to forget the point of writing education. A lack in teaching craft is surfacing even at the best programs.
So, we were all sitting around a table hashing out editorial schedules for our beloved authors when Ms. Stewart blurted out, "What was the best thing you took away from grad school?" We all looked around at each other...and resounded, "the exercises." And a book was born.
--Out of everything. Writing exercises. Everything else about an MFA is self-directed. You read on your own. You write on your own. If you are lucky, then maybe you get taught something about your craft...but I wouldn't bet on it. Too many professors tell you "writing can't be taught" -- and that is just plain wrong...much like any art form...it can be taught. To rebel against the lofty price of an MFA, we decided to collect all of our favorite, most inspiring writing exercises. We also added some definitions for words that come up in poetry.
No. big. deal.
Take that university.
Okay, but really. The book is cheap-- ten bucks cheap because we don't believe in ripping you off. You can buy it for tablets too. Yay! Tablets...What we love about this book is that you can return to it again and again to use the same exercises and find different results every time.
We've also decided that this is something that we will continue to develop...the same way that Writer's Digest and PW do it. Only we want to help writers develop their craft without having to shell out thousands and thousands of dollars for nothing. For a piece of paper.
Writing clear prose is imperative to a successful career in any writing field. As journalists, we must write clear, concise sentences that convey information quickly. Even if you are writing a human interest piece and are painting a picture for the reader, that picture better get painted quick. My favorite book to use when finishing a piece for a paper is Fiske's To the Point: A Dictionary of Concise Writing.
Only two people out of ten will read beyond the title of your piece, no matter where they are reading it. That is a terrible odd. Help your work get read by using these tips to clean up your writing:
Using ambiguous pronouns can lead to confusion and draw the reader away from your main points. Consider the following sentences:
Passive Voice Constructions
This type of construction often leads to wordy and awkward sentences. Consider the following paragraph:
It is said that passive voice constructions are used too often by authors. As a result, wordy and awkward sentences may be created in an essay. These types of sentences are frequently made when imprecise language and terms are used by a writer. The audience may be confused when it is not made clear what the point of a sentence is. Mistakes in grammar can also be made. When these are made, interest in the paper may be lessened. Although many strong ideas may be contained in the paper, the audience’s interest is affected by the way that these ideas are presented. However, passive voice constructions and grammatical errors can be eliminated when time for proofreading is taken.
Passive voice constructions are easy to recognize because most of them follow a pattern:
“to be” verb + _____ed + preposition
“to be” verb Preposition
For example: The report was prepared by a researcher.
Rewrite the sentence as, "The researcher prepared the report." It sounds clearer and as a rule, aim for Subject-Verb coordination in your sentences.
“To Be” Verbs: is, am, are, was, were, has, have, had, be, being, and been
Common Prepositions in Passive Voice Constructions: in, with, and by
These are just a few tips to keep in mind when writing. I will deliver more writing tips next week.
who veiled me again
and packed coomb softly
Till a peer’s wife bribed him.
The plait of my hair
a slimy birth-cord
of bog, had been cut
And I rose from the dark,
The violent exploitation of Ireland caused by England during The Troubles is the main premise within Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Bog Queen”. The poem wrestles with resistance and historical prejudice. Heaney elicits visceral images depicting the resurrection of an ornately dressed female bog body (the jewels insinuate that she was of great wealth).
Prior to the passage indicated above, the poem elaborately describes the physical body of the bog woman (from the voice of the bog queen) being uncovered by the turfcutter who pays his respects to the woman after this abrupt discovery. However, through a bribe he betrays the bog queen, leaving her to rise and seek vengeance on those who have betrayed her in the past.
The violent tone married with the language signify that the bog queen represents Ireland. Furthermore, the prior mistreatment by England (and betrayal by some Irishmen) serves as the beginning of the rise of the Irish to regain equality. Through tone, and symbolic language, Seamus Heaney’s poem “Bog Queen” uses the exploitation of Ireland to argue that historical prejudice serves as the stepping-stone for resistance of a culture against external forces.
While the tone in the first three-quarters of “Bog Queen” is empathetic, an abrupt shift to a violent tone occurs between stanza twelve and thirteen. For example, the turfcutter, “…packed coomb softly” this illustrates that the man attempts to protect her by placing her back in the bog after being stripped of her belongings (Heaney line 46). He gently reburies her. Since the bog woman stands for Ireland, a country that was culturally assaulted by England this line empathizes with the turbulent treatment of the bog woman by trying to repair the damage through replacing her in her original state.
However, the tone shifts with, “Till a peer’s wife bribed him,” and the tone becomes that of betrayal as the bog woman details her hair being “cut” and taken from her without permission (49 and 52). This prejudice against the bog woman after the turfcutter had respected her sparks a violent vengeance in the bog woman/Ireland as she “rose from the dark” in fervor to resist this act of violence against her (53). This act of exploitation against the bog woman forces her up to revolt against the men and women who seek to strip her of her hair, which very much symbolizes her connection to her homeland, as it was the anchor keeping her in the land. Arguably, the empathetic tone shifts to a violent one as the bog woman was nearly at rest once again when somebody else chose to cut her from the characteristics that identify her as the bog queen.
The symbolic language within “Bog Queen” aids the transition from the empathetic to violent tone, as well as bears striking connotations that lend to the theme of resistance against historical prejudice. The diction in “Bog Queen” is two-fold: the connotation of the nouns and the selection of verbs to describe the action. First, the nouns are “coomb” (46), “peer’s wife” (49), “plait” (50), and “birth-cord” (51). The word coomb connotes the chalk downs of Ireland, which is a physical characteristic of the land. To pack the bog woman in a physical structure of Ireland suggests that she is a part of the land and removing her from it would sever her from her past. Thus, the diction lends to the empathetic tone and it argues that the turfcutter is aware that this woman has a nation and a history that exists regardless of the uncovering of her body. Heaney situates that body in her physical history in order to give rise to resistance as she is severed from her homeland in the violent cutting of her hair.
Moreover, the term “peer’s wife” suggests that the turfcutter was sexually bribed in order to cut the “plait” from the bog woman. Since peer is equivalent to friend, it works well with the concept of manipulating relations in order to achieve a goal, as the English did with Ireland’s people during the national conflicts. This manipulation raises the tone of betrayal as the reader witnesses the bog queen’s “plait”, an intertwining braid of hair being cut from her body and separating her from the past prejudices committed against her. Furthermore, the noun, “birth-cord” solidifies the natural connection between the woman and her motherland. Her hair serves has the umbilical cord between her and her land.
This sparks the bog woman to rise from the bog and seek vengeance on those who have attempted to separate her from her land and her culture. Not only does the cutting of the braid signify historical prejudice against the woman/Ireland, but also it allows the woman/Ireland to stand up and resist any further exploitation of the land that is home.
As the nouns provide insight to the theme by adding to the tone of the poem, the action verbs, “veiled” (45) and “bribed” (49) create the violent change from the bog woman passively lying in the land to the active resistance against those who have attempted to keep her oppressed. The term “veiled” is strong in that the bog woman was brought up from the bog, her valuables were taken, and then those who brought her to the surface put her back in the bog and “veiled” her from the world. Her eyes are covered and she cannot fight for her own rising from the dark. The term “veiled” (45) in this line sounds similar to the cliché “pull the wool over your eyes” in that external forces are hiding the truths of the exploitation from the bog queen. The word symbolizes those who are veiling the woman, as well as those who are choosing to put a veil over their own eyes in order to avoid seeing the destruction on their country and their people. The connotation of “veiled” segues into “bribed”, another manipulative verb within stanzas twelve and thirteen.
The verb “bribed” (49) suggests that there is a value threshold for the turfcutter to betray his bog queen. In this line, a woman seduces him with a bribe (money or sex) in order to get a hold of the powerful braid that connects the bog woman to the boglands. To be bribed suggests a weakness within the framework of the people of the land in that they are not strong enough to support their own land; however this demonstrates that Ireland’s historical past (or any historical prejudice) impacts the country’s ability to stand up to those that have taken advantage of the people. However, this bribe is the mechanism that enables the land to regain itself. By succumbing to the bribe, the turfcutter releases the “veiled” queen, which indirectly leads to her “[rise] from the dark” (51). These final lines are a warning of resistance should any person attempt to veil the bog queen or her people in the future.
The theme of historical prejudice on a people or a land and the rise of a resistance are strong throughout the “Bog Queen” as Heaney examines the impacts of the conflicts in Ireland regarding the position of Northern Ireland. In “Bog Queen”, the bog woman serves as the physical and cultural land that has been exploited by England. Moreover, the violent tone and symbolic language suggest a political warning to those who have violated the bog queen’s land in the past.
Want more literary analysis? Check out my essay collection.
To celebrate the release of my book, written to raise money for a local literacy group on Oregon, I am offering the ebook free from March 5th through March 9th on Amazon.
The collection touches on topics such as gender and class in a variety of literary works. If you know a college student who needs insight into some of the best literature in the world, guide them to my book!
Since I haven't been writing much poetry this year due my other goals, I have found poetry-writing-solace in Haiku. If you haven't written haiku before, it's simple to learn and you may find that the constraint frees your imagination (seems counter intuitive, but constraint-based writing creates incredibly productive writers).
A haiku is THREE LINES that look like this:
LINE 1: FIVE SYLLABLES
LINE 2: SEVEN SYLLABLES
LINE 3: FIVE SYLLABLES
Here is a HAIKU a wrote this morning --
Middle sexed finger
Today I learned that I hate small round tables. You can't do anything on them but set your stuff or a notepad. You can't do school work with your kid at the same time you munch on carrots and hummus. You can work from a laptop and teach division, either. And if you want a pizza AND plates...well fuck you very much says the round table.
2017 sucked. It was my least productive year in 10 years.
I've decided to change that by making up for it in 2018. I do like even numbers, so it's fate, I suppose. This year I will write 2,000 words every day with my focus being on nonfiction and not poetry. I do love poetry, but right now I can't dedicate scheduled time to it...and anyways my best poetry comes from whims, not structure. So, when a poem strikes, I'll write it. Other than that, I'm going to write essays, articles, and a memoir.
I've also decided that I will not be submitting my work anywhere until this summer once I've had time to polish up my recent completion.
DEFINITION: A poem guided by the alphabet. Each line or stanza begins with the first letter of the alphabet followed by each letter following, until the last letter is reached. Variations of the form occur.
ORIGIN: An ancient poetic form that was commonly used to compose letters, prayers, and hymns. The modern literary world relies on this form for children's books, mnemonic devices and lullabies (think Edward Gorey and Dr. Seuss).
RHYME PATTERN: Varies. Contemporary abecedarian poetry doesn't rhyme, but there are clear metrical relationships. Children's versions often rhyme and are very sing-songy.
EXAMPLES: John Disch's Abecedary, Carolyn Forché's Blue Hour, Edward Gorey, Dr. Seuss, and Mary Jo Bang's The Bride of E
A few weeks ago, my contract as a curriculum writer expired. It was a wonderful contract, but I knew that my work was done and there wasn’t an option for renewal (I had to say goodbye to $50 an hour, five hour days!). That left me scrambling for work to fill my schedule. You see, I work as a managing editor for Unsolicited Press, but that doesn’t result in a paycheck. It’s all ROI work and someday it will pay off, but today isn’t the day. I usually fill my days with freelance projects (editing and writing), but this fall has been slow, so I have been looking into a few outlets. Here is what I came up with – these companies are hiring in 2018 and if you are looking for a job, it’s important to get on board early.
Others that were hiring in 2017 and may still have positions open:
GreatAuPair, The Hartford, Motorola Solutions, Western Governors University, Walden University, Crawford & Company, Overland Solutions, an EXL company, Cigna, SYKES, Citizens Bank, Achieve Test Prep, Kronos, CVS Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Lenovo, and American Heart Association.
I am sending my poetry manuscript out to presses. I've just received my first rejection on the book! Woo Hoo! I do love rejections. Here are a few places I've sent the book:
This list will grow. Have any ideas?
I don't want good company & good fires & good vibes.
I don't want to talk to you about the heat or the cold.
I don't want to hear about how making time for you would make me happier.
I don't like black roosters or cocks. It's not very funny. It's racist.
I don't think being a proud homophobe is attractive.
I don't want to talk about what we did eight years ago.
I can't just get married because you think you still love me.
Making the decision to become a writer is a tough one because there is a lot of negative stigma out there, but you shouldn't let that stop you. Writers can and do make a living in this world. In fact, I'd argue that writers are in greater need than ever before with the explosion of the Information Age.
Once you've decided to pursue writing, whether you are 18 or 57, you need to tell your family and friends. To help you, I've prepared a few statements that you can use to break the news. Enjoy.
For those of you who don't know, I love food. I am working on my master's in nutrition right now and I love food. Part of my mission is to establish myself as an expert in food and nutrition. The best way to do that is to guest post on ads many blogs as possible (in addition to other things of course!).
Since I've been doing my research, I wanted to share with you what I found, in case you are a food writer and looking for new guest post outlets.
My best buddy and I both homeschool our children. Not together. But in spirit. With the new school year coming around the corner, I have to shift from my summer schedule to my academic schedule. Which sucks because I got used to the little one reading books while I work. Now, I must put on my thinking cap for another graceful year of education.
I wanted to share with you my schedule because maybe you homeschool. Maybe you work at home. Maybe you want to pull all of your hair out because you cant get your shit together. Who knows.
This is my plan for the academic year.
Music is more powerful than any other art form.
It beats the heart.
It incites tears and inspires lovers to part and come together again.
It reminds us that love is the most important goal.
Music is immortal
I am releasing a marketing book very soon alongside a few of my coworkers from Unsolicited Press. Today, I will share with you are brief excerpt from the book. "A Book a Day" will be available as a ebook and in print. It's loaded with invaluable marketing advice fro authors directly from the publisher.
Setting Up Readings
Readings are easy to set up, but it requires courage to walk into a bookstore of pick up the phone and ask a bookseller to have confidence in your work. But, you’ll never know if a business wants to host your reading unless you ask, so don’t short yourself…make the call or go down and speak with the manager.
Before you make any calls or drop bys, create a list of bookstores, bars, cafes, libraries, and other venues that you would like to read at. You should also look into venues that are known to host reading series’ in your area. For example, tons of little bars and cafes play host to monthly reading series’ and they are far more likely to support your event than a café that never hosts readings. Do your homework.
Once you have your list, you need to figure out whom to speak to and how those places go about setting up a reading. For most local venues, it is simply speaking to the event planner or manager. For larger venues, such as your local Barnes & Noble, it may require more effort. Major chains list their requirements to set up readings/events on their websites.
Add all the details to your list. You will want to have a calendar handy when you begin reaching out to venues; plan to schedule readings from the day of publication through 3-6 months afterwards. Be open to suggestions by the venues as well.
Once you have contacted all of the venues to schedule readings, follow through with them to set up readings. You may have to send your media kit and a complimentary copy of your book to the venue for consideration. On your calendar, make a note to get in touch with each venue 3-4 weeks after you’ve made contact (only if you weren’t able to schedule the event right away) to ask if they are interested in booking your reading. If not, thank them and move on. If you are able to book an event, work with them to get everything set up.
After you have reached out to local venues, begin looking at other locations within 100 miles of your home. You should be able to secure several readings with ease.
Having Books on Hand
We always suggest having a box of at least 100 books with you at all times for readings because things go wrong, and you need to be prepared. Publishers usually offer books at a highly discounted rate, so you can buy copies without going completely broke. For example, we offer our books at 40% of the retail price and don’t require authors to pay anything back. Not only do our authors get to buy the books for cheaper than retail, but the earn a high royalty because we don’t require remuneration (instead of the 25% royalty, they get a 40% royalty per book. Not all publishers are so friendly…some (even big houses) require authors to either buy the books at cost a pay royalties to the publisher as books or sold, OR buy the books at the listed retail price. If you are working with a press, don’t be afraid to negotiate a reasonable price for the books. If you are self-published or operating an indie press, then this isn’t something you need to worry about…just have the books ready to go.
Now, you shouldn’t have to use your box of books for readings that are booked at bookstores. Bookstores have the capability to order books through distributors to have books on the shelves, and you should encourage them to do so. For those of you self-publishing, you need to make sure that your book is listed with a friendly distributor. For example, if you are self-publishing via Create Space, you may find that bookstores are hesitant to order from them because they do not offer favorable terms. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t order from Createspace…it just may take a little convincing on your part. You are going to need to demonstrate to them that you are going to bring in a large enough audience to sell the books that they order. And if they still aren’t convinced, then you may need to agree to buy the books from them that they don’t sell.
If you are self-publishing or an indie press working with IngramSpark, then you won’t have this issue. IngramSpark offers standard terms to bookstores, making it much easier for you to get the bookseller to order via Ingram and give your book shelf space.
The only venues that you are going to need to bring books to are ones that aren’t bookstores. If you are scheduling readings at bars, cafes, parks, etc…then you need to bring books. These venues don’t have accounts with book distributors and you are going to need to help them out. Offer to provide the books, and ask them to do the promoting of the event. If you work together to create a reading that benefits both parties, then the venue is more likely to boost your reading if they see it as an event that will bring them more patrons.
Gather Everything You Need
Hooray! You’ve set up readings in your area for your book and you’ve posted the events to your blog/site and social media accounts. You know that you need to have books, but you also need other items to have a successful reading.
At every venue, you need to make sure that the proper AV equipment will be provided, if it is needed.
You also need to send each venue a poster with your book cover on it. Consider using Vistaprint or Staples or your local printer to help you come up with an eye-catching poster. Use a poster that is either 11”x17” or 16”x20”. The poster doesn’t have to mention the reading; in fact, a universal poster is best because you can send it to every venue without having to edit it. An eye-catching poster will contain a high-resolution image of your book cover, the title of your book, your name, and that 140-character book hook that you created a long time ago. It should also say where the book can be purchased (your website or your publisher’s site).
In addition to a poster, you should bring bookmarks, stickers, and any other promotional products that you have created. Readers love free goodies and they are more likely to buy a book if they know that they are getting something for free with it!
The Actual Reading
Plan to read for 15-30 minutes. You should select and practice the excerpt you plan to read from for several days before the reading.
When you arrive to the reading, arrive 15 minutes early to handle any business. Check out the reading and get comfortable.
If less than 5 people show up, don’t freak out. Do the reading anyways and do it as if 100 people were there. You should also bring somebody along with you to record the entire reading, which you can later post to your website, YouTube or give to your publisher for promotion.
After the reading, prepare to hang around 10-20 minutes to talk with readers and sign books. Remember, a book reading is a sales pitch and if you are successful, you should be able to sell every single audience member a book.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.