Tag Archives: Writing Wednesday

Writing Wednesday: Are Writers Right or Left Brained?

16 Apr

brain_resultvia sommer+sommer

Years ago, I read somewhere that right-brained people are more likely to put their right shoe on first. Since being right-brained is associated with creativity, naturally I began telling myself to put my right shoe on first whenever I left the house.

How left-brained of me!

Using facts — instead of intuiting — is a left-brain trait. My very attempt at subverting my instinct proved just how left-brained I am.

When I came across “Right-brained? Left-brained? Take the brain test!” on sommer+sommer, I had to take it. I’ve always been told I’m “creative” and have been interested in the arts, but I also take things very literally and sometimes veer toward the anal retentive. Perhaps that’s why I’m an editor. My left-brain tendencies to follow rules and look at parts can shine in a right-brained creative field that I enjoy.

I think the same holds true for writers. We tend to think of writers as being right-brained thinkers. Writers embrace fantasy, curiosity, chaos, and intuition. But writing takes a great deal of left-brained work.

Language itself is a left-brain trait. Nonfiction writers in particular deal in research and details, also left-brain traits. Fiction authors and poets also consider rules and details, even if they choose to subvert them. I think of the New York School poets in particular when it comes to writing rules, for their very creative writing experiments were in fact formulaic. For instance, Bernadette Mayer‘s “Writing Experiments“:

  • Make a pattern of repetitions.
  • Explore the possibilities of lists, puzzles, riddles, dictionaries,
    almanacs, etc. Consult the thesaurus where categories for the word "word"
    include: word as news, word as message, word as information, word as story,
    word as order or command, word as vocable, word as instruction, promise,
    vow, contract.
  • Structure a poem or prose writing according to city streets, miles, walks, drives. For example: Take a fourteen-block walk, writing one line per block to create a sonnet; choose a city street familiar to you, walk it, make notes and use them to create a work; take a long walk with a group of writers, observe, make notes and create works, then compare them; take a long walk or drive-write one line or sentence per mile. Variations on this.

Forced creativity! I love it!!

Having a successful writing career also take a great deal of left-brained work. As mentioned in Burning Furiously Beautiful, Jack Kerouac kept a running tally of the number of words he wrote each day. He also kept meticulous records of his work. Writers who seek to be published often create writing schedules and work regardless of whether the “muse” inspires them or not, they have to think analytically about the best market for their work, and they must keep notes on when and where they send work out to literary journals. There’s a lot of business in writing, as there is in many creative endeavors.

So what did the brain test reveal to me?

Congratulations
You use your brain equally.

It said I’m 59% left brained and 41% right brained.

You can take the test here. What did you get?

Find more Writing Wednesday entries here.

Writing Wednesday: Keep In Touch with Your Alumni Network

9 Apr

bookclub1

One of the best decisions I ever made was attending Scripps College. I accepted their offer of enrollment sight unseen. I had never even been in California before arriving a few days before orientation!

I made so many great friends — and I’m STILL making new friends because of Scripps.

A few years after graduating, I began attending the New York chapter of the Scripps alumnae book club. At the time, I didn’t know a single person who attended the book club. None of them were from my graduating year. In fact, it was only after I’d been attending for over a year that someone I’d actually known when I was attending Scripps as an undergrad began attending book club and we reconnected. What’s great about the alumnae book club is that I’ve met so many new smart women, some around my age, some much older, and some much younger.

These women from my book club have been so supportive of me. As I posted a while back, they selected the book I coauthored with Paul Maher Jr., Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” for their January 2014 read and invited me to speak about the book.

The college even posted a photo on the Scripps College facebook page of a group of alumnae from the book club holding Burning Furiously Beautiful!

Even before the book club reading, the Scripps College Alumnae Association posted about the book’s publication on facebook.

I haven’t been supported just online, though. In the Winter 2014 issue, Scripps Magazine featured me (see page 40) in their regular column “ManuScripps” about Scripps authors.

It’s not just Scripps, though. The New School, where I received my MFA, has also supported me. Every week during the academic year, the Creative Writing program emails a newsletter of students’ and alumni’s publications. It’s sent through email to those who attend or have attended the graduate program so I don’t have links to share with you (though the New School Writing is on Twitter!), but they have generously announced my publications.

Does it sound like I’m bragging? Well, I am. I went to a GREAT undergraduate college and a GREAT MFA. I feel so supported by the community I had while I was attending and also by the new community I’ve made back here on the East Coast.

But I’m not any more special than you. YOUR college would love to hear from you. Colleges love to brag about the success of their former students because it makes them look great too.

They’re also always looking for stories to fill the pages of their newsletters. Don’t expect them to keep tabs on you and know about your every publication, though. Many people who work on these publications are interns, work-study students, or volunteers who don’t have time to track you down and see what you’ve been up to. You have to tell them! They want to brag about you, but they have to know how first.

What to send to your alumni network:

Do the hard work for them by sending your alumni publication full details of your latest story any time you get something new published. That means: your full name (perhaps maiden name if you got married), your graduating year, the title of the piece, what type of piece it was, who published it, when it was published, and a link to the story (if applicable).

It’s not just about you

Be sure to give back, though. Class participation counts when it comes to fundraising campaigns, so even if you can’t give a lot, just by giving you’re contributing to the college’s efforts. If you’re a starving artist, there are other ways to give back too, such as submitting free articles for the alumni magazine, meeting with prospective students in your town, fostering a sense of community amongst alumni by congratulating individuals on their achievements, participating in regional alumni events, informing your alma mater about internships and job openings at your place of business, and mentoring recent grads. Cheesy as it may sound, it’s actually a real ego boost to be able to help others. Real success is being good enough at what you do to help others become better at what they want to do.

You may also like:::

“We’ll Keep at It, Anyway,” Responds Author to DBW Report That Most Authors Make Less than $1000/Year

2 Apr

dbwslidevia Mediabsitro

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond of the excellent writing and publishing blog People Who Write gave a compelling response to Mediabistro’s depressing “Most Authors Make Less Than $1,000 a Year: DBW” post:

We’ll keep at it, anyway….

Yes! Yes, we will. Nana, a friend of mine whom I met through a writing group, goes on to give good reason why we’ll continue to write. Not only that, she suggests that even established authors sometimes step away from their fame to publish under a pseudonym because it’s not about the money.

Even so, as Nana says:

But money would be very nice, and we have no shame in saying so.

What I took away from Nana’s post, though, is that even successful authors are not necessarily making their money from their writing:

And we can’t even hate on E.L. James because, yeah, we want to introduce a companion wine to sip as you read our novel or watch the film that’s been adapted from our bestselling book. J.K. Rowling, Robert Galbraith, whatever your name is, we see you and we want to be you one day, extending our novels into theme parks, selling our homes for $3.6 million and raising $250,000 for charity for a first edition copy of our wildly successful book.

In other words, marketing tie-ins like companion wines and theme parks pad their wallets. I’ve always known this, but it got me thinking:

What would be the perfect tie-in for Burning Furiously Beautiful?

I’m open to suggestions!

Writing Wednesday: Oxford Comma for the Win!

26 Mar

,

 

Remember a while back when I posted about the story about Kerouac and Burroughs getting into a duel over the Oxford comma—or more so my reaction to that story?

Well, I just came across two recent articles fighting for this little bit of punctuation.

For up this Buzzfeed article that argues—quite humorously and convincingly—about the necessity of the Oxford comma.

Second, this Tin House article provides historical context to the Oxford Style Guide.

Yes, I’m a firm believer in the Oxford comma—or as it was called when I did my editing certification at NYU, the series comma. The Beats may be all about “open punctuation,” meaning very little punctuation, but I’m old school. I like a heavy dose of commas.

 

How do you feel about the Oxford or series comma? Am I a total nerd for even thinking about this??

#AmtrakResidency Politics Makes Me Laugh

19 Mar

Amtrak-01-800x482-235x141

During my lunchtime reads, this headline, via Poets & Writers, made me laugh:

“Republicans Denounce Amtrak Residency”

The link round-up led to The Atlantic’s article “Shocker: Conservative Republicans Hate the Amtrak Writer Residency.

I’m not one to blog politics, but I will talk copywriting: these two headlines grabbed my attention and made me actually laugh out loud. It sounded like an Onion article! I kind of love the fact that they’re so outlandish and made me think about politics and the media.

Are some Republicans seriously against writers getting to use a seat that would’ve otherwise gone empty on a train? Of all the things going on in the world, is Amtrak’s residency really worth the political hubbub? Did the “liberal media” exaggerate and twist what Republican senators actually said? Are the senators’ concerns that the taxpaying public has subsidized Amtrak services with $1.5 billion and yet are giving away free tickets legitimate? Should the government help fund writers and those in the arts as a means toward furthering our cultural heritage?

When the Amtrak Writers Residency was announced a few weeks ago, friends came out of the wood works to urge me to apply. After all, writing and being on the road is my literary jam.

Then the official application was released. Thousands of people applied. And, I started hearing murmurs about the fine print.

No matter what your politics are and your stance on copyright, Amtrak’s certainly made headlines. Someone in their marketing department is doing something right!

Writing Wednesday: Reliving Those Awkward MFA Days

5 Mar

“This was a missed opportunity.”

Haha. Enjoy.

 

Lack of Translation in America Is “Shameful,” Says Lahiri

26 Feb

hedge

Jhumpa Lahiri criticized the American literary world as “shameful the lack of translation, the lack of energy put into translation in the American market.” The Indian American author said this on the panel about global literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival that I blogged about earlier, when I remarked on Xiaolu Guo’s sentiments that American literature is “overrated.”

I agree with Lahiri that our reading preferences in America are too inward focused. Ideally, we’d all be able to read in at least a second language, like Lahiri, who apparently hasn’t read anything in English in over two years. Good for her, but I’m a Greek school dropout. When I was in high school, I used to read Spanish decently, but I unfortunately haven’t kept it up and nowadays only read the Spanish advertisements in the subway station. Sometimes I tell myself one day I’ll go back to school to really study a language, but that day hasn’t come yet. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important. It’s that I know my limitations, and as horrible as it is to admit this learning another language just isn’t a priority at the moment.

That pains me especially when it comes to contemporary Greek literature. I am quite curious about the literary trends in Greece right, particularly in how they treat the economic crisis. I’ve read some translations of contemporary Greek works, but the truth is they’re hard to come by.

Translation in general is, as Lahiri pointed out, not a priority for American readers. Maybe because for many, reading isn’t a priority. With the difficulties the publishing industry has faced, it feels sacrilegious to condemn them for not publishing more translations. I do want to applaud one publishing house I’ve been keeping my eye on for the past few years: Europa Editions. Here’s why:

Europa Editions was founded in 2005 by Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri, who are also the owner-publishers of Rome-based Edizioni E/O, one of Europe’s most prestigious independent publishing houses. Our idea was to capitalize on Edizioni E/O’s decades-long experience to bring fresh voices to the American market and provide quality English editions of international literature by enlisting some of the best translators in the business. Our appearance would be distinct, incorporating both European and U.S. jacket design standards, reflecting our conviction that books today must be pleasing to the senses as well as to the mind.  Our catalog  is eclectic, for we believe that dialogue between nations and cultures is of vital importance and that this exchange is facilitated by literature chosen not only for its ability to entertain and fascinate, but also to inform and enlighten.

Also, can I make a bit of a suggestion for those interested in translation? If there’s a note from the publisher or translator, read it! It’s fascinating and eye opening to read about the decisions the translator grappled with when bringing a foreign-language work to an American audience.

What contemporary Greek authors should I be reading right now? Where’s a good place to find Greek works translated into English?

Also, you might enjoy:

 

I’m with Guo: American Literature IS “Overrated”

19 Feb

Gao

“Nowadays all this narrative [literature is] very similar, it’s so realism, so story-telling driven … so all the poetry, all the alternative things, have been pushed away by mainstream society,” said Chinese British author Xiaolu Guo, speaking about the effect American literature has had on Asian reading habits, on a panel about global literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Oh, and she called American literature “massively overrated.”

I kind of agree. I love American literature, but when I was getting my MFA and started attending writing conferences I began to get frustrated by the push toward what I’ll call commercialism. What I mean by this is that a lot of the feedback I received had to do with creating scenes, telling a story, writing a memoir that reads like a novel. I suppose that’s good feedback because that’s what people want to read…

—Except, I don’t. Much of contemporary fiction seems so contrived to me. Worse, it’s lacking in Art. It’s straightforward, it’s fast-paced, and it’s even enjoyable, but in the same way a sitcom is. Now, I’m not one for magical realism, so I’m not saying I want to venture as far away from the American tradition as Guo might be suggesting, but I think a little messiness, a deeper dive into postmodernism, some stream of consciousness, less obviousness, more layered meaning would do our literature some good, would give it a little more heart, a little more authenticity, more rigor.

What do you think? Which American authors are you particularly enjoying right now that you think would change my mind?

Dani Shapiro Explains Memoir Is Not Autobiography

29 Jan

devotion

When I tell people I write memoir, they tell me that they don’t think they could ever write memoir. Their lives are too normal. No one would want to read about their boring lives. The implication is that they think I must be pretty hot on myself if I’m writing memoir.

But that’s not what memoir is about.

In her excellent “Open letter from Dani Shapiro: ‘Dear Disillusioned Reader Who Contacted Me on Facebook‘” on Salon, Shapiro provides clarity on what memoir is and isn’t and why we read it:

Memoir is not autobiography. You did not pick up my 1998 memoir “Slow Motion” because I’m an important, influential or even controversial person. You did not pick it up because I am, say, running for office, or just won an Academy Award, or am on Death Row. No. You picked up my book because –– whether you know it or not –– you wanted to read a good story shaped out of a lived life. You wanted to sink into a narrative that redeems chaos and heartache and pain by crafting it into something that makes sense.

Read that last sentence again:

You wanted to sink into a narrative that redeems chaos and heartache and pain by crafting it into something that makes sense.

Beautiful. A lot of memoir writing and reading is about understanding ourselves and our life stories better.

She goes on to further explain that memoir tells an aspect of one’s life through a specific viewpoint:

The memoirist looks through a single window in a house full of windows. After all, we can’t look out of all the windows at once, can we?  We choose a view. We pick a story to tell. We shift through the ever-changing sands of memory, and in so doing create something hopefully beautiful, by which I mean universal. We try to tell the truth – by which I do not mean the facts. Listen to me closely, because here is where I apparently have enflamed you so: it is not the job of the memoirist to present you with a dossier. If you want a dossier, go to a hall of records.

I spent a lot of my time talking about the differences between memoir and autobiography while getting my MFA, and I’ve had a lot of people ask me point blank if writing memoir means I can just make things up. Um, no. If I wanted to make things up, I’d fiction, which frankly, sounds more appealing. Who really wants to write about themselves, to open their lives up for others’ critique? No, memoir sticks to the truth, but it is not journalism. We create dialogue out of the cobwebs of our memory, not through a transcribed secret recording of our entire lives. There are things we leave out, not because we are necessarily hiding things, but because they are irrelevant to the story we are telling. The reader doesn’t need to hear about my commute, for example, unless of course something about my commute is interesting or is relevant to understanding who I am or is a metaphor.

I recommend reading Shapiro’s article in full if you’re interested in memoir as a genre. Also, check out her great blog.

Writing Wednesday: Is Greatness Sabotaging Your Writing?

18 Dec
For better or worse, I don’t recognize a lot of critics’ names. David L. Ulin is an exception. Book critic for The Los Angeles Times, Ulin writes reviews that do so much more than summarize or sweep up a book in a blanket statement. His reviews critique on a higher intellectual plane.
Of course, it helped that he articulated so much of what I felt when I’d read Bruce Bawer’s attack in the New Criterion on Jack Kerouac being included in the Library of America. That’s not to say he unscrupulously defended Kerouac’s poetry—he admitted the Kerouac poem Bawer quoted is “negligible”—but he called Bawer out on spending more time focusing on the so-called Beat label and the people associated with it than on digging into Kerouac’s individual style and innovations.
But I digress.
Ulin has an essay entitled “My First Book(s)”  in the Paris Review Daily that first-time and struggling writers should read. With humorous (not silly—witty) self-deprecation, he writes about what provoked him to write (jealousy, opportunity) and how he got so bogged down in ideas that he incapacitated his body of work. Perhaps my favorite line from the essay:
I was twenty that summer, turning twenty-one in August, and I felt a growing pressure to be (how do I put this without reservation or irony?) great.
That parenthetical itself says so much about not only writing but the human condition. Guarding ourselves through cleverness we can become inauthentic. Sometimes the more we strive to be “great,” the more we lose our true vision and voice. We lose our stories. We lose ourselves.
He writes:
But here’s what is important: I sabotaged my own book. I did this in two ways, first by overthinking and then by overtalking, by telling everyone I knew everything about the work.
Replete with quotes from renowned authors, “My First Book(s)” explores the expectations an author puts of himself, some of which are naïve (“I had gathered so much material—so much unused material—that I’d had the fantasy the book would write itself…”) and some of which are nearly impossible to live up to (“I wanted to write not just a novel but a landmark novel…”).
Ulin’s essay is a refreshing read for all of us who get overwhelmed by our own “big” ideas. It’s also a gentle reminder that all writing—including our unpublished writing—is worthwhile because it teaches us about the process and improves our skills.
In the same link roundup in which they mentioned Ulin’s essay, Poets & Writers linked to a blog post by Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan that also spoke to the slippery idea of greatness:
One thing I’ve discovered. People who believe they are awesome and wonderful at their profession are often . . . not. People who have more self-doubt, who question themselves and are always examining what they did wrong and how they might do better – those folks are often better than they think they are, and they are much more likely to improve. It’s a difficult balance, between self-confidence and self-reflection. No wonder writers are a little barmy. But it is an important balance to strike.
Riordan continues:
Writing is hard. Not everyone can do it. It requires a combination of innate talent and lots and lots of practice and endurance. It also requires the right story, and publishing that story at the right time.
Though they have dissimilar writing styles, Riordan and Ulin both suggest that writing requires humility and stamina.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!