The Beautiful Writers Workshop #25: Submitting Your Poetry

Good morning poets, writers, daydreamers and those who’ve accidentally stumbled onto my blog. Welcome. Grab a seat and a cup of coffee.

I’m starting off today’s post with some poetry submissions that came in over the last two weeks. I want to commend all the poets who send me their work. On a site like mine, where no profit is made, the art I share and display is for the soul and seeks to create a connection between us all. It means a great deal to me, especially in these days of separateness, to have someone answer back from the darkness with pieces of their lives that have moved them.

The second portion of this blog will have a run down of helpful tips (f*&k yeah! another bullet list!) on submitting your poetry for publication or competitions as well as a list of respected journals, websites, and independent magazines that are currently accepting submissions.

Please enjoy the poetry first. Roll it over in your brain and let it affect you.

From a small foam couch by a wide still

morning spreads hummingbird wings

and hovers above sweet shared generosity of

green breath, fragrant openings berries rounding

toward giftable ripe.

In my hand a letter of

urgent pleas, a photo of a severed head, defaced, a supine body.

i hear the cries of the killers’ children

starved of homeland, thirsty for water

not weighted by toxic sludge, in the

mourning touches and silent vigil—those who

gather to hold the immensity of loss and betrayal

together, whose hearts beat slow and whose long

trunks touch, mourner to mourner, connecting.

In my head echoes a question the letter refuses

to ask. Who buys this ivory?

Earnest groups patrol for poachers and

arrest sellers and confiscate poached evils, but

those with money enough to buy have

clout enough to hide or we allow them

to remain hidden behind lavish excesses

of endless kinds, hiding the sickness they carry

behind false fronts of our own contrived desires—

convinced that their perceived ease is our only goal.

In the pain of this poem is not where

i want to be this morning. In the dusty

Mara waiting for rain, waiting for humanity

to remember where we came from, where

we can again live whole and connected

among kin of all kinds who know us

as worthy of being mourned, i feel

the touch of sensitive trunk on my streaked cheek.

In my breath can i carry this song

of our truth—our birthright wealth? In my

heart can a scent of love spend the only

currency that matters? With my strong legs

i can embrace the work, celebrate the work, of

releasing our aspiration to laziness, so that

in my cupped hands, i can gather ripe fruits

to carry to all who hunger.

sid sibo

What I Didn’t Say

What I didn’t say

was that I was not sorry,

That you deserved

every faltering and bold moment

I loved you

What I didn’t say

was the space between notes

and the harbinger of changes

that I hadn’t heralded yet

All the words I did not speak

Still bitter on my tongue

And in their place

A thousand sorrys

I did not mean

I am not sorry

for my heart tremors

erotic night dreams

and the wicked way my hands scraped skin

I am not sorry

For falling, impetuous and blind

into the volcanic mess of you

The stifling and choking cloud

Heat of resistance

burning around

a cold,

locked heart

I am not sorry for sacrificing

my heart cells
to the lost cause of you and yours

You can have them,

the cardiac muscle and hardest working fibers

What I didn’t say

is that

you can take them all

You need them more than I do.

Elliana Byrne

Non attachment

I’ve been preaching to my mind

In forced moments of stillness,

When images of you surface

Non attachment.

Nothing really exists.

Least of all you

Least of all me.

Nothing is permanent.

Ever changing

Ever moving

To hold on is to suffer.

i am not attached.

i am not in need.

You are nothing.

And everything.

As everything is nothing and

Nothing is in the everything.

So even though you may

have seemed my everything

You are, as all, just nothing.

Just Neo’s spoon.

And I know now

There is no spoon.

So it can bend and move,

Or cease to exist.

There is no you.

No me.

No this,

No words you gave

Or thoughts you implanted.

There’s nothing but the breath

And the heat within me

Forging in time,

mine of universal light

Perfect harmony

And maybe this is the way I let you go.

Because you are the

Regret of my past

The ill-placed hope of my future

And all I really have…

Is the empty now.

Thanks for reading through all of those beautiful journeys into humanity. Now, I present to you a short and sweet bulleted list of tips for submitting your work:

  • Do your research: There’s nothing worse than sending your erotic, atheist, non-trad poem to a Christian Journal looking for pieces to be read aloud at their yearly conference. Know the journal/mag/contest you are submitting to. Try to write or match up a poem that fits what they’re looking for or at least the general “flavor” of their publication.
  • Be respectful and follow the guidelines: Every submission has guidelines. Read them. Follow them. If it seems like jumping through hoops is a waste of your time, thinking of sending out 35 submissions that don’t even qualify. That’s a waste. Most guidelines can be found on the website beneath or within the “Submissions” page.
  • Make sure your work is complimentary and tight: If you send out a group (3-5) poems it will help to have the poems compliment one another in some way, so the tone is not too disruptive but it also shows the depth of your writing skill. Also. EDIT. I know poetry is a bit free form and we can play with spellings and words to make things interesting, but its don’t play it that way if you really just didn’t feel like spell checking.
  • Keep a Log of your submissions: If you use Submittable (and many contests, journals and mags do), it will track who you’ve sent work to, when, and how much the fee was if applicable. This not only helps you keep on budget but it allows to see where your work is and query or move on if no responses are given with the appropriate time frame. If you don’t want to go that route, you can make a spreadsheet in Excel, or keep a notebook with the date submitted, the publisher/journal, the poem(s) sent, the expected response time, entry fee, and anything else that you feel like creating a column for.
  • Don’t be afraid or discouraged by rejection: I’ve known poets who submit over 700 times a year and maybe get only five to ten poems published. I’m not nearly that ambitious but it helps to know that its just part of the game, and is not necessarily a reflection of your work so much as it is a numbers game.
  • Know your ownership rights: Some forums will require that they have the sole publishing rights for a certain amount of time, meaning you can’t put it on your website or shop it around, even to local or smaller works. Be sure that you are okay with their terms of publication.
  • Start Small: Ya’ll I’m not even joking. One of the biggest secrets to publishing is to not throw your heart into the cauldron of huge publishing factories. Not only will your work get lost in the endless entries from around the globe, but it may not get into readers’ hands in the same way you wrote it. Do yourself a favor and research local magazines, niche magazines (think Erotic Atheist Digest?), local writing groups, and small literary presses. While they can be more discerning in some respects, they also carry the torch of being outliers that appreciate the art in a more grassroots way.

Well…holy smokes this might be one of my longest posts but, I did also promise you some good starting points for sending out your work. So, big breath in, you’re in the home stretch.

  • Thrush Journal
  • 8poems
  • 32poems
  • Rattle
  • FreezeRay
  • Ghost City Review
  • Barren Magazine
  • Little Death Lit
  • Palette Poetry
  • Wildness Journal
  • Androit Journal
  • Frontier Poetry
  • Winter Tangerine

Don’t forget to search local college/university literary journals, local publishing companies or poetry groups, and independent journals. Don’t be afraid to, every once in a while, send your stuff to bigger places too. The Harvard Review and Poetry Magazine as well as The New Yorker usually also accept submissions.

Until next week! Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #24: The Basics of Poetry

Hello writers,

First, apologies for missing last week. I started my Thursday morning at 2 am, driving to the trailhead of my first 14er. It was a beautiful cool day up on the mountain and I was pretty tired upon returning home.

In addition to that, and on the same day, we welcomed a new family member into our home.

So I’ve literally been climbing mountains and raising babies for the last few days and am now safely locked in my office for an hour of dedicated writing time.

Without wasting any time, let’s get into the basics of poetry.

Some of us are born with the inclination towards alliteration, symbolism, personification and all the intrinsic elements of powerful poetry. For the rest of us, becoming a better poet (progress not perfection) can be accomplished by learning the dynamics of poetry form and function.

Now, I’ve heard a lot of degrading comments on poetry that rhymes. First of all, Poetry is Poetry. It doesn’t have to fit into some MFA or Beatnik/Hipster trend to be worthwhile.

Witness:

“She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies,

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heavy to gaudy day denies”

Lord Byron

Or one of my other favorites:

“When I am dead, my dearest,

Sing no sad songs for me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

Nor shady cypress-tree;

Be the green grass above me

With showers and dewdrops wet;

And if thou wilt, remember

And if thou wilt, forget.”

Christina G. Rossetti

Or Even:

“There’s too many kids in this tub

There’s too many bodies to scrub

I scrubbed a behind

And it sure wasn’t mine.

There’s too many kids in this tub.”

Shel Silverstein

Many a talented writer use rhyming and alliteration to build a beautiful rhythm that lends well to spoken recitation, which is one the most important foundation of Poetry. We’ll get into that a little later.

Do you need to rhyme your lines for it to be “poetic” or presentable? Of course not, as I mentioned last week, Poetry’s main function is to tell a story in the thickest, boiled down way. I do think it’s important to play with the concept of rhyming poetry, even if it’s only as a practice. It will not only help you to build your vocabulary, but it teaches you the essential dynamics of beat, and syllabic flow.

When considering how to help other writer’s have a good starting point for their experimentation into poetry I thought of the things that have helped me to grow and thrive in my poetry.

And I even put it into a bullet list because…bitches love bulleted lists.

  • Read a lot of poetry : The same as in any writing, if you want to know what works, read a variety of poetry. From the classics to the more modern and experimental forms. You can subscribe to the Poetry Foundations daily poem ( poem a day ) or, invest in some independent poetry journals and magazines (http://32poems.com/ is great and there are many others). Support local poets and writers by buying anthologies (ahem: https://www.amazon.com/Small-Things-Beautiful-Anthology-2019-2020/dp/1692331558)
  • Attend Poetry Readings (as social distancing permits–you can find online forum as well): The beauty of poetry, as I mentioned above, the ability for it to translate into the spoken art. Performance poetry will move you in ways that simply reading it cannot. By listening to poets read their poetry, you can catch a lot about word use, syllabic stress, alliteration, rhythm, tempo, and personification. Plus, the emotion of poetry is so much more present when someone is telling it to you.
  • Start Small: You don’t have to write The Iliad. Start with a haiku (5-7-5) or even put a 25 word limit on your poem.
  • There is Poetry in Every Thing: You can write a poem about a ball of yarn, a flower, the death of a loved one. Every object, feeling, action, or person can be inspiration. I once wrote a poem about a katydid I found being eaten by a wasp. I’ve written a poem about tripping. There is a poem in every thing. Find it.
  • Don’t Obsess Over First Lines or Titles: Just like pausing to edit your novel or story can interrupt the flow of creativity, worrying about creating the ‘perfect’ first line will staunch the ideas. Just start from somewhere. Like any writing, poems will undergo different rounds of changes and editing. Sometimes I don’t have a title until the final edit. Sometimes I don’t ever have a title. Don’t let that stop you from trying.
  • Tell a Story/ Express Big Ideas: One of my favorite things about poetry is that in a single stanza we can learn a world. Poets that are magnificent at this are: Maya Angelou, E.E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, Chuck Bukowski, Pablo Neruda, and Mary Oliver.
  • Use Tools: It probably sounds silly to remember your thesaurus but when we are working with an economy of words the difference between the right word and the almost right word is, as Twain said, the difference between lightening and a lightening bug. My favorite function in Word might be the “synonym” checker. Just make sure that it still conveys the flavor and tone you are aiming for.
  • Connect With Other Poets: Your local writing groups or if you follow social media, will have groups that can help you learn more, have safe places to share, and provide opportunities to submit.

Well, that was a lot of information. On Thursday I will be featuring some poems that came in last week (one from my absolute favorite fellow Wyomingites, sid sibo, is among them) There’s still plenty of time to contribute so send your experiments my way.

Until then, good luck. Delve into reading some new poetry and exploring your own abilities in the field.

Happy writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #23: “Snap To! Let’s Get Organized!”

Disappointed I can’t find an image of the scene when John Gavin shouts this line while fumbling with a live chicken and coming out of a tranquilized haze. Apparently, the internet DOES NOT have everything.

I’m not immune to the fact that this blog has tripped around in the dark a bit lately. Let’s be honest, all of us are probably tripping in the dark. We’re in unprecedented times, facing stresses and noise that we’ve never dealt with before. It’s easy, in the dissonance, to lose our path.

So for the next three to four weeks I’ll be getting organized and coming back to the basics. No, I’m not going to make you deconstruct your sentences into diagrams, circling your subject, double scoring your gerunds, slashing through your adverbs (or will I? Could be a fun practice in the lost art of sentence diagramming AND tortuous. I’m a girl who likes it a little rough).

For the love of all that is good and holy…if this doesn’t make you hot…you’re not my kind of nerd.

First, we’ll be taking a few weeks to explore the basics of each type of the most prevalent submissions for authors: poetry, flash fiction, short story, and novel.

Following that, and into the fall, I’ll start breaking it down further into genre work, dialogue, plot building, scene construct, story structure and the basics of good editing.

That’s not to say I won’t occasionally throw in a “stop being assholes to each other” rant. I like to keep it exciting after all.

It’s been a while since we dabbled in the lighter word count and heavier hand of poetry so I thought…why not start there?

(Hold on to your asses, she’s about to ADULT over here!)

Poetry used to be the sole conveyer of great stories, epic tales, and the meat and potatoes of religious creed. The first believed poem, author unknown, was called The Epic of Gilgamesh. Besides this epic, there was Rig Vedas of Hinduism, and The Song of The Harper from Egypt. Centuries before we first heard a Greek throw down an ode to an urn, people were writing poems.

Poetry was borne in the heart of burgeoning cultures and empires. As we move west across the world, we have The Iliad, Beowulf, 154 shout outs to Will Shakespeare’s best girl(s), and eventually, on to the new world with works like The Song of Hiawatha.

From these epic and structured beginnings, poetry has evolved and moved, like a river around obstacles, constant but ever-changing. One of the reasons I love poetry is its ability to capture the heartbeat of time-periods through the use of its language and form, as well as the ideas that it holds.

Poetry records history. From the simplest nursery rhymes (“Mary, Mary Quite Contrary” was actually based on Queen Mary I, aka Bloody Mary, who tortured and killed hundreds of protestants. Silver Bells and Cockle Shells aren’t perennials, they’re torture devices.) to Walt Whitman’s descriptions of the horror and decimation from America’s Civil War (“O Captain, My Captain” was written about the assassination of Lincoln just before the close of the ‘storm’ of war) poetry is a powerful conveyer of humankind’s journey through time.

Poetry connects. It’s visceral and often uncomfortable. It paints pictures with the deepest hues of language. Poetry is vital to song writing, memory retention, and a host of other deep-seated neural mechanisms humans use to survive. (the ABC song, “Thirty days hath September…”, “I before E except after C–and about a dozen other exceptions because the English language is a bastardized torture device for anyone learning it”)

So how do you write a poem?

Well, that’s the beautiful thing. We are no longer shackled to the 15 line iambic pentameter, nor are we beholden to ends that rhyme. Poetry can be written in just about any form you can conceive. You can write it, you can rap it, you can sing it, you can paint it across a street in bold letters. There are no rules but one.

Poetry should be true to your soul.

It should never be half-way. It should fling open the shutters of your close-held heart and expose it to the light. Poetry should reflect the thoughts and the feelings, the commiseration and worry, the anger and peace, the joy or the sadness that fills your head and your community.

When I think of poetry, I think of catharsis and a means to work through big and hard emotions (a girl’s favorite kind?) I think of finding meaning and perspective, shrinking down the large imposing impossibilities to moments I can do something with. To feelings I can direct towards change.

To write a poem is to be truthful about what hurts most in that moment.

I’m sure you can guess this week’s exercise. Write some poetry. In any form you want. Send it to me, let me know if you want it to have a little spot here on The Beautiful Stuff, or if you rather just share it with another soul. I don’t have a preference for form or length. Just get to the darkness, poke around in there, tickle the tender underbelly of what drives your biggest emotions and tug it out into the light.

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Happy Writing.

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #22: The Ugly of Starting Over

Hey Kids. Listen, last week I got on a soap box. I’m not even slightly sorry nor is this an apology, but I understand that the purpose of this blog is mostly about writing with a little bit of “living with beautiful intention” sprinkled in. Last week was more about living with beautiful intention and we can all use more of that in this day and age.  

Now, back to writing. Full disclosure: Inappropriate language will follow, so hold on to your knickers.

I’ve been working on a novel (to be honest, I’ve been working on about six of them because I have a problem seeing things through to the end six times out of ten). But this one in particular, I wrote, edited, re-edited, edited again, rewrote, edited, and re-edited all 97,000 words multiple times, always adjusting it with every rejection letter and well-deserved bit of advice. A month ago I wanted to throw it into a dumpster and burn the mother fucker to the ground. I wanted to delete it from my hard drive, the cloud, completely wipe the piece of shit off of the face of the earth. After all those years. After all that work.

It made me so mad that I couldn’t get it right and that it always felt lukewarm that I wanted to quit novel writing all together.

So I killed it. I put it in a file that, I shit you not, I called “The Piece of Shit Series That Will Never Get Published Because It’s Fucking Awful” and left it for a few months while I figured out how to rent a dumpster and get my hands on some gasoline.

Then, like any good writer, I stewed. I festered over it. I fumed.

I hate wasting time. I hate wasting words and effort.

So instead of sending it out yet again to die in some slush pile…or deleting it completely, I started a new document called “What I hate about this book” and I sat on the proverbial therapists couch and let loose all the things that I knew weren’t working and all of which were my fault as a novice writer (I started this thing even before my Fixing Destiny books). I ripped it apart, above and beyond what I heard from outside sources.

Then…at the bottom of the page I wrote, “Is it even worth saving? Is there anything about this story that you love? If you could rewrite these characters, if you could change this plot now, knowing what you know, living what you have lived, what would you make different?”

The next two pages I laid it out. If I had free-reign (ha ha ha, silly writer, that’s your piece of shit you DO have free-reign!) I would change that girl so she wasn’t such a sniveling idiot. I would make her stand up and leave. I’d give her a bigger threat to face on her own. I’d make her tougher. I’d make that boy of hers not be such a fucking mess. She’s already had to clean up enough messes.

Etc.

Now, I’m starting to like these characters. They’ve gone from wet mops to warm bread dough, bubbling with potential and depth…but still not as formed as I would like.

And here’s what I discovered after getting real and hard with myself (whoo…that sounds naughty). I can write and edit a piece of…er…work… a million times, but if I don’t really love the characters, the story won’t follow. I have to believe in them. I have to love and hate them. Not just have them on a page to hold space while the weak plot tries to build a book around them.

This week, I encourage you to take a scene that’s not working, a novel, a short story, a poem…whatever it is that’s sticking in your craw lately, and get brutal. Be fucking horrible to the work and to your part in it. Own your shit-fest and stop tip-toeing around it. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. The next step is tearing it down to the foundation of what you’re trying to do, and building it up better, stronger, more beautiful.

Don’t be afraid. You have free-reign writer, to change, to destroy, to rebuild. And if you find, after tearing it apart that there is nothing that can save it, that you don’t have any love for the idea or characters, get yourself some gasoline and a dumpster. Because those horrible little projects that we don’t love enough to stick with will only serve as anchors that tie us to mistakes we need to move past.

Re-write or destroy, but don’t stay stagnant with your writing, or it may just cripple your creativity until you never pick up a pen again.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #21: The Keeper Shelf

Happy Thursday, writers! Today we’re jumping right into the craft of writing and, more to the point, how the books we read influence and inspire us. Many of us know that to be a better* writer, we must spend a lot of time reading good books.

 *I’ve heard it said many times that if you want to write well, you must devote an equal if not greater time reading, especially within your genre. I have mixed feelings on this. Yes, reading good work in your genre can be important to how you formulate story, find inspiration, and learn. But if you are doing it solely from the perspective as a writer, it can also cause you to lose a bit of that magic we call your ‘voice’. And, don’t misunderstand, I LOVE TO READ. But I will often lose myself in a good book (Thanks a bunch Chuck Wendig, you beautiful beast of a writer) to the extent that I use up most of my ‘free time’ and close the cover in a self-made brain fog, where in I can’t find my laptop let alone write something coherent. So I guess what I’m saying is: Balance.

Today, I want to talk about what you read and in particular your “Keeper Shelf”.

Ladies and Gentleman Hectic Eclectic (Part 1)

All of us have a “Keeper Shelf”, I’m sure of it. These are the books and stories that we love so much we can’t bear to part with them. They have somehow touched us, shaped us, hit that chord deep inside that makes us want to read them over and over again. This shelf is unique for each person and what’s lovely about your Keeper Shelf is that you’ve chosen these books because something about them worked so intrinsically well that you keep coming back, even when you know how it ends. These are the best ‘how to’ manuals we have as writers.

Hectic Eclectic (Part Deux). Ballerinas next to Deadpool (thanks April Kramer), a dash of Xian Terra cotta warrior and an empty bottle of what my father said was part of his worst college experience. Oh…and some of my all time favorite books. High brow.

This week, I want you to take an introspective look at an area you are struggling with in your own novel/work. For some of us, that might be dialogue. It might be story arc, it might be how best to show (not tell) emotion, character quirks, climax, scene setting, you name it. At least one of those authors on your keeper shelf has nailed a concept that you are struggling with. Once you identify what you’re trying to accomplish with a story, scene, or character, I would love you to take another look at one of your ‘faves’ that did it right.

Read, re-read, dissect it, pull it apart and diagram it on post-it notes…

“Ah, she doesn’t say Mel is sad…she makes the sky cloud over—even the setting turns dark—and  Mel misses breakfast for the third time because she can’t pull herself out of bed, and her eyes hurt, and her mom won’t stop asking her if she’s all right.”

“Ah—I can see these characters care about each other because they can pick on tender parts in their banter and only love each other more for it.”

“She leaves every chapter with a tiny cliffhanger…that’s why I can’t put it down.”

“He’s made Nessie so human and imperfect, by all the things she does despite of her internal dialogue, he makes her a hero that feels personal.”

You get the idea. It is the sincerest form of flattery and honor to use someone’s work to make yours better. Obviously, I’m not advocating for plagiarism; you will and should write your own story, but if another author’s work helps you see the difference between what works and what doesn’t, then utilize their book as a tool to get you there.

You have shelve(s) of Master’s Classes right in your own home so go through some of your old favorites and pull out the things those writers are doing to connect with you as a reader so you can do the same with your own readers.

Constant and continual improvement in our writing craft is essential to success. Because someday, we all hope that a reader gets to the last page of our book, closes the cover, puts it up on that top shelf in their library, and says, “That’s a keeper.”

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #20: Finding Romance in a Time of Disconnect

The world is a tense place right now and I know I’m not the only one who’s been suffering with a busy and worried mind. These days, these times, these overcrowded houses, and insecurities about the future don’t make for good bedfellows and it’s not just artists who are suffering.

A recent study revealed that fewer people are having sex. Especially in the younger age groups. A combination of the world’s current crises, economic disparity, job loss, women’s fears of sexual violence, and a general unease about the current “hook up” culture have left a great many of us feeling as though sex just isn’t worth all the hullabaloo. (Clear sign that people aren’t getting enough play time between the sheets is the uptake in old-timey language like “hullabaloo”, “horse feathers”, “fiddle faddle”, wisenheimer”, “canoodling” and “shenanigans”)

So, what better time for yours truly to have signed up for an online Romance Writers Conference this weekend, brought to us by the lovely folks at The Wordsmith Institute. Despite feeling a little ‘meh’ about love in general, my hope is that it will ignite some latent ideas that will help me finish the two or three novels that have just been sitting like cold leftovers in my fridge.

 (I should eat that before it goes bad, but I’m just not feeling like all that fiddle-faddle. I’ll make a quesadilla.)

I’m not sure how many of my writing clan out there dabbles in romance or what your current feelings are on the matter, but I think that when we are faced with a world in such serious and important chaos, the idea of a little escapism should not be dismissed too lightly. Passion comes in many forms, and when we stoke the fires of one form, we help to ignite the others. A passionate life is not just in the pursuit of justice, it is in the pursuit of love and happiness as well. And a good romance novel will follow this pursuit.

So, for today’s exercise, whether or not you write romance, I would like you to try your hand at a touch of eroticism (there’s a double meaning in there). I’m not suggesting you sit down and write your tawdriest letter to Penthouse. I don’t want to know about girth or the overused metaphors of trembling phalluses or ‘moist’ orifices. (Yuck, I think I just grossed myself out).

I want you to find the eroticism in the small details, objects, places, memories. Eroticism is more than just what you think of when you see an eggplant emoji.

Awe, they’re canoodling! (Photo by Dainis Graveris on Pexels.com)

Take your time, focus on the minute details of moments. The way a finger plucks a grape from the vine, or how a callus feels against the small of your back. Focus on the path of a rain droplet down a leaf, the low blood-warming rumble of thunder, the smell of skin warmed by sunshine. The juice of a mango running down your wrist.

Write about those moments and observations, as if it were the world teasing you.

What makes them sensual? What makes your breath quicken?

If you need more direct inspiration, here are some great suggestions from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”:

  1. What makes you hot?
  2. Name all the sexual fruits you know? What makes them so?
  3. What do you crave when you are in love?
  4. What is the most erotic part of your body? (and please, be creative, we all know the obvious ones—reach for something more interesting—well, not literally…or yes literally–what do I care what you do in the privacy of your own home? I support however you process).
  5. Write the body as a landscape.
  6. What do you connect with? (physicality, music, touch, words: think of this similarly as how you learn. Visually, orally, auditory, by doing, by reading?)
  7. Do you remember the very first time you felt desire? When was the first time you felt erotic?

Okay! There you go, something fun to get out of the world for a minute. I hope it helps to boost your writing if not your mood. Maybe your cohabiter will even benefit from these shenanigans. As Monty Python so eloquently said: “wink, wink, nudge, nudge”.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #19: Writing Your Truth

In the midst of a nation undergoing painful and necessary growth, I’m happy to have you joining me here today.

If you follow my writings and my blog, you know where I stand on the issue and I want to take a moment to urge every white person in this country to re-examine their own lives, understand the privileges they have, and really start opening your hearts, minds, and ears to listen to People of Color.

Keep your mouths shut and listen.

It isn’t about you. It isn’t about your guilt, it isn’t about how it makes YOU feel. It isn’t about arguing your way out of the discomfort. It’s about anyone and everyone who has had to limit themselves out of fear, who was held back or down because of the color of their skin. Listen, work to understand and ask what you can do to be the most effective in fighting alongside them. Let’s start working towards a country and nation where we are all free to walk down the street, drive our cars, go out for ice cream, go out for a jog without being pursued, punished, incarcerated or killed.

Now, in line with that, I wanted to talk about a program that I had planned to start this summer with a beautiful human and social organizer, Queen (you may remember the piece on her son Dontré. If you haven’t read it, please do: “Weapons Used Against Me”)

Queen and I had envisioned a free writing workshop for disadvantaged youth and others in the community who’s voices were constantly being silenced or marginalized. The idea was to encourage and teach them how to find their true voice (outside of influence), to tell their story, in their truth and have a safe place to do so. A place where it wasn’t about the moderator’s discomfort, or what could or could not be said. A place for them to find power in their own purpose. Then, how to take those words and get them noticed. How to be heard in a world that is too used to turning away when something makes it uncomfortable. I had hopes of finding publishers for their work, and if nothing else sponsoring publishing of their work myself with all proceeds going back to the participants.

Then COVID came along and sort of blew it all to hell. But, I’m in contact with Queen and will find a way, in the next coming months, to bring the workshop back to the table. Because writing things down matters. Because putting emotion, thought, and personal truth down in words on paper immortalizes the truth of you and your place in time. And the more voices we listen to, the bigger the truth we find.

Today’s exercise is about finding your voice. And that can be scary as hell. We humans can harbor some pretty dark shit in our souls. We hold on to traumas like moths in a closet that we’re afraid to let out. But they slowly eat away at everything we own. We shrug and say “It’s okay, it’s no big deal how I feel, how I felt, how I survived…”

Humans, it is a big deal. It matters and you matter. So write it down.

Write down what you’re feeling about today’s social climate. About your own feelings about racism, what you notice in yourself at the bridging of the topic, what you wish for, what you hate about yourself, what you love. What can you change? What will you change?

I will keep you updated on the progress of the class and how you can participate, contribute, or spread the world to people who may need this kind of therapeutic and power-restoring practice.

Normally I’d say “Happy Writing” but today I’ll leave you with this.

Write in Truth.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #18 Writing Challenges: Why Word Counts and Time Limits Work

Today’s blog will be short as I’m embarking on a new writing challenge brought to me by the fantabulous people over at Zombie Pirate Publishing. Not only is it a genre that I have yet to dabble in, but the subject has to involve a planet I know relatively little about.

What madness would possess me? Well…I don’t like boxes. I don’t like to be put into one, and I don’t like to contain anyone else in one. I think we were gifted free-will for a purpose. I also believe that it’s a lot more fun to participate in life than it is to sit on the sidelines, stuck inside some box somebody once, a long time ago, put you in.

So while I’m busy researching space travel and alternate dimensions and typical characteristics of rebellions, I encourage you, sometime this summer, to find a writing challenge that pushes you outside of your comfort zone and into that strange and beautiful place of self-awareness.

You see, until we’re faced with a challenge, we never really know what we are capable of. If we are always comfortably in our box, we assume those lines around us won’t bend; that the walls can’t be broken. Challenge brings change, and with it a casting off of limits. When we break through walls/limits we come to understand how amazingly capable we really are, and then realize how much our excuses have held us back.

I believe in every single one of you. I believe you can write 15,000 words in seven days, edit it, and submit it for consideration in a publication. I believe you will finish a 50,000 word novel in a month. I believe these things because I’ve seen it happen. Because I’ve done it. And I’ll keep doing it, especially in times when my tank is empty and I start to question my worth. Because I know I am capable…deep down. I just need reminding. We all do.

Writing challenges not only force us to sit our asses in the chair and knock our procrastination methods to the curb, they also show us how much we can actually write when we focus. Sitting for thirty minutes on a good stint will sometimes give me 1,500 words. (This doesn’t account for the editing which probably will drop a third of that). The point is, when you know you don’t have the time to second guess or organize your sock drawer, you give yourself the freedom to just write the damn book.

And, sad as it may seem, sometimes that’s all we need; permission.

Go and write. Look into the Zombie Pirate Publishing site, check out local groups in your area. I did an amazing one a year or two ago for the Rocky Mountain Writers that lasted one weekend and garnered 12,000 words. One of the most fun novellas I’ve ever written and my first foray to action/spy-fi (yes…spy-fi. It’s a genre I just now made up. Copyright.)

That’s it…that’s all I’ve got. No fun pictures or anything. I’m on a mission now, I ain’t got time for that. I gotta make up some swinging character names and decide how genetic mutations might let someone breath H2 and He.

Go find a mission. If you can’t find one, make one. Give yourself a time limit, and a word count and make it a little more than you think you can handle. Hell, make it a lot more than you think you can handle and watch how you surprise yourself.

I’ll be back next week with a full report of how often I found myself crying in the closet and banging my head against the wall for comfort.

Until next time, kids, happy writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: #17 Drunk and In Charge of A Bicycle (or How We Should Be Approaching Life in Difficult Times)

Before anyone gets their knickers in a quandary… (see, fancy words are still running over from last week)…I am not, nor have a I ever been (well maybe once but it was completely unintentional and never repeated), drunk and in charge of a bicycle.

Bradbury_2240962bThat line actually comes from an Irish Police report retold by Ray Bradbury in his book, “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Bradbury was talking about the way we approach storytelling and writing, and that is: drunk with life and not knowing where off to next. Such a trip, he wrote, is one half terror and exactly one half exhilaration.

So many schools of thought exist on how best to write your novel or short story. Plan it out, with all of the beautiful arcs, subplots, crises and climaxes, and scientifically bring it home with a satisfying resolution.

Or just write it, in wobbling paces of exhilaration and stumbling wrecks of metal and wheels.

One brings about better structure and fewer injuries…er…plot holes. It also makes the revision process shorter.

The other burns with uninhibited joy and rides the coaster of character dilemmas into the natural hills and valleys of human failure. It is organic and creative, and often a bitch to edit.

I tend to believe that not every writer is always one or the other. Usually, it is a balance between the two…much like riding a bike. The drunk part comes in when we let go of the inhibitions that close down creativity, and/or let our work be curtailed by criticism. Self or otherwise.

This is a time of both terror and not knowing what will come next. A less playful and lighthearted scenario than Bradbury probably meant.

All around us, voices are shouting and arguing. Outside there is a divisive and angry cloud, smothering the world. We are beset from all sides with advice about what we should do, should be doing, should have, should not have, what to feel guilty about, what to embrace…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

etc
Come on…”The King and I”? This is classic stuff! Yule Brenner! Somebody better be impressed.

We run the risk of letting all of these limitations and confusing ‘advice’ smother the bumbling beauty of writing the stories and characters that intrigue and bring us joy.

It doesn’t all have to be hard-hitting commentary. Let’s face it, we’re in the midst of the first three story arcs of a dystopian novel already. And if we know anything from those story lines, it’s that the true worth of the human race is often preserved in the beauty and art we are capable of.

Writing, drunk in love with the art, is Katniss putting flowers on Rue’s grave, and Peeta painting sunsets while other tributes throw spears around him. It’s Tris not choosing any one trait to define her, but embracing the balance of being a little bit of everything.

 

It’s in the saving of books instead burning them.book burning

So, the exercise is simple.

Write.

This week write. Something beautiful. Something true. Fly by the seat of your pants and damn the torpedos (yeah, I mixed my metaphors, what of it?)

Find a reason to fall back in love with your art, your characters, your world. Find a reason for us to go on. Shut the door and unplug the news, and try embracing something other than the fear and hatred that have become our everyday.

What will save the human race will be the dreamers who live, half in terror, half in exhilaration, and not knowing, exactly where we’re off to next, but knowing its beauty is only limited by our imaginations.

That takes the kind of courage rarely seen in the world today.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #16: High Emotion Words

…did no one else start singing Whitney Houston after that title?

“I get so emotional baby, every time I think of yoouooouu…”

No?

Well then go back to bed, get up again, and rethink your life.

Whitney
I don’t know why I like it…but I just do.

Today we’re getting off the poetry train (thank god, we thought it would never end!!!–ungrateful louts) and getting back into other aspects of writing, specifically word choice.

Now, I guess you could argue that this is related to poetry but right now I want you to think about words in terms of the emotions they convey and why using the wrong word can lead to either a tepid response in your reader or just plain confusion.

This is a good time to bring up the death traps of “very”, “really” and any “-ly” word you tend to over use. Chances are if you are using one of these precursors or the dangling adverb-maker, there is a better word out there for the emotion you are trying to evoke.

(He wasn’t very sorry. He was contrite, remorseful, ashamed. She wasn’t very pretty. She was luminous, stunning, bonnie or even fetching if you feel somewhat Scottish)

Remember, your ultimate goal is not to have your book or story be the one that readers want pick up because it’s an apt substitute for melatonin. You want them to not be able to put the book down, unless they need an emotional respite from the roller coaster you sent them on. So your word choice, in addition to being like an arrow to a bullseye, needs to light up hard or intense emotions in their brains.

I’m going  to offer an important disclaimer…I’ll even go so far to say as it’s imperious. Just like eating cake every day for every meal, or riding twenty rollercoasters back to back to back, too much of a good thing is NOT a good thing. When you overuse these impactful words, they start to over power the reader’s ability to keep up, in addition to that, you start to sound like a goddamn narcissistic douche bag.

“Watch me word, Underlings! Witness the power of my supreme expression of the English language! Cower to my mighty thesaurus and the power of my underused MFA!”

scholar
Sure, but it keeps him from licking his balls.

ahem…you get the idea. Overuse of ‘heavy’ or ‘flowery’ language will disenchant your readers and come across as dishonest (i.e. fake like a Kardashian’s talent).

Take a scene from your current book and highlight or “find” all of your adverbs and precursors. You don’t have to replace them all but particularly (yes thats a -ly word) pay attention to the ones that describe meaningful or pivotal scenes, where you want the reader to feel what your character feels.

Jane wasn’t very sad. She was decimated. Desmond wasn’t very angry, he was enraged. Katelyn wasn’t very happy she was glowing with a newfound sense of hope.

There you go. That’s your job for this week. Oh, and here are a list of heavy-emotion words if you need a little help. If you find one or two inspirational, meaty if you will, find a home for them in your work, where appropriate.

Positive:

Jubilant, elated, ecstatic, contented, serene, vivacious, encouraging, blissful, pleased, enchanted, warm, sunny, joyful, anticipation, admiration, exquisite, graceful, delighted, amused, amiable, dazzling, mesmerizing, captivating, invigorating, splendid, charming

Negative:

Oppressive, sardonic, overbearing, irritated, obnoxious, disgruntled, disenchanted, distressed, miserable, sadistic, resentful, aggravated, sour, crippling, debilitating, horrified, heavy, loathing, disgust, desperate, contempt, brutal, bloody, flawed

Others:

Evenhanded, indifferent, passive, apathetic, secretive, secular, pious, composed, awestruck, mysterious, ambivalent, horrified, pragmatic, cautious, accepting, reserved, pensive, vigilance, ancient, delicious, feeble, solemn, famished, puzzling, complicated, massive, skeletal, tremendous, efficient