Tag Archives: mentor

Day 4: 12 Days of Blogmas

Welcome to Day 4 of  Blogmas minions!

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Today I want to share the first of a few tips and tricks for getting the most out of a writing prompt.

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It is difficult enough for a writer to decide on a story’s beginning, its main conflict, or its content without outside influence. It can be even worse with the wrong kind of prompt.

In terms of origin, I believe the prompt was developed as a form of guided free-writing. That seems like an oxymoron, but when a writer is operating at lower creative speeds or at a full stop (writer’s block to those who believe in its existence) a guided free-write, in the form of an idea or beginning phrase to help inspire a new, unusual, or wacky story.

 

While this may seem like a cute, quirky little exercise to help young writers to learn how to develop character or the importance of place, it’s grounded in a lesson every writer can learn from.

Sometimes creativity needs a little help. It can come in the form of a suggestion from a beta reader, a new character or inspiration, or thinking of a story from a different angle. And this is where the prompt comes in. A good prompt can be used one of two ways: as the inception of a new idea or to help open your mind on your current work in progress.

And the quality of the prompt is how you optimize your use of the prompt. Take for example my first prompt: Silvery flakes drifted down, glittering in the bright light of the harvest moon. The blackbird swooped down…

It’s the beginning to a new story or simply a new scene. Depending on your style and content it could fit into a current work in progress or begin a whole new set of characters for you to fall in love with.

So, back to the prompt. It’s specific in its imagery, the descriptions of the snow and the moon, setting up a place, a tone, and even a character. It also brings you into a bit of action moving the blackbird in the second sentence. And at the same time it’s not too specific. It could be the beginning of a typical winter for Massachusetts  or a fantastical alternate universe where global warming causes snowfall in the Amazon at the time of the harvest moon. How ever you interpret the prompt, it should allow you enough information that you’re not staring at a blank page, but not confining you to someone else’s idea.

This, in a nutshell, is what makes a prompt well-written and useful. When it can guide your creativity towards a single focus (maybe not on your current work in progress), but something new and fresh to get your mind going. And if you’re lucky, it can turn into something helpful for your work in progress. For some it’s just in terms of getting the creativity working. For others, it can be just the medicine they needed in order to get their mind back to their work in progress.

For me, prompts have been most effective at bringing me new sides of a story I’m struggling with. Dollhouse Daughter (my Master’s manuscript)  has several scenes that would not be in there if not for writing prompts. The entire prologue is the prime example. The last part of the prologue was written with a prompt (courtesy of my beloved mentor Janice Eidus) that had to use the word animal, bones, and one other word (that eludes me). It was the perfect opportunity to showcase a vodou ritual that begged to be written into my story.

Each prompt may not yield such great results or end up in the final draft, but it will do this: give you something to think and to write about.

So, next time you’re stuck or in need of something new to do. Pick a prompt. Pick a friend and write one together.  And then share it with me I’d love to read your prompts.

Happy reading and writing!

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Academic Update: The Fears of My First Residency

Isn't this the cutest piece of truth you ever did see?

Well, so far I have tackled the residency, and I am knee deep into the first practicum of the program. All in all, I am having a wonderful time learning about the craft. It’s not that I am unhappy with education I’m getting. Instead, I am frustrated with myself for not being “as smart as I need to be” while writing. I understand and respect the need for criticism. It is the most helpful tool for professors to give to their students.

On the positive note, I have passed the dreaded Integrative Essay, my first fiction submission, and my first critical essay. I should be ecstatic that I didn’t fail, considering there are only three options: fail, pass, pass with distinction. Somehow, I can’t get over the feeling that just passing is not enough. I know, it’s a Master’s program, it’s more difficult by design. I should be proud of my accomplishments, but I’m not. Maybe it’s the perfectionist inside, striving towards the pass with distinction. Maybe I’m afraid that my writing isn’t good enough. It’s a fluke and I managed to squeeze by until now. All of these concerns are racing through my head as I read my mentor’s criticisms.

However, it is making me feel considerable more helpless about my skills. I’m not as confident in my own writing anymore because I feel like I am losing my ability to write well. The one time I am shown how to vary sentence structure, and I become paranoid about it. Are these sentences fragments? Does this comma go here? Should I end this sentence in this? All of these questions are being answered, but not correctly by my own brain. Grammar and sentence structure should not be the criticisms I’m getting. I’m a native English speaker in addition to enjoying the language. So why is this so damn hard to accomplish?

Sometimes I feel like Jack from The Shining-crazy with nothing good to show for it

Then comes the ego, when I begin comparing my flaws with the others in my group. In my mind, I’m convinced they don’t have these problems. They can’t be suffering from the same ailments as I am. When we move up to more difficult mentors, what happens when I can’t provide the pass? Will I settle for pass rather than strive to get that “with distinction” or will my writing actually improve with practice?

With all of these questions, I barely have room in my head for my writing. Hopefully, after spilling the beans on here I will have the courage to try again. I want to work harder, make myself a better writer, and show the world the ideas I have to offer. I’m just praying that these fears are normal. I’m not crazy over critical because other students have suffered like this.

What are your fears about your writing? Do you struggle with imperfection or attempting to improve your writing? How do you cope?

I know that I may be afraid of what I can and can’t write at the moment, but I will force myself to start writing again. I might take a break, read for pleasure ( I still have the rest of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 to finish), and then come back to my writing with new confidence. I just hopes my confidence doesn’t take too long to find its way back.

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Life of A Grad Student: Not So Grand

So, a few days ago I posted about my life as a graduate student and how fun it is. Well, here is the opposite side of that coin.

Today, I sent off my first assignment of at least 10 pages of fiction.  Within 24 hours, I had a response from my lovely mentor. I was anxious and excited at the same time. Every minute of our workshop time, I was eating up every word she said. The experience and the stories she told were magical. The insight she gave into the stories I wrote revolutionized the way I looked at my own work.

At the same time, I’m constantly struggling with how well my writing is being received by those in the “biz”: published authors, professionals, and teachers. I have a fear like most writers that my stories aren’t going to be good enough for people to enjoy. But that is not important at this point because I’m just starting to hone my craft and it will take a lifetime to become a good writer.

As I open the e-mail, my mentor explains that the following notes are meant to teach me things that I will be able to apply to all my writing. I sigh in relief knowing that what lies ahead are a lot of little details I don’t know about yet. I feel like I’m back in grade school learning the rules of Grammar.  I read through  13 pages of my story, watching as my mentor solved all of the problems I had in the story.

See, I have problems putting too much detail, too much information in the  story and not moving the action along enough.  And Jane Boyer, my mentor, solved the problem for me in a few paragraphs. Now this skill of being able to know what belongs in a story no doubt comes with time and practice, which I have neither. At the end of my mentor’s assessment, she gave me comforting words that although my draft was rough, it was not the end of world. It won’t be the end of the world, I’m sure, but if I can’t learn to keep those pesky unneeded details out it will be.

The hardest part about the program is the ability to grow as a writer. I know all of the things I need to write, but I don’t know if I can write them well enough. I hate that I’m afraid of my own writing, but I guess it helps me to constantly improve myself.

What do you struggle with as writer? Is it developing a character or depicting the perfect scene? What advice do you have for me struggling with putting too much detail or others with their problems?

Always remember your purpose regardless of your struggles

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Inside the Life of A Grad Student

I have stated before that I am currently seeking my M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Carlow University. Pittsburgh is my setting for the next two years and it is an under rated place for writers.

My master’s program is unique because it is low residency in addition to studying abroad. It leaves me with a lot of time to write and amazing places to see. My first residency began almost a month ago and ended 11 intense days later. The low residency allows me to absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time.

Eight hours of seminars, workshops, and guest speakers with little time to breathe. I learned so much I can’t even write down the enormous amounts of knowledge I have now. You might not think 11 days can teach you a lot, but when you get a group of energetic, lonely writers together knowledge flows like a fountain of wine. I can tell you that already I have made life long friends in under two weeks. It is astounding what can happen when you put people with a common interest in the same room.

As the residency came to a close, I felt sad knowing I would have to go out into the world alone and use my new knowledge to write. It was so comforting to share my ideas with people who truly cared about giving constructive comments to improve my work.

From the end of the residency until June, I have some assignments and a lot of writing to do. Hopefully, though, I can count on the comments from my readers on here to help me with my fiction and guide me until my next residency.  Tomorrow I will have to e-mail 10 pages of my fiction to my mentor and in another two weeks I will have to  prepare a critical essay from a book I’ve read. Seems pretty simple for a graduate program, huh? Well, the easy part may seem to be the lack of work. In reality, the freedom and self-motivation become the difficult parts. Lucky for me I am a page away from my assignment due tomorrow.

The book I will start to read is The Gathering by Anne Enright, which is fitting because in four months I will be getting on a plane to Dublin, Ireland. My next residency is at Trinity College in IRELAND?! Since I am not a well-traveled young woman, this trip will be the first of many adventures I will have the pleasure of taking. Thanks to Carlow’s required study abroad aspect of the program, I get to visit a country I have dreamed of seeing for my entire life.

Only 11 days of class, four books, four papers, and then  trip to Ireland. How can life get any better? Let me tell you, I am one lucky girl that I can spend my days writing my heart away and my nights comfortable in my bed dreaming of four leaf clovers and Irish pubs.

I truly am grateful for the opportunities given by this program and enjoy every second of my new life as a full-time writer. My friends, colleagues, and family get to read what I do every day and see the happiness writing can bring a person.

Besides, how can a writer not be happy with this library to look forward to?

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