My fourth set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog takes inspiration from objects, with wisdom from Italo Calvino, Elizabeth Kostova, Cynthia Ozick, Charles Baxter, Kate Bernheimer, RT Smith, and more.
My third set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog takes architecture as its starting point.
Today I kick off a series of 16 blog posts issuing writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog. The posts will discuss using art, architecture, dance, eavesdropping, and all sorts of other sources of inspiration to keep your writing going. I’m excited to be embarking on this new project. The first post uses portraits on Google Art Projects to write monologues, and a game on Twitter, and the posts will appear every two or three weeks. Check it out, write, share, tweet! Wee!
My latest book-review-in-bullet-points is up on the Ploughshares blog today. Here’s how it begins:
Genre: literary mystery
With reference to: Little House on the Prairie
And: immigrant lit & ethnic lit
And: restlessness vs. belonging
Also: Manifest Destiny & Utopia
This will be my last book review for the next little while as I gear up for a *new* series of blog posts on writing prompts using art, architecture, and a whole slew of other sources of inspiration. The first post goes live on Sunday and posts will appear every 2 or 3 weeks. Stay tuned!
My short story “Old Boyfriends” is in Propeller Magazine this week. Here’s how it starts:
It’s four p.m.: the sun is gone.
Sandra, a graduate student in archaeology, lurches forward with the bus along Avenue du Parc.
“This roof’s all bone,” Sandra says, rapping her knuckles to her skull.
This class, which meets at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, will use visual art as a springboard for diving into prose writing. We’ll mine the inspiration of images to unearth new prose or add unexpected meaning and direction to works in progress. Students can search the Henry’s digital archive and request works from the permanent collection not currently on view. For even more creative percolation, we’ll read published works inspired by visual art. Exercises, readings, and discussions will cover the writing process, character, story, landscape (internal and external), and style. Students will have the option to workshop one short-short story or essay. Co-Presented with the Henry Art Gallery.
Class meets Thursday evenings 6-8 pm, January 30-March 13 (with no class on February 27 due to the AWP conference). General registration begins December 10, and the scholarship deadline is December 24. I’m excited to see what students do with “Sanctum,” the interactive installation now outside the Henry that draws on social media and surveillance technology, and I’m curious as always to see what gets pulled from the permanent collection and what new creative works spiral out from that.
I’m excited to be teaching a class on fairy tales at Corinne Manning’s Living Room Workshops. Mid-December is wonderful time for contemplating magic, especially fairy tale magic. Here’s the course description, with nitty gritty info below:
Explore magical realism and fairy tales with 3 teachers over the course of one weekend in this moveable feast of a writing workshop. Participants will move from house to house gaining craft skills, knowledge, and writing some “marvelous” fiction and exploring the memoir as fairy tale. Readings will include Brothers Grimm, Angela Carter, and Alyssa Nutting.
Each class will last 1.5 hours and will take place in Capitol Hill and the Central District on Saturday, ending in Greenwood on Sunday. Carpooling is encouraged. Course must be taken as a whole. No single class drop ins. To enroll please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tale: A Two-day Moveable (Writing) Feast
I’m retraining myself to write novels. My first novel is floating in the ether, I wrote a quick, rough draft of my second novel some time ago, I focused on finishing my short story collection, and now, with the leaves falling off the trees outside, I’m in my dark office x-raying that second novel to get at an outline. I already had a couple outlines in hesitant pencil, one very bare bones, one a bit more detailed. But I’m hesitant to launch into a rewrite yet as I seem to still be in a fallow period. I’d have loved to take a suitcase full of books into the woods and just read for 10 days. Alas. A decent second option was to bolt to Vancouver with M. for the weekend, where two writer friends were visiting from New York. We gorged ourselves on dim sum, wandered around Coal Harbor and the West End, had cocktails at Cloud 9, a bar that rotates on top of the Empire Landmark hotel and that has some very 1995 cocktails (we stuck to a gin martini and an old-fashioned), and went on a short, mild hike where we spotted purple and orange mushrooms and black slugs and a seal. We waved at the seal, and the seal seemed to give us a little nod before disappearing in the water, probably grumbling that we took his lunch spot, Cod Rock. All this to say, there are different ways to refill the well. Reading and travel (and with travel, eating) are some of my favorite ways. So is looking at art.
I feel a little out of shape, novel-writing-wise, because I’m at the difficult step where I’ve decided to rewrite entirely. The first draft was quick fun, throwing details on the page and seeing what sticks. I want to be a lot more strategic about the second draft. I decided to try using novel writing software, to help me feel less scattered, and a few friends recommended Scrivener. This morning I finally started to get the hang of it, and now I have a more detailed outline with fancy arrows and nesting files and everything. Soon (hopefully!) I can go deeper into the writing cave to write those scenes.
Outlining at this point feels helpful, but sometimes I outline when I’m stuck in writing because I don’t know what else to do. I might already have the outline in my head. I might have gone over that outline obsessively already. But I still write it down, maybe more than once, as if I’m in a holding pattern, and then it just feels like treading water. In a way, it is like a writing exercise I used to do, coming up with arbitrary lists of specific things. But it is also very different from those lists. Rather than racing from plot point to plot point., those lists try to get me to think about very specific details or to think about words I don’t often use. Red things; things that start with the letter V. More particularly (while still being quite broad), Ray Bradbury recommended making lists of nouns as a way to jog creativity. He wrote, “Make a list of 10 things you hate and tear them down in a short story. Make a list of 10 things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.” Such sound advice, for not only finding ways into writing, but writing with passion.
Back in September, as Rosh Hoshanah approached and I thought about all the oncoming holidays (hello, Thanksgiving-Hanukkah merger), I thought it would be fun to just write a list of all the dishes my grandparents, great aunts, etc. were known for. I invited M. to add to that list. This got me thinking about how many stories might be in each these specific dishes as well, and how revisiting memories is another way to refill the well.
Here’s that dish list:
Grandma’s chopped liver
Aunt Shirley’s jello molds
Aunt Ellen’s meatballs in a sweet tomato sauce
Aunt Myra’s chicken schnitzel
Grandpa’s sarmale (large and loose and juicy)
Eva’s matzo balls (dense as bricks)
Aunt Shirley’s brisket
Grandpa’s meat pies
Bubby’s Swedish meatballs
Grandpa’s cheese pies
Bubby’s matzo balls (large and fluffy)
Aunt Myra’s walnut cake
Mami’s salade de boef
Grandma’s apples and rice
Grandma’s salade de boef
Eva’s fish soup
Eva’s salade de boef
Aunt Myra’s trifle
Eva’s sarmale (small and tight and smoky)
Grandpa’s fried kippers and onions
Grandma’s upside down cakes (fruity and light)
Eva’s plum dumplings
Grandma’s plum dumplings
Mr. C’s plum dumplings
Everybody’s plum dumplings
What do you do in your fallow periods? How do you get yourself ready for big creative projects?