Monthly Archives: April 2015

Brief Hiatus

Hi all! It’s been super busy lately. My husband and I are moving and I’m starting a new job in two weeks. That being said, I wanted to let you guys know I’ll be taking a brief hiatus from the blog for a couple of weeks. My goal is to start back up May 18, after moving and I’ve had sometime at my new job.

I hope you’re all well. See you in a few weeks!

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My Favorite Poems

I love poetry, in all its forms. And guess what? April is National Poetry month. So, in celebration of this great art form, here are my favorite poems. My normal gig for listing my favorite things often includes my reasoning for each. However, I think I’ll withhold my analysis this week and just provide a simple list. For me, my experience of poetry is intimate and personal and sometimes it’s impossible to explain why I connect with a particular piece.

“And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” – Walt Whitman, “The Song of Myself”

 

Dulce et Decorum Est“, Wilfred Owen

Song of Myself“, Walt Whitman (read aloud here)

Ornithography“, Billy Collins

The Weary Blues“, Langston Hughes

Daddy“, Sylvia Plath

Early in the Morning“, Li-Young Lee

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A pretty flower in Germany.


As an extra present, here’s a link to 10 British poems being read aloud. They aren’t my favorite poems, but, for me, hearing poetry aloud is a true delight.

Do you guys have any favorite poems?

 

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What My English Degree Taught Me About Writing

You certainly don’t have to an English major to be a writer, or go to college for that matter. Furthermore, with the rising cost of a college education and the lack of jobs offered for humanities degrees I can certainly understand if many people question the need for an English degree unless they plan to teach. However, I am the writer I am because of my path in education. The classes I took as an English major, my interaction with professors, even the papers I wrote, all made me the writer I am today. So, in humble defense of the English degree and also as a demonstration of the necessary skills a good writer should have, here are a few things I learned as an English major that made me a better writer.

English Essay

Oh boy, psychoanalysis and racial othering in the 19th century American novel. That’s what I call steamy reading. Source: Hannah Garrison

 

Learning From Reading Other Writers’ Works
I’ve mentioned this idea before on my blog: to become a better writer we should read the works of others. I do think it’s worth saying again. When we read the work of others, many good things happen. We naturally pick up on sentence and story structure. We can see how others have experimented with different forms of narrative, and decide if that’s interesting. Also, another author’s book is a great place to turn to if you need fresh ideas for accomplishing certain things in your book. Maybe you want to write about characters of a different race than yourself. A good place to start doing research would be to read the works of writers of different races than yourself. Perhaps you want to write a story in first person perspective, but have no idea how to go about this. You can turn to a book that offers that perspective, and ferret out what you like and dislike about that point of view. The great thing about books is there are so many, and chances are good someone has done before what you are attempting.

Thinking Critically About What You and Others Write
Critical thinking skills are necessities for any college student. Without them, all those essays would be regurgitation of fact instead of an original display of knowledge. A common task in literature class is to identify and discuss prevalent themes in works of fiction (and sometimes non-fiction). When writing essays, English majors must also be aware of what they’re writing, making sure they follow through with their thesis and address any holes in their own logic (i.e., think critically about what you’re saying). The same is true for writing books; authors must think critically about what they put down on the page. For instance, a prominent theme in The Great Gatsby is greed. Obviously F. Scott Fitzgerald put a lot of thought into his book and how he wanted to discuss this theme. Similarly, any writer, whether she be an English major pulling together a paper on The Great Gatsby or a writer working on a novel, needs to think carefully about the themes in her writing.

Crafting an Argument
While many authors might say they don’t want to craft an argument in their work, all good writing comes down to the author putting out a point of view. Often, this point of view can be taken from how they address a major theme in their book. Obviously, the same is true for any writing. If I fill my book with natural imagery, obviously nature is a key theme in my book. How I treat nature, whether I show it as dangerous and unpredictable or a victim of humanity’s machinations, demonstrates an argument, intentional or not. A writer can get into trouble if they aren’t fully aware of how they treat themes in their book. For instance, in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the antagonist Fagin is described as a Jew in very stereotypical and antisemitic terms.

Fagins

Fagin played by Alec Guinness and Timothy Spall

 

Dickens’ first defended this characterization, feeling that it seemed to reflect what he saw as the truth. However, after hearing from others that the characterization of Fagin offended many Jewish people, Dickens began removing stereotypical caricatures of the character in public readings and later editions. So, as studying literature shows, it’s important for writers to carefully consider the arguments they’re making in their text, even if they’re unintentional.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on writing and whether a degree is useful or not. Do any of you writers have a BS degree, and if so, what do you think that brings to your writing?

 

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Writing Buddies

A common stereotype for writers is that we’re quiet, solitary things with a propensity for addictive substances and hermit huts. There’s some truth to this stereotype, but I intentionally fight against it. For one, it fails to take into consideration the powerful work that can be done in collaboration. As I work on growing in my own writing craft, I learn more and more each day that I cannot grow alone. Having fellow writer friends to bounce ideas off, and even start joint projects is a great thing. If you’re not sure how to go about this, here are two options that have worked for me.

writers

Writers Ford Maddox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and John Quinn. Picture Credit: Tophams/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images.

 

Join a Fandom
Fandom, the term for the group of fans of a particular work, tends to be stigmatized. I see this as unfair. My experience shows me that fandom is a place of community and is great for starting collaboration projects, especially if you’re having trouble meeting other writers. Many large fandoms are actually well organized, and it’s easy to find specific resources, such as forums to connect with beta readers or other writers. Also, the very nature of fandom is to engage with a group of people who feel just as passionately about a work as you. To start meeting people in fandoms, poke around on Tumblr, or look into fanfiction posting sites like archiveofourown.org.

Join or Form Writing Groups
Another good way to meet writers is by joining or forming a writing group. Sometimes, writing groups already exist in communities, and you can find them by going through your public library or a local book store. These spaces are good for bouncing your ideas off an impartial audience, but in general I find their less good for forming lasting relationships that can lead to good works of collaboration. For that, it’s best to start your own group. A fellow writer friend and I send each other little writing prompts and responses now and then. The exercise is simple, but keeps us both accountable to write regularly. Don’t be afraid to approach friends or acquaintances and ask to start writing with them. Chances are, they need a writing buddy too!

 

 

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