Category Archives: writing advice

Ghost children, empathy, and easter. 3 Monday quotes.

HOORAY MONDAY QUOTESI’ve lately been reading a wide swath of whatever, and apparently refusing to share any of it because… cohesion.
So in lieu of a blog post that would make all these come elegantly together, below are the quotes I’m saving from a few works that may or may not be awesome on the whole:

From Education’s culture of overwork is turning children and teachers into ghostsby Melissa Benn for the Guardian, April 16 2014:

Educational reform now largely equals intensive schooling: early-morning catch-up classes, after-school clubs, longer terms, shorter holidays, more testing, more homework. The trouble is, the human body and human communities do not flourish through being flogged. Families don’t benefit from frenetic rushing. They simply forget who each other is, or could be, which is where the real problems begin.

From The Most Underrated Skill for Creatives? Empathy, 99U.
In which author Jake Cook dares suggest that art is actually better when you think about your audience: rather than sweeping them to one side for the sake of introspective, hermit-like creative binges.

It is much easier to push through your creative blocks when you can actually visualize why your audience needs…
It’s not about creating a portfolio piece. It’s about helping… Working this way, with real people in mind, is much better than staring at a blank canvas or whiteboard and giving it your best guess.

Alain de Botton’s The Philosopher’s Mail featured the article, Easter for Atheists” this past weekend: a quick writeup of reasons for taking interest in the holiday’s roots — even if one doesn’t believe in a God, or that Jesus was one, or that he (god or not) rose from dead:

Among the last words Jesus was meant to have said before he died was the plea: ‘Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ Herein lies the fascinating suggestion that cruelty i sa symptom of a lack of love and understanding, but it is not the ultimate truth about anyone. People who enjoy bringing pain to others are themselves traumatized, rather than inhuman. They are not fully in command of themselves. The jeering man in the crowd is himself the victim of past horrors, deserving — if we can find it in our hearts to understand — pity rather than rage.

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Creativity: Neither Magic Nor Madness

Nothing like telling the entire world about one’s clinical depression to enliven a Tuesday.

Here’s my latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine, in which I own up to the depression that yanked me out of music-touring
and in which I punch the Mental-Illness-Makes-Better-Artists myth in the throat.

Regardless of whether you’ve suffered from mental illness, there are things we can all learn from the popular myth that “madness”—or at least some kind of untamable magic—begets creativity. By owning up to our reliance on Magical-Muse thinking, we empower ourselves and each other to make more and better work. And to be healthy while we’re at it.”

The choice may not be between “madness” and dullness, but between passive and active engagement. Here are 5 ways to kick your magic-thinking habit, and get to work.

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Waiting for a job? grad school? publishing deal? Here’s HOW TO WAIT BETTER:

WAITINGMy latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine is a bit of a confession:

I SUCK AT WAITING. And so do many other writers and artists. We hover over email inboxes, trying to survive the feeling of teetering on someone else’s whim. Thus:

Hey Writers: Four Steps to Better Waiting

Check it out, leave a comment. Tell me what you’re making.

Whatever you’re waiting on, you can wait better.

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What Writers Can Glean from “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Writing MoralsIn my latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine, I summarize the Crazy response to The Wolf of Wall Street, and tackle the Good that might come from ethically-precarious art.
An excerpt:

Criticisms of The Wolf of Wall Street both devalue viewers—by assuming they can handle only moralistic tales—and esteem them, by providing immediate evidence of their astonishing critical thinking skills. The film’s critics affirm the necessity of moral-ethical conversations while simultaneously proving we’re capable of having them. This irony is ridiculous.

It’s also empowering.

Snag some motivation to “go write your way into controversy”…

Check it out and comment at the original post here.

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Poetry read over Pop Music: YES.

Confession: I’m utterly delighted by these poems read over pop music:

Click the forward arrow above for more greatness:
track 1 frank o’hara & drake
track 2 alice notley & justin timberlake
track 3 dana ward & katy perry
track 4 dylan thomas & miley cyrus
track 5 william carlos williams & wale/miguel
track 6 dorothea lasky & raekwon
track 7 richard brautigan & mariah carey
track 8 sylvia plath & eminem/rihanna
track 9 ted berrigan & kendrick lamar

These tracks hark to my piece for Ploughshares re: what poetry can learn from pop music …

More importantly, they convey the irresistible depth that music lends to words. And the subtle enacting here of social critique combined with direct musical utility and appreciation is stunning.

Coming from a career as a songwriter, whatever tensions that exist among poetry, social commentary, and pop music have only been lively and generative.

So poets — and writers of all genres (because why not get crazy here) —
Music does a thing. Go experiment with it.

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“Expensive cities are killing creativity”

creatives bewareSt. Louis-based writer Sarah Kendzior has published an editorial for Al Jazeera, calling upon creatives to reject the now-cost-prohibitive art centers of the world. Kendzior launches her piece by citing Patti Smith’s May 5th advice to young NYC artists: that they “find another city.” Smith said, “New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. New York City has been taken away from you.” Similarly, David Byrne stated in October that “the cultural part of the city – the mind – has been usurped by the top 1 percent.”

Kendzior notes (and I recommend reading the piece in full) that the exploding costs of living in New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, and LA mean that failing as an artist often means more than getting yet another job:

“To fail in an expensive city is not to fall but to plummet. In expensive cities, the career ladder comes with a drop-off to hell, where the fiscal punishment for risk gone wrong is more than the average person can endure. As a result, innovation is stifled, conformity encouraged. The creative class becomes the leisure class – or they work to serve their needs, or they abandon their fields entirely.”

In other words, if creatives want to be able to take risks, or simply pursue their own work — as opposed to serving corporations (and/or the 1%) — they may need to take Patti Smith’s advice and “find a new city.”

i can has artAs a midwestern artist, my knee-jerk retort was that quite obviously, economic hardships are everywhere – particularly in humanistic/artistic professions. And while a city’s cost of living is a significant factor considering the low incomes art careers often earn, it’s not as if art is undervalued strictly (or even primarily) in the recognized artistic centers of the world. In fact, some of us pine for cities in which people actually go out to look at, listen to, or otherwise value art of any form. (The sense of being undervalued is likely more stark in cities in which a smaller population means that the small percentage of art-valuers necessitates a microscope.)

And finally, most artists – in any locale – have to serve corporations in order to pay our bills: often by licensing music, designing logos, or writing copy for marketing campaigns. While this may be sign that various cities undervalue creativity, these artistic circumstances are much more nuanced, extensive, and (by now) culturally intrinsic than a few cities’ issues with inflation and elitism. (Cue projects such as Kickstarter, or Jack Conte‘s Patreon.)

choose your own

Still, what’s great about Kendzior’s piece – regardless of its failure to take a more holistic approach – is its theoretical rejection of (financially-)enforced artistic silences. It offers a turn from the myth of “proximity-equals-success” to a focus on minimizing — to whatever extent such minimization is possible — the risk that one’s work will be (over)determined by economics, and thus deprived of its individual voice. In effect, Kendzior gives artists “permission” to go wherever our work can be most ours… and to feel no compunction that this may not be in a culturally-approved, globally-recognized center for art.

Kendzior’s call to artists will feel, to most of us, entirely too theoretical and imprecise, but the thrust of it is sound: Any creator must actively set aside assumptions about where art is (or can be) made in order to uncover where her own art is made. If such a place exists — and no one is saying it does — it’s worth some grueling exploration to find it.

And if, in the process, one chooses to give a theoretical middle finger to cost-prohibitive cities that have enjoyed a reputation for welcoming starving artists with open arms: well, bonus.

“Perhaps it is time to reject the “gated citadels” – the cities powered by the exploitation of ambition, the cities where so much rides on so little opportunity. Reject their prescribed and purchased paths… for cheaper and more fertile terrain. Reject the places where you cannot speak out, and create, and think, and fail. Open your eyes to where you are, and see where you can go.”

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Using Words

“As long as I can, I will take what I feel, use it to face what I am able to know, find language, and write what I think must be written for the freedom and dignity of women.”


AndreaonCrete1966MI don’t agree with everything 
Andrea Dworkin has written, but this, yes. Yes.

Taken from “My Life As a Writer,” in Life and Death.

 

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Where Art Can Go: Storytelling as Advocacy

But-what-do-I-do-300x295Here’s the thing: If you’re a writer, artist, or any kind of creative, your work can go further than you think.

My latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine is an interview with a writer/advocate against domestic violence… And her tips are for all of us, whatever our medium, whatever the issues we care about.

Check it out here, then go make something. It matters.

(Meanwhile, what are some social issues you’ve thought about addressing/discussing via your art? These days I’m on about depression, domestic violence, gender inequalities, and “rape culture.” You?)

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4 Reasons to Write the Hell out of (What’s Left of) 2013

eat pie but also writeOk so it’s almost Thanksgiving.
If shopping, family drama, travels, and/or assorted year-end hells are killing your writerly motivation, here are four reasons you’ll want to go write anyway. Like, right now.

It’s my latest for Ploughshares Literary MagazineConsider yourself kicked in the ass.

 (you’re welcome)

 

PS. If nothing else, you can always employ your bot.

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“For to live means to sing, to love, to rage, and to tear things to shreds, while…faces look on and pupils burn.” –Nicolay Aseev

(Choosing to ignore for a moment that Aseev wrote this in a bullfighting context.)
(Because advice is advice amirite)

(listening to Russian poets)

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