Writerly Tips: Fun Little Found Texts

During a visit to Idyllwild a while back, I passed a little cafe with an amusing chalk board out front that read as follows:

I was once addicted

To the hokey pokey

But then I turned

myself around.

It was also a nice lesson on the unexpected nature of found texts, a perfectly acceptable source for creative writing.

Found texts are any texts you might find scattered about in the world. You could come across a whimsical quote, perhaps, that someone chalked on a sidewalk.  Or maybe you notice a little poem doodled in the margins of a used book.

Such works can become pieces of a collage it is possible to put together to form new works.

So if you are having any troubles finding places to begin your next creative piece, maybe you shouldgo on the search for a patchwork collection of literary gems that other people might have set adrift in various locations.

Simple and sweet.

 

 

 

 

 

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Writerly Tips: Wordplay

Wordplay comes in several forms within literature. An author might play off sounds or words to create a certain effect—in other words, a “play on words”—such as for puns or alliteration. The tongue-twister exercise “She sells seashells by the seashore” is a brilliant example of wordplay in action, because it plays with the sounds of words and makes the speaker carefully think about how to form those sounds (especially five times fast!).

But wordplay is also a powerful game to use when experimenting with creative writing, and to perhaps even inspire new ideas for writers. Here are a few possible exercises you might consider trying, either just for fun or to generate ideas:

Association:
Word association involves stringing together words that bear some kind of relation to each other, even if it’s just from the person’s perspective, which can sometimes lead onto interesting concepts. While it’s recommended to have at least two people participate in this word game, a single person can still get a lot of good use out of it.
1) Start with any word—usually a noun—like “Bear.”
2) Consider what the word “Bear” reminds you of; for instance, a particular type of a bear might come to mind, like a “Grizzly” bear. So you would write down “Bear Grizzly.”
3) Repeat the process just with the word “Grizzly,” which might perhaps remind you of someone’s grizzly beard. So the word string becomes: “Bear Grizzly Beard . . .”
4) Continue the association process for as long as you like! If you are playing this word game with two or more people, each person can have fun thinking of the next word in the string.

Dissociation:
While association focuses on stringing together words that bear some relation to each other, dissociation does the exact opposite. The intention is to string together words that have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
1) Choose a word, like “Pizza.”
2) Next, try to think of a word that you believe has nothing to do with Pizza, or is as far from the meaning of Pizza as you can get, like “Ducks.” The string then becomes: “Pizza Ducks.”
3) Continue on in this matter until you have a long string of dissociative terms, doing so either on your own or with other participants, for as long as you choose. Regardless of where you stop, you’ll have a nice string of words that, when read aloud, might conjure interesting images you might not have otherwise considered (like “Pizza Ducks,” for instance).

Question-and-Answer:

This Question and Answer word game requires at least two people to play, because the intention is to come up with crazy and fun combinations of, well, questions and answers. The word game works wonderfully during creative writing workshops, because the teacher can divide the room into students who provide questions and those who provide answers.
1) Have one person quietly write down any kind of question they like (the wackier and stranger, the better!). Meanwhile, the other person should also quietly write down a possible answer (to any imagined question). At no point during this step should either side say what they are writing!
2) The first person will read out loud the question they’ve written, and then the second person will read out their answer. You might be get a fun surprise at how relevant some of the answers are to the questions!

Writerly Tips: Writing Tools and Mediums

Paper and pen. Even today, I think those two items conjure the image of our writing craft. But, of course,there are so many ways to write, tools to use, and mediums available to hold our creative visions.

The idea that different creative projects might benefit from experimenting with a variety tools and mediums came up during my grad program on several occasions.

For instance,a handwritten story set down on lined paper might come out differently than one written on a computer. Each medium lends itself being with it different impressions and expectations. One professor of mine actually mentioned feeling better able to express herself by writing out her ideas, in pencil, in a small notepad.

I’ve heard of authors who might, as another example, prefer to first write their pieces using a typewriter–before moving onto a computer to help with later drafts.

Even using a pencil, rather than a pen, might make a difference!

My point is that writing is a process where even the way it gets carried out can affect how it develops. So many of us, I know, have specific preferred ways of writing that we make use of quite a bit. And that’s wonderful.

But if we also take opportunities to test out a variety of methods, the results could make for a pleasant surprise.

I’ve discovered that truth a few times now.

Happy writing!

Writerly Tips: Finding a Creative Time and Place

While in the Literature & Writing Studies graduate program, one subject that kept coming up–especially in creative writing workshops–was the need to discover our own writing process.

There were a number of aspects to it, but the essential puzzle piece involved finding a time of day or place that helped us get our creative juices flowing.

Everyone has their own creative time and space.

For instance, one writer might find it easier to write in the late evening (maybe after a long day at work), with her or his feet up. Meanwhile, another writer could prefer to write in the early morning right before their day really starts, while standing up and leaning over a table.

I’ve heard of famous authors who preferred to write while doing such things as soaking in their bathtubs to laying in bed.

Whatever your writing process, it should feel natural and comfortable.

Sometimes we writers don’t have the luxury of choosing where or when we want to write; however, understanding our process can help us reach out for those elements that can make our lives a little easier.

I hope that helps!

Writerly Tips: Sample Scenes

When crafting a narrative, having various approaches available to piece such a work together is helpful.

Writing sample scenes is one such approach, and l have found it to be a valuable technique in creative writing in general.

Say you had an idea for a story where a warrior queen takes on an evil warlock. By writing out the scene of their confrontation, as a kind of screen test, can then offer valuable information. For instance it is a chance to test your characters in action, how they interact with each other, and their dialogue. It is even helpful in finding the appropriate time for the narrative, on the whole.

What do you think? I hope my advice is helpful!

 

Book Review/Writerly Tips: Translation as Creative Writing in 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (Edited by Eliot Weinberger)

Rating: Recommended

Translations as creative writing might sound like a peculiar idea on the surface, specifically when it comes to translating texts from one language into another. There is the tendency to assume, or so I used to assume, that the process was simple and straightforward. The best known translation for the Japanese-language sentence “Watashi no Tomodachi wa yume o mita,” for instance, in American English, is “My friend had a dream.”

But translation, like creative writing in general, is in fact an intricate undertaking—where the knowledge of another language, a sensibility for the culture where the language is in use, and the filter of the translator’s perspective intersect.

For example, consider the “Watashi no Tomodachi wa yume o mita” sentence once again. While the closest equivalent usually agreed upon in American English is “My friend had a dream,” the actual words in Japanese basically read, “My friend saw a dream.” A translator who felt the word-by-word translation was the most faithful might then set down saw in the sentence, perhaps alongside a footnote explaining the difference in structure and ideas between the Japanese and English languages.

In other words, it’s a deliberate choice on the part of any translator as to how a sentence gets translated. An arguably creative act.

With the above said, we can now delve into 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, edited by Eliot Weinberger—which exemplifies the use of translation as a form of creative writing. Weinberger gives us one four-lined poem from the Buddhist, painter, calligrapher, poet, and philosopher Wang Wei, and then proceeds to include 19 distinct translations, from translators of various backgrounds and native languages, of the exact same poem. While similarities are abundant between the various translations, what stands out are the wide range of approaches taken (including some of which rearrange, add to, or cut out parts of the poem). Yet they are all solid translations for the reader to enjoy.

The basic idea of Wei’s poem is of an unnamed character who wants through an inhabited forest.

Here is one translation by Witter Bynner and Kiang Kang-Hu of Wei’s work (Pg. 5):

“Deer-Park Hermitage

There seems to be no one on the empty mountain . . .

And yet I think I hear a voice,

Where sunlight, entering a grove,

Shines back to me from the green moss.”

 

However, here is another translation by W.J.B Fletcher (Pg. 4):

The Form of the Deer

So lone seem the hills; there is no one in sight there.

But whence is the echo of the voices I hear?

The rays of the sunset pierce slanting the forest,

And in their reflection green mosses appear.”

 

Then here is my own translation of the poem:

Of the Deer by Wang Wei

In mountains where people seldom venture

Voices resound amid the gentle solitude

Returned as sunshine into a dark forest

That shines upon green mossy spreads.”

 

It’s clear from the above three translations just how wide a range the perspectives on a poem can be, and the even wider range of texts that can then result. This variety of understandings is something to keep in mind as a creative writer, I believe, and as a translator. Of course, the same is also true of English-to-English translations of creative pieces (which are apparently viable translations as well)—as long as credit goes to the originator of the text.

So I would recommend 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei as a means of exploring translation at work, and the ways in which translations truly are creative writings as well.

Writerly Tips: Ekphrasis

Ekphrasis poetry, which includes poems that translate images or similar media into words, is a nice tool to include in your repertoire of writing techniques. I learned about this type of poetry during a translation class in grad school, and it acts as another way to approach constructing poetry, which, after all, can broach a countless number of subjects.

For instance, we got asked to look at Kiki Smith’s sketched picture of “Ideas Are Often Stubborn As Shy Animals” from which to create an ekphrasis poem (and I would recommend that you google it, because it looks really nice); and I came up with this poem:

Kiki Smith

Against a wrinkled white canvas

Four figures stand in firm silence

A menagerie of heights and ages

All with faces that call for attention

Each different yet somehow the same

Vegetables struck with toothpicks hang

From white strings before them

One for every unknown person there

None acknowledges these odd offerings

They stare straight ahead at the viewer

With only the name of “Kiki Smith” known

Yet to whom that name might belong

Or whether it signifies them as a group

Is up for the individual to translate.

 

 

 

 

Helpful Writing Tips and Sources: Recommended Guidebooks for Writers

The world of freelance writing presents an exciting avenue to grow as a professor writer, and to gain some much-needed experience. I’m also still doing my best to navigate it, making many wonderful experiences and a ton of mistakes—but I take pride in the thought that I’m gradually getting better. That includes learning about helpful guides and sources to consult when confused or in need of some extra support, as a freelance writer (and as a writer in general).

Here are three of the best guides I’ve come across so far:

1) Writer’s Market

Writer’s Digest Books releases their latest edition of Writer’s Market on an annual basis, which they hail as “The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published.” It’s a lofty claim. However, the wealth of information to get writers started in the freelance market (including interviews with successful writers, an overview of pay rates for particularly jobs, and a long catalogue list of publishers with their general guidelines) make them an invaluable resource.

A new copy of the guide costs about $30; so if you want to save some money, my recommendation is to either check out the most up-to-date copy from your local library, or to look for older (yet usually still relevant) copies from a community bookstore or thrift shop.

2) On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Zinsser has gained a solid reputation for the excellent writing advice he gives in On Writing Well. Actually, he is held is such high regard for it that I’ve had that exact text assigned in several of my writing classes throughout undergraduate and graduate school. His general approach is discuss common writing errors (such as common mistakes, using flowery language, and so forth) in a series of essays. But despite getting often assigned to college classes, Zinsser’s language is simple and straightforward. He doesn’t throw a lot of complicated or scholarly terms at the reader. His guide, in other words, is appropriate for anyone who wants to better her or his writing skills.

3) A Writer’s Reference edited by Diane Hacker

If Zinsser’s On Writing Well is the type of guide that pops up from time to time in writing courses, Diane Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference is one every student writer gets encouraged to have on hand from the first writing class onwards. Like Writer’s Market, A Writer’s Reference gets updated each year with the latest citation information for styles such as MLA, ALA, and Chicago.

It’s a wonderful resource for students who need citation information for their essays and research papers, but also just as important for freelance writers beyond the classroom (where proper citation very much remains essential, and can even get you several well-paid gigs). There are even sections that address the use of writing on the job, whether you work in an office or as a freelance writer.

 

I hope those are helpful!

 

Happy Reading!

Writerly Tips: The Act of Freewriting

The first writing class I ever took was at the community college level, shortly after graduating from high school. Palomar Community College offered a variety of courses through their English department, ranging from Early American Literature to Texts in Translation (or the translation of books to film). But I flocked to a creative writing workshop course with great eagerness.

In the workshop, we shared and got feedback on our creative pieces, amid a low-stress environment. It was simple enough on that level.

However, what I will always remember best from that class was our lesson on freewriting.

                Free-writes involve sitting down before page and writing nonstop, without revision or even punctuation (if you don’t wish to do so) for a fixed period of time. It’s a powerful writing technique and warm-up to internalize, since it can be too easy to become a perfectionist in approaching a writing project; and being too afraid to make mistakes during the writing process can suppress creativity. As another example, perhaps a writer is stumped as to what to write, and then winds up not putting anything down at all.

But freewriting is meant as a free-flow of thoughts and ideas onto a written medium. I’ve found, time and again, that it always helps to jumpstart my creativity. When working on scenes for stories and such, it also allows me to write a very rough draft of something going off nothing more than what seems appropriate at the moment.

The joy of freewriting is that no one else has to see what you put down. Like a journal entry, it’s private and can be nonsensical. The important part is just encouraging yourself to write (or that although writing can be work, it’s also fun). Ideas also tend to follow close behind, by just letting the mind wander and dream a little (and what are many stories but written down dreams?).

So if you ever feel particularly stuck when writing anything, or at a loss even to what to write about in the first place, I’d recommend setting a timer, sitting down before a piece of paper with pen (or pencil) in hand, and simply writing.

That is what we are, after all—writers.

I hope that’s helpful, and happy reading!

 

Literary Questions:

This is not exactly a literary, so much as a 2018, question:

-What are your hopes and dreams for the New Year?

As for me, I plan to work hard to establish myself as a freelance writer, hopefully provide good advice to anyone who visits this site, and research various topics within literary studies. Most of all, I’d like to become a stronger person throughout 2018.