Posts tagged poet
The Power of Self-Knowledge: How Understanding Mental Illness Made Me a Better Writer

IMG_3623 When I was 19, I took a ride in the back of a police car.

I hadn't been arrested; I hadn't committed a crime--I'd simply gone off grid at the height of a very public emotional breakdown. A consuming depression, along with a series of misunderstandings, led my parents to fear that I'd disappeared with the intention of harming myself. The police were enlisted to help find me--which they did. So I took a ride in the back of a police car and ended up involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Physically, I was a danger to no one; I didn't need to be in the ward because of that possibility. However, I don't regret the time I spent there. Those days marked a turning point in my life--a defining moment, you could say. Locked up within its walls, I began to understand myself--my mental state--better than I'd allowed myself to do up until that point. Self-knowledge had been something I'd avoided because I didn't like what I learned. There was a brokenness in me I couldn't fix, so I refused to see it. But being committed forced me to see it--the whole ugly truth: who I'd hurt, what I'd destroyed, things I'd done that I'd never have done in my right mind. Only when I accepted that brokenness was I able to start working towards getting better.*

Mental illness is never someone's fault, but I didn't know that at the time. I nursed a deep self-hatred because of actions I'd had little to no control over, and it took months--years, even--to learn that though I had hurt and destroyed and broken things, the blame wasn't on me. The sickness that had altered my mind and behavior was to blame. Once past the point of despising myself, I was able to get to know who I was apart from depression. And once I knew myself, I was able to write.

My work in progress, Ourselves and Others, is based on true events--namely, my time in the psychiatric ward and the resultant occurrences. The only reason I'm able to write about it now, six years later, is because I finally understand where my mind was when the events occurred. There's a deep place I'm writing from, one previously locked away. And self-knowledge was the key to finally opening up that door. In fact, it opened many doors: doors that led to opportunities, art, new relationships, self-improvement. Knowing myself, I can excel in areas I wouldn't even have attempted otherwise. As Rosoff says, "Self-knowledge is essential."

Do you know yourself? Let the person you are come through in your writing. Write from that deep place that only you can fully understand. If you don't know yourself--if you've never been to that deep place-- get to know who you are and allow that knowledge to transform what you do. It'll be worth it.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story based on a defining moment in your life. As you write, try to learn something about yourself as a person: your state during the event; how the event changed you; etc. Let the story come from that place of understanding.

Happy Writing!


*Anyone who has ever struggled with a mental/emotional illness knows it isn't that easy. You can't just decide to get better. My story is not everyone's story. Denial stunted my healing, but many people accept and admit their sicknesses and still don't feel like they're improving. "Working towards getting better" for me included taking my medication, going to therapy, moving back in with my parents, leaving school, and being honest with myself and my family about my illness. It was a long road that truthfully, I'm still on. Depression hasn't been a part of my life for a long while, but I'm now living with Social Anxiety Disorder, which I think is largely due to the breakdown I had in 2009. Accepting that has been the difference between function and debilitation. You can't just decide to get better, but you can decide to get help.

A Simple Fact of Writing (Quote of the Day)

It's my husband's birthday party today, so there's no time for explanation or a lot of pretty words. Luckily this quote doesn't require an explanation, and the words are pretty enough on their own. All of us writers know this well: if there's a story in you, it has to come out. That's all there is to it.

Today's Prompt: Write a story about the most disastrous birthday you've ever had. If all your birthdays have gone smoothly, make something up!

Happy Writing!


Writing for Money--or Not (Quote of the Day)

Watercolorquote Can I get an amen? There's this weird notion amongst people that if you get published, suddenly you're rolling in the dough. Nope. First of all, that's a fallacy. Second of all, you don't write because you want to get paid. It wouldn't matter if you never made a cent. You write because you can't help it; because there are characters and words in you and they have to come out, one way or another. Ultimately, you don't write for the money; you write because you have to.

Today's Prompt: Write a story surrounding a character with these traits:

  • 30 years or older.
  • No stable profession.
  • Addicted to get-rich-quick schemes.
  • Has one talent: a knack for losing money.

Happy Writing!


Up for Interpretation: Quote of the Day

What people say, much like fiction writing and poetry, is up for interpretation. I found this little gem in my arsenal of writing quotes. Now, I've looked at it backwards, forwards, sideways, and upside down and I can't quite seem to figure out exactly what Murakami was trying to say. So I'm throwing this one out to you. How do you interpret these words and why? 

Today's Prompt: Write a short piece of fiction (no more than 500 words) that could be about one of two different subjects, depending upon interpretation. Do not clearly explain what these subjects are, but leave it up to the reader to decide.

Happy Writing!


Teach Your Children to Read (Quote of the Day)

I was about four years old when I learned to read, and I haven't stopped since. There's no limit--from one of the great classics to a shampoo bottle while I'm in the shower, I read anything I can get my hands on. My appetite for written words is unsatisfiable (and can I get an amen on the shampoo bottle thing? Because I know I'm not the only one who does that).

Sadly, it seems that the number of people who share that appetite is dwindling. I keep seeing articles about the decline of reading, and I have to wonder: what is the world coming to?

We need to teach our young people to love literature as much as we do, folks. If not, the literary world as we know it will change for good. If this quote is true (and I believe it is), an absence of good readers will result in fewer good writers, which will then lead to even less readers. It's a vicious cycle that we can stop. Teach your children to read, not as a chore or some kind of homework, but as a wonderful, irreplaceable way of life.

Today's Prompt: Think of your favorite kids' or young adult book. Now write a compelling paragraph or two describing what this book is and why you love it. Try to convince anyone reading your words that they should read and love this book too.

Happy writing!


Where do your ideas come from? (Quote of the Day)

I'm most likely to get ideas when I'm in the car and my husband is driving (and not talking). For whatever reason, sitting there watching the scenery whiz by produces the perfect conditions for my characters to come out of hiding. I'm not the kind of person who thinks, "This is what I'll write; this is what my characters will do," etc. Actually, I don't think in words at all. I see things in my mind and then I write them down. So I suppose any setting that is conducive to daydreaming and imagining is conducive to writing for me.

Where do you get your best ideas? Is it sitting at your computer or somewhere else?

Today's Prompt: Describe in detail your ideal writing conditions. Write this narratively, as though it's the setting in a story. What are the sights, sounds, smells that help you write? Artistically include them in this setting.

Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day--Alice Walker

retroflowerwreath How many of you novelists out there got your start writing poetry?

*Raises hand*

For me, it was awful, teenage-angsty poetry about death and blood and my oh-so-horrible feelings and stuff. Happily, I eventually transitioned into poems that read more like this and less like Poe on Xanax and whiskey. Now, as Alice Walker says, I've gotten into writing novels, and that poetry is deeply engrained in everything I write.

I love language; I love the way I can harness it and use it to express exactly what I need to express. Poetic devices make that process infinitely more sophisticated. To be quite honest, I don't know if my writing would be worth anything if I had no sense of poetry. Guess it's a good thing I do!

How about you? Are you a poet, or have you ever considered yourself to be one? How does that affect your writing?

Today's Prompt: Write a narrative poem from the perspective of a teenager. Now turn that poem into a short story, using at least three lines from your poem, word for word, in the text.

And today I have a small bonus for those of you who are currently writing novels and would like to share, no extra writing required:

Go through your novel and find a particularly poetic passage or line that you'd like to share with all of us. Post it in the comments!

Happy Writing/Passage Finding!


Quote of the Day—E.L. Doctorow

Someone managed to capture in two sentences exactly what my writing process is like. It's rare that I can see more than a chapter in front of me, but somehow it works. That's how books get written: one chapter after the other. At the same time, I know several people who flesh out a plan before they ever begin writing, and then follow it step by step until they reach the end. I've tried it, and it doesn't work for me at all. I'm too prone to getting caught up in the details of the plan, rather than following the story as it unfolds. I suppose in the end, just as with everything else, we all write in different ways and what works for some people doesn't work for others.

So what's your process like? Are you a planner or do you go with the flow? Have you ever tried a different way?

Today's prompt: Write a short story, on a subject of your choosing, but not in the way you would usually choose to write it (with planning or spontaneously). If you never plan, make an outline of the plot before you begin. If you're a stickler for planning, pick a subject, think of an opening and just go with it. Your story must have a "twist" ending.

When you're done, consider these questions:

  • How did you feel writing in an unfamiliar fashion?
  • Did you find it difficult or simple to switch from one tactic to the other?
  • How might this exercise help you be a more effective writer in the future?

Post your response in the comments! Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day—Chuck Palahniuk

Yes. This. There's a certain level of detail that, as a writer, I conciously reconcile myself to revealing. For example, I knew that if I was going to write a novel based on a particular experience, I would have to disclose certain things: the fact that I was once committed to a psychiatric ward; what got me there; the things that occurred there; etc. I signed up for those things the moment I decided, "You know what? This is a good basis for a novel." However, there are details that I didn't intend to share, particularly when it comes to my feelings about certain things. In many circumstances, I find I'm not even aware I feel a particular way about something until I write about it.

This passage, which I wrote just a few days ago, comes to mind:

"Alright." Watching me seriously, he leans back and crosses his arms over his chest. "So people have these moments—maybe something good happens; maybe they meet someone they like; I don't know—but for some reason in these moments people just forget. They forget how crappy everything is and life seems okay—until another moment comes along and reminds them of all the crap. That space between the moments? That's what people call happiness."

Looking over his head into the setting sun, I squint my eyes thoughtfully. "Maybe that is happiness, James."

"No, that's delusion. Life can't be—well—life one minute and then great the next. Things don't change that easily."

I keep staring at the sunset, scratching my bitten nails across the iron tabletop. He really believes it: that the spaces between our moments sit there like empty sundae cups, waiting to be filled with something sweet and temporary. Delusion, he calls it. But if it isn't real, what's the point? I guess James would say there is none. For some reason that terrifies me.

For some reason that terrifies me. Strangely enough, that wasn't just my narrator speaking. James holds a perspective that I've encountered in someone before. When I decided to write about it, it was only an element: some strange quirk that makes for an interesting character. But once I actually sat down and started writing, I realized the effect this idea has on me. It terrifies me, simple as that.

So what deeply personal things have you revealed about yourself through writing? Anything you didn't know before?

Today's Prompt: Take any subject of political or social significance (something people generally feel strongly about) and write a short story surrounding this issue. Afterwards, read through it carefully and answer these questions:

  • Is your own perspective revealed in this piece?
  • Do you share the narrator's feelings, or do you disagree?
  • If you disagree, does that show in your story?
  • What have you learned about yourself through writing this piece?

Post your answers and any relevant passages/quotes in the comments! Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day--Henry David Thoreau


I chose a quote about love today because this subject is the most difficult for me. Stereotypically, as a woman, I should easily be able to write a great, lovey-dovey, emotion-loaded scene, right? No. Wrong. I would much rather write a scene of someone being literally cut off at the knees than write a kissing scene. Don't worry; I can do it. It's just not quite as easy for me as many other types of writing. Oftentimes I have a hard time suspending my disbelief enough to write someone falling in real-true-honest-to-god-love within a handful of book pages. Realistically, it always seems like it should take longer than it does, which is something I feel while reading as well as writing. Ironic, considering that my husband and I got engaged 1 month after we met...

Anyway, I've decided to take this quote and apply it to my writing. "There is no remedy for (writing about) love but to (write about) love more." Practice makes perfect; isn't that that thing everybody says? So if you're like me and have a hard time writing about love, let's practice together.

Today's Prompt: Write a story in which the main character meets someone completely new and proceeds to fall in love--believably--in ONE PAGE only.

May the Force be with you.


Quote of the Day—F. Scott Fitzgerald

When I saw this quote this morning, I had an initial interpretation. But then as I thought about it more, I got another interpretation. And then another one. And for the life of me, I can't figure out which one I believe in the most. So, I'd like to turn this into a discussion. What do you think? How would you interpret and apply the above quote, as a writer? After I get some response, I'll comment with my own thoughts.

Today's Prompt: You are an undersea diver who has been hired by the government to retrieve some items from the wreckage of a naval vessel. Write a story detailing your experience, including the type of vessel, what you have been instructed to find, and why (to the best of your knowledge).

Post your response in the comments! Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day—Colin Powell

I chose this image for this quote because sometimes I really feel like that little bird with that giant shovel. When it comes to doing the work it requires to finish a book, market yourself, get published, etc. it can feel like a burden too heavy to lift. But of course, we have to keep at it. Even if the work seems impossible, dreams don't come true in our sleep! It takes sweat, determination, and hard work to make them happen. So keep at it and don't give up until you get there.

Today's prompt: In the yard, there is a bird feeder, chock full of birdseed. But sleeping directly in front of it is a large, grumpy cat. Tell us how you would get your breakfast if you were a bird.

Post your response in the comments! Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day—Ernest Hemingway

Another great snippet of wisdom from Hemingway. A character isn't worth reading if he/she doesn't become a real person to the reader. It's hard to care about the fate of something that isn't alive, after all. The most effective way to follow this particular piece of advice, in my opinion, is to base characters on flesh-and-blood people you know—or even people you don't know. Writers can't be just writers. We have to be readers, listeners, watchers. We have to observe the real in order to make our creations realistic. So if you need to write a person, look at people. Observe them. What are the little things that make them unique and give them dimension? Do they cross their arms often; say "you know" at the end of every phrase; breathe loudly through their noses? It's details like this that make people human, and ultimately, will make your characters human too.

Today's Prompt: pay a visit to your local library and choose a person to observe. Learn about this person through his or her mannerisms. Who do you imagine he/she is based on the actions you've observed? Write a short story centered around this person.

Post your story in the comments! Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day—Emilia Fox

I can sit by myself for hours—days, even—as long as I have a book. To be honest, I'm the kind of person who reads the same books over and over again, so I become well acquainted with these "friends" of mine. Not that I'm not open to making new friends, of course. Each book I've never read before is an opportunity for that, which I welcome. Even the books I  write are like friends to me, and I hope that in writing them, I've created a future friend for someone else.

Today's prompt: You have the following main character and/or narrator:

Thomas Bleakley: aged 42, works in technical support, lives alone, has six cats and a prominent display case for his dead mother's ashes.

Write something worth reading about Thomas Bleakley.

Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day—Henry Ford

It's Good Friday. The sun is shining, my husband is off work, and my two littles are being especially cute. So I'm going to keep my thoughts short today: believe in yourself. No matter what other people think, believe you can,  and you will.

Today's Prompt: Imagine your life as you would like it to be in five years. What will your achievements be, where will you live, what job will you have, etc? Write a short story based on this future life of yours.

Happy writing!


Quote of the Day—Woody Allen

I've decided I'm showing up today—showing up for my kids, showing up to write, showing up, period. Sometimes I find myself so overwhelmed by all the things I have to do that I don't even try. But how can a person be successful if he/she doesn't even begin? When you work for yourself and there aren't any concrete consequences (like getting fired) for playing hooky, it can be hard to make yourself do what you need to. I know that's true of me with my writing, and I think it's a pitfall of many of my fellow writers out there. But we want to be successful, right? We want to achieve and do what we set out to do. In order for that to happen, we actually have to set out to do it. Every single day, we've got to show up.

Today's prompt: Make yourself write when you don't feel like it. Even if you've already written today, or even if you think you'll write later but don't feel like it beforehand, make yourself do it. It'll be good practice for the next time you don't feel like writing at all.

Happy writing!


Quote of the Day—Joseph Addison

I try not to make broad, generalized statements, but here I will: this quote is true for every single person. Not only does reading stimulate your intellect, but also your imagination. It inspires you. It grows your vocabulary. It teaches you about language, culture, human nature. Everyone should read. And if this is true for everyone, it's doubly true for writers. You must read stories in order to learn how to create them! Every time you pick up a book, you hone your writing skills. Simple as that. If you're having a dry writing spell, try reading something instead and see what happens. After all, you wouldn't run a marathon without training or play in a championship game without tossing the ball around a little first, right? Read. It's exercise. It's valuable. Read. Strengthen your mind and skills, and then create something that will help others strengthen their minds and skills. Read!

Today's Prompt: Read a short story or a chapter from your favorite novel. Then write your own short story or work on your current work in progress. How did reading help you write?

Comment below with what you read and the result! Happy writing!


Quote of the Day-- Douglas Adams

worldmapquote The other day my husband, who writes children's books, was wondering out loud how I could manage to finish three novels. He (supposedly) can't even imagine doing something that extensive--planning a story and getting something out from beginning to end. I told him there was a time when I couldn't imagine ever finishing a novel either, which is true. I also told him that even when I have an idea in my head, it seems that, in a way, the novel writes itself. It's like the story just exists and I'm simply the tool being used to write it down. So as you can imagine (and maybe some of you don't have to imagine because you've experienced it yourself), this quote rings very true to me. I'm always happier with the way a story turns out than I was with the way I planned to write it. Somehow, my writing always ends up where it needs to be, even when I had no idea it needed to be there.

So have you experienced this? Do you let the story "write itself" or do you stick to your plans? How does your method work for you?

Today's Prompt: Make a plot treatment, planning a short story from beginning to end. Then start writing. Did the story go where you expected it to or did it deviate? Did it end up better or worse than you imagined?

Post your response in the comments, along with your plot treatment and story, if you'd like! Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day—Rudyard Kipling

Kipling for the win. Just like planting a garden, any other kind of achievement (creative or otherwise) can only be gotten through hard work. So whether you're a writer, musician, actor, or a businessman, get your hands dirty today. Stop thinking about how great your next book or song will be or how awesome it'll be when you land that big account at your job. You get out of something what you put into it, so start working!

Today's Prompt: Think of a city you've always wanted to visit, but never have. Now hit the Internet, do some research and write a short story set in that city.

Leave your story in the comments! Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day—Maya Angelou

You know that feeling when something amazing happens to you and you just have to tell someone? Or that feeling when you get an idea for a new novel or short story and you know you just have to start this new project? For me, that's a so-exciting-it's-almost-painful feeling. Tight-chested, butterflies, invincible, yet vulnerable—the works. Honestly, the feeling I get when I think of a new story to tell is very similar to the feeling of falling in love. I think that's what Maya Angelou was talking about. I can't imagine not being able to tell my story—having that feeling all the time and then not being able to do anything about it. That definitely would be agony. I believe that, like in a relationship, once a story gets started and matures, that feeling starts to change. Not that it's not still love (because it is), but it just becomes steadier. And that's because we aren't meant to have that so-exciting-it-hurts feeling forever—after a while the excitement would wear off and only hurt would remain. An unwritten story is like unrequited love. Ultimately we have to take the leap; go deeper or give up. We have to tell somebody.

Today's Prompt: Has there been a story brewing inside of you? Have you felt what Angelou described? Do something about it! Get started and write the opening to your untold story.

Share it in the comments or if you'd rather, keep it to yourself. Either way, get writing!