Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Facebook, You’re Such a Nag

Or Why writers Should All Say No to Constant Content

I don’t know about you, but I manage several groups and pages on Facebook, and one constant source of annoyance is the notifications that my readers haven’t heard from me in awhile. The only thing more annoying are the ones telling me a post is performing better, so I should pay Facebook to advertise it.

Let’s consider the logic here. Facebook’s business model is to get people on their platform because we enjoy sharing our news with others. But that isn’t enough for them. They know they have billions of free content creators, so they constantly remind us that they need us to create the news, entertainment, memes, personality quizzes, challenges, and other mindlessness that will keep their users coming back. Then they use algorithms to control what we see and convince us that we need to pay for ads, so our posts will stand out from all the drivel. They act like drug pushers, luring us in, then creating a need that will sustain their business. But the drug isn’t even real.

As a writer, I resent anyone who tries to get me to create content for free. If I’m going to do that (like I do on this blog), I want to do it on my own term and my own schedule. Often, I’m busy and don’t have time for Facebook. Or (like this week) I’m on vacation and don’t want to work, though I may respond to emails, etc. Or there simply isn’t anything I need to tell my “readers.” I want the content of these pages to be useful, informative, and timely. When the people who like my pages see my content, I want it to be something they want to read, not something they choose to ignore, so I resist Facebook’s near constant reminders.

Twitter, for all it’s flaws, is much better in this regard. It is more laissez faire. Twitter could care less when you post or even whether you post at all. Yes, you can buy an ad, but Twitter doesn’t seem to give a hoot whether you do or not. Maybe they’re just that much bigger than their immature rival or maybe it’s part because of their lawless culture. Lawlessness has it’s own issues, but in this regard, it creates a more positive environment for writers.

I want to guard my time and to create time for my own writing. Rather than writing a post so Facebook can profit, I’d rather write a poem. I want to use social media on my terms, go there for the information I want, and provide content when it suits my needs, not so Facebook can profit coming and going. Until Facebook comes up with a model that pays writers for their content (don’t hold your breath), we should all be very judicious about the time we spend there, and we should ignore the nagging call to create more free content than suits our needs.

Facebook, I’ll write on my page when I’m damn good and ready. It’s more important for me to write a poem or hang out with my nieces and nephews or visit with my mother. Life is more important than Facebook, and my writing is mine. I’ll give it to the world on my terms and in my own time.

Remembering a Mentor

This weekend, I drove from Mississippi to western Illinois for the memorial gathering of one of my main college mentors, Robin Metz. The many hours by myself in the car on the the way there and back gave me lots of time to reflect, and seeing so many people come out for the memorial was gratifying. Robin taught for over 50 years and was still on the faculty of Knox when he died. Only in his final semester did he take medical leave and not teach a class. Until then, despite treatments for pancreatic cancer, he continued teaching until the end.

Many of us made it back, and many more sent their condolences and greetings. Former colleagues of his were there, as well as family and people from the community. I went to school with both of his daughters, so I was glad I could make it and have a chance to reconnect with them. I’d seen Robin and his wife, Liz, several times in recent years, but hadn’t seen Lisa and Ronnah in quite awhile.

Friends who gathered after the memorial to talk, eat, and yes, even dance to the one eighties song we could get the DJ to play (Prince), have gone on to do many things. Some of us are educators, some work in different fields. Most of us are writers, but we talked about the many English majors we knew who ended up in different fields. When we take a class or when those of us who are educators teach a class, we never know where the people around us will travel in their life’s journey. What made Robin Metz such a great mentor for so many people is that you always had the feeling that he cared. He was detailed in his comments on every story he ever critiqued for fiction workshop, but he also cared about you as a person, about your life and about the bigger questions in life. Robin never let you off the hook, and though sometimes we probably wished he would, it was also the part of him that made the most lasting impression.

I first met Robin when I hitch-hiked from St. Olaf College to Galesburg in what turned out to be a snowstorm. I had had come to check out the school I would transfer to. Meeting him, learning about the program he had started, meeting students, and seeing their active writing community sealed the deal. He was a huge presence in my remaining three years of college, and then when I moved to Chicago, he taught in the Urban Studies program, so we kept up our relationship for another semester. He was always there when I went back to visit, and he encouraged me to apply for a fellowship for grad school, which helped me to continue my work with translation. Then he asked me to come work at Knox for a couple of terms as his teaching assistant before I went to grad school. Over the years, he invited me back to Knox other times, and whenever I could, I would stop by and visit. I didn’t make that happen often enough.

For Robin, a class was never just about the class. It was an opportunity for meaningful discussion and was part of a conversation that had been ongoing all of his life and that you were invited into not just for the time you were in his class, but for the rest of his life and beyond. That is why so many of us made the journey back for his memorial celebration, and it is why all of us could share so many stories of the impact he made and is still making on our lives.

Heading to #AWP18

This week, I’ll be going to Tampa for the 2018 Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. As always, it will be a very busy few days—inspiring and exhausting.

This year, it will be a little different, since I’ll get to hang out with some of my students who are taking a Short Residency class centered around the conference. They will attend panels, help at our book fair table (T1411 if you want to find us!), and explore the book fair in their free time. They’re required to go to some professional panels on writing or the business of writing, as well as some panels that feature readings. They’ve already learned a lot just from scouring the schedule to see what they most want to attend.

I’ll go to the directors panels, both the general one and one for the Southeast region, and I’ll try to catch the Low-Residency Caucus panel, too, so I can hear about the latest developments that affect our program. But much of my time will be spent in the book fair, where in addition to our program and our literary magazines Ponder Review and Poetry South, I’ll also be giving out copies of A Writer’s Craftmy multi-genre intro to creative writing textbook.

And to top it all off, as if seeing old friends, working with students, and connecting with other writers and directors isn’t enough, this year I’ll be moderating and participating in a panel to celebrate the 30th Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium, which will be held Oct. 18-20, 2018!

It should be a lot of fun! See you in Tampa, if you’re going to #AWP18!

This Christmas, Buy Poetry

I usually don’t like to hawk my own books, but with the Christmas shopping season in full swing, it seems like a good time to promote books in general (for mine, see below). And what better kind of book to buy than a good book of poetry?

They say good things come in small packages: you get a lot of good things in a collection of poems. And because each poem is usually a page or two long, readers can digest a book of poems a few at a time. A poetry book is perfect for commuters or travelers or anyone with a busy schedule or who needs something to read after they put their phone, tablet, or computer away before they go to sleep (more and more studies say you should do this, so you need good books to make the transition). Poetry books generally aren’t as expensive as novels or short story collections, so you can give two or three — or you can add a book of poems to make an ordinary gift like a  scarf or sweater seem extraordinary.

Now, I know some people’s reaction will be that no one reads poetry or no one understands it, but that doesn’t have to be the case. First, if everyone bought a book of poetry for Christmas, then much more poetry would be read! (Okay, I know, that’s wishful thinking…) But not all poetry is opaque and impossible to understand. Some is, and some people love that, but many poets also write perfectly accessible poems that engage with current events or universal issues anyone can relate to. You just have to look around and find the book that will speak to the person on your gift list (or put some poetry on your own wish list, so someone might get it for you).

How to find good poetry?

Over at Poetry Southwe’ve started a book list of new and notable books, mostly by Southern poets. You can also read many of our issues online to find poets who might be of interest, or you could order a gift subscription for Issue 9, which will be out in time for Christmas. You can also click on the title to go to our LibraryThing bookshelf of poetry. Goodreads recently released their reader’s poll of top poetry in 2017. Small Press Distribution listed their best-selling poetry titles in November, and Entropy Magazine came out with their list. And browsing in a good bookstore can give you ideas.

If you’re still looking for suggestions, here is what I have available:

9781680030655 For the art lover, the environmentalist, or anyone interested in the Mississippi Gulf Coast or mental illness, Barrier Island Suitechronicles the life of painter and potter Walter Inglis Anderson of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. As a young man, he studied art, then suffered mental breakdowns (possibly as a result of malaria or undulant fever) and was institutionalized. Later he would become a successful yet reclusive artist, working at the family pottery and sailing out to the barrier island for weeks at a time to draw and paint. The poems in this collection are inspired by his Horn Island Logs as well as the biographies Fortune’s Favorite Child and Approaching the Magic Hour.

dunkelberg front cover smThe poems in Time Capsules are more autobiographical, though some poems or details are invented. Poems set in the present deal with marriage, family, setting down roots, and growing accustomed to Mississippi. Poems of the past deal with growing up in small-town Iowa in the 60s and 70s. Themes of travel and nature run through all of my poetry and are prevalent in Time Capsules as well. Trees, birds, and wildflowers are recurring symbols. The book’s four sections are loosely organized around the cycle of the seasons, beginning in winter with “The Land of the Dead” and ending in late fall with “Requiem.”

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My first collection, Landscapes and Architectures is out of print, but I do have some copies available. Contact me if you’d like one or if you’d like a complete set of my three books! Landscapes and Architectures deals with the displacement of youth, modern culture (including some technology that now feels dated), love, nature, and finding one’s way in the world. The landscapes and cityscapes of the midwest, where I grew up, feature prominently in early poems set in Osage, Iowa, and Galesburg and Chicago, Illinois. Later poems take place in the wide open spaces and exotic landscape around Austin, Texas.

HRNcoverFor those who are interested in translation, surrealism, or mystical poetry, my translations of the Belgian poet, Paul Snoek, in Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus may make a good stocking stuffer. This collection of three of his books from the 1960s is a small format pocket book. One of Belgium’s most prominent post-war poets writing in Flemish, Paul Snoek was active from the 1950s until his tragic death in in a single-car accident in 1981. Recently, I’ve been reworking some of my translations of his last two books and am thinking again about finding a publisher for more of his poems.

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Last but not least, for the writer on your list, you might choose to buy a book about writing poetry (and fiction, nonfiction, and drama). My textbook, A Writer’s Craft, was published this year. Though it’s geared towards an introductory creative writing class, it was also written to be accessible for individual writers who want instruction and inspiration on the basics of the four main genres of creative writing. Each chapter ends with writing exercises to provide inspiration and more are available on the companion website and on its GoodReads community.

Revision: Taking My Own Advice

If you follow this blog, you may know that I’m publishing a creative writing textbook next year, titled A Writer’s Craft:Multi-Genre Creative Writing. The contract has been signed on both sides of the Atlantic, and this fall I’ve been working on revisions. Since I’ve taught with the notes that became this book for a few years, the manuscript has already been revised several times and is pretty clean. But the publisher wanted me to broaden the focus from my class to a more general audience, something I’d already been doing, so there were only a few places that still had to be changed and some exercises that had to be revised to work in other contexts. Since my publisher, Palgrave/MacMillan, is based in the UK, they also wanted me to try to address an international market.

These were all fairly straightforward revisions that a careful read-through and some tinkering with the language ought to address. I knew I also wanted to add a glossary and bibliography, and I had some introductory material for instructors and students and an appendix I wanted to include.

What I hadn’t anticipated was needing to follow my own advice on revision. I read through the book a chapter at a time, making my corrections and revisions, and everything was pretty much finished for that stage. Yet I had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right with the chapter on Creative Nonfiction.

My advice for revision includes rethinking what you’ve done and being willing to make major changes if necessary. It also involves looking at your work in terms of balance. Are any of the parts less developed than the others and should they be equally developed.

When I went back over the chapter on Creative Nonfiction, I realized it was significantly shorter than the other chapters on genre. I knew the reason for this, of course. Initially, my course in creative writing had included only poetry and fiction. Eventually, I added nonfiction and then drama. For awhile, I still gave more emphasis to fiction and poetry, but in recent years I’ve found ways to manage teaching all four genres equally. This is reflected in my syllabus and in the number of days I devote to each chapter.

A couple of years ago when I started thinking of the notes as a textbook, I had added a fair amount to the chapter on drama because there are so many technical aspects to the form. But Creative Nonfiction didn’t seem to have as many issues to cover, especially since it is the first genre we get to and we rely heavily on material that has already been covered in previous lessons, so it felt like there was less to say.

I knew all these reasons why there were fewer pages, yet it still felt like I was giving Creative Nonfiction short shrift, and I knew that wasn’t the case when I covered it in class. So I went back to my notes, and went over the chapter again. Ultimately, I decided to spend more time on each of the types of Creative Nonfiction, adding more detail on memoir and personal essay and whole new passages about the lyric essay, true crime, travel writing, and flash nonfiction. In the process, I had to develop new content, research more about forms of nonfiction, and rethink the strategy of the chapter. This also helped me bring out more of the content that often comes up in class discussion.

It was more work than anticipated, but I wasn’t ever sorry that I needed to do it. It made the book stronger, and inspired me to write another short chapter on other genres that serves as a conclusion to the book. Now I just have the appendix to finish and the glossary and bibliography to format. I should make my Nov. 30 deadline, and it looks like I’ll even come in just under the 70,000 word limit that my editor and I agreed on for the revised manuscript. More on that soon! And if I don’t post a lot on this blog in the next couple of weeks (as I haven’t the past few weeks), you’ll know why!

Concrete Poetry

I always have a little fear and trepidation introducing concrete poetry to a class of creative writers, as I did today. On the one hand, I’m afraid I may get a lot of texts written in a shape that don’t have much poetry to them; on the other hand, I am convinced that the visual side of poetry is at least worth considering. Concrete poetry can lead to abuse or innovation, in other words, so it helps to show some examples.

What I like about concrete poems is that they can develop their own, visual sense of grammar. There is a syntax to the spatial arrangement of words on the page that works counter to sentence syntax. Indeed, often there is no sentence and the ‘words’ may not even be pronounceable. I like getting students to think outside the box and to think of poems as something other than prose. But I don’t like to give the idea that concrete poetry is static.

Far from it. The best concrete poetry challenges our linguistic norms, including challenging our habit of making language sense from left to right and top to bottom. So I show them a poem written in different lines that curve and bend in different directions, even one circular line. There is no logical place to begin the poem. If you start with one sentence and end with another, you might get a completely different sense of the poem than if you did it the other way around, or another way. There are multiple readings of the same text, depending on your entry point.

Writing a poem like this may take more technical prowess with typography than your average undergraduate can muster, but being exposed to the poem (and to other concrete poems) might allow them to think of poetry as not being (completely) linear. If they begin to look for connections around and within a poem, and not just in the straight line of prose, then they may pay more attention to other ways of creating meaning in a poem. Some of those may be more visual than auditory.

How to Drive Traffic to Your Blog: Be Useful

I keep marveling at how much my blog’s traffic has increased in the past year and thinking about the posts that made this happen. On the surface, the best advice I might give for driving more traffic to your blog could be: write about technology. My techie posts, which weren’t part of the original concept for the blog, have garnered far more hits than my poetry or teaching posts. But I don’t think that writing about tech is the only solution. Some of my food posts have been fairly popular, and there’s even a post where I was trying to define Nonfiction that regularly gets a hit — welcome students from Full Sail University (wherever you are) who must be assigned to find a page like mine. I see you in my stats now and then.

No, rather than taking the easy solution, to write about tech issues, I want to suggest that you write about whatever is on your mind, but make it useful. That said, I know it’s hard to predict what will be useful for others. So my rule of thumb has become to write about things that are useful to me. Then if others think so, too, I may have a hit, and if not, at least I can use it.

Case in point: when I was having problems with my DSL modem last year, I started a series of posts chronicling my problems and eventual solution. I tried to be very detailed about what my symptoms were and how I fixed them. I described every step as accurately as I could remember (without giving away personal details). I did this at the time, so I wouldn’t forget what I’d done if I ever had the problem again. People (and then search engines) started to notice. It was a rant, and that felt good, but it was a useful rant because it also provided information, and I’m convinced that’s what drove the traffic to my site.

I’ve done the same with a rare blood disease that our dog came down with a year ago. I recounted what I had learned about it, but I also recounted the experience of caring for and ultimately losing our beloved pet. I don’t think it’s the emotional content that draws viewers, but instead they want to know what someone else has experienced and what they might expect. I don’t know that our experience will be similar to theirs — and I sincerely hope theirs will be one of the cases where the dog responds to treatment and goes into remission — but knowing our experience must be useful.

Of course, I’ll continue to write about poetry, teaching, cooking, and the occasional odd-ball topic like the Motorette my mother eventually sold (thanks to someone who found out about it on my blog). You can’t always predict what will be of use to others, after all. So don’t let this advice stop you from writing about your passion even if that seems like the most useless topic in the world. As long as you approach it with the goal in mind to make it useful, at least to yourself, then my bet is there will be others who find it useful, too, and they will find you.