The Tools of the Trade

Like any good artist, a writer has a set of tools for creating. And, like artists, writers’ preferences for said tools vary greatly person to person. I’ve come to realize lately just how important my writing tools are to helping me write. I don’t just mean the literal act of translating thoughts into the written word–though they are, of course, essential for doing just that. But my choice of writing tools can help me jump that first hurdle of actually wanting to sit down to write, which in itself is my own biggest obstacle to writing. Once I start writing, I’m fine–it’s that initial push, putting that first word down, that is the real struggle.

So, tools. While in Portland, Oregon visiting friends this summer, we stopped off at the iconic Powell’s Books, a bookstore the size of a city block where, I think, most writers and readers could easily spend hours (days, weeks…) just browsing the shelves. While there, I decided to pick up a journal, both as a memento from the trip and because I’ve been meaning to start journaling daily again. I found a beautiful little journal with a leather cover and fell in love:

owl journal

(I love owls, so the recent fad of everything-owl has left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s super easy to find cute stuff featuring owls. On the other hand, it’s not particularly unique. Oh, well.)

I love everything about this journal–from the look of the cover to the feel of the paper. And, bonus, the leather cover is removable, so when I fill up this journal I can just swap it out for another.

Now that I had a journal I loved, I needed a good pen. (I typically prefer pens to pencils when writing.) I really like this Pilot Precise V5 which I picked up who-knows-where.

photo (8)

Because I love the physical act of writing in this journal now, I’ve found it much easier to convince myself to write in it daily. I’m still looking for a website or piece of software which makes writing on the computer just as enticing. Any suggestions?

 

 

Why I’m Glad I Didn’t Major in Creative Writing as a Writer

Studying abroad in Greece as an undergrad history & anthro major
Studying abroad in Greece as an undergrad history & anthro major

Despite the fact that I had always had a passion for writing, I didn’t major in creative writing as an undergraduate. At the time, my reasons for not choosing creative writing as a major were of the practical sort–I was trying to avoid the inevitable question of “What are you going to do with that?”

Instead, I double-majored in anthropology and history with an intent of going into archaeology. By the time I graduated, though, I had come full-circle to realize that, though I loved those subjects deeply, I didn’t necessarily want to practice them in a career. Mainly, I didn’t like doing the kind of writing that historians and archaeologists do.

As a graduate student, I ended up in an English M.A. program, and took my first-ever creative writing courses. It was an almost spiritual relief to write for those courses. No more footnotes, citations, carefully-structured arguments with supporting statements–unless I wanted those, of course. But I didn’t. I wanted to write about the world that I saw, and the worlds that others saw. I wanted to dive into new characters and walk around in their shoes and look at things through their eyes. I wanted to play with language, to throw words up in the air and watch them fall down onto the page like autumn leaves.

Creative writing was a welcome change of direction from the academic writing I had been doing for so long. But I’m glad that I did that academic writing first. I’m glad I didn’t major in creative writing as an undergrad.

Why?

Because my history and anthropology courses have given me something to write about. They provided me with new perspectives and new knowledge. They provided me with methods for research and analysis. Had I majored in creative writing, perhaps I would be a better wordsmith. But, ultimately, I don’t think my writing would be as good–simply because all I would have to write about (besides my own experiences) would be writing itself.

This is not to say you shouldn’t major in creative writing. It’s more to say–explore the world around you. Have interests outside of writing, and pursue those interests. They will only make you a better writer.

What do you think? Did you major in creative writing, or another subject?

For the Love of Flash

I am a novel girl. I love–and often need–to get lost in a narrative. Cathy Day, whom I took two courses with for my M.A., refers to this as the continuous fictional dream.  It’s that feeling you get when  you really, truly, fall into a book. When the characters become kindred spirits. When you reach the last page and look up with glazed eyes and wonder–what now? How do I go on living my life after that?

So, naturally, when I began taking creative writing courses during my Master’s program, I assumed I would be drawn to long-form fiction. My past writing had always been attempts at novels. Keyword–attempts. I never got much past the first thirty pages or so before losing steam. Life got in the way, or doubt crept into the margins, or something. For whatever reason, I would toss aside the notebook or stop opening the Word document where that little infant novel resided. Hmm–maybe I shouldn’t have kids.

After all those failed attempts at long form writing, I fell into a summer course centered around flash. Every week for five weeks we had to write a piece which could not exceed 750 words. Wait, this is a thing? Mind=blown.

Flash is a bit like poetry. I’ve never considered myself a poet, but after writing in the flash form, I definitely started to appreciate the poet’s work more. Working on something that small, you really get to dig into the language. For me, the process goes like this:

1. Carve out this huge shapeless chunk of rough stone. Don’t worry about the shape.

2. Start chiseling. Cut away the excess. Identify the meat of the story, the kernel you want to express, and remove everything else.

3. Cut the facets. You’re still cutting, trimming away all the extra bits, but now you’re doing it with a laser instead of a pickaxe.

4. Polish. Rub down the edges and hold it to the light. That kernel of truth should shine through every side as it turns.

I think I may return to long form writing eventually, but for now, flash is just so… shiny. How do you write? Long or short? Has it changed for you?