Process: Things I Write About

People, when they discover I’m a writer, often ask what I write about. I used to roll my eyes and explain how writers use everything as material. But I was thinking recently about the subject matter of various poems & stories either published or underway and what themes are at work.

  • grief
  • social issues
  • discontented relationships
  • insomnia
  • entertainment and pop culture
  • racial identity
  • the blues
  • transgression
  • danger
  • urban legends
  • inclement weather
  • political unrest
  • fighting
  • sports and exercise
  • b-movies
  • illness
  • alcohol
  • making ends meet
  • marriage & domesticity
  • politics
  • love poems
  • abandoned buildings
  • the apocalypse
  • the Midwest
  • hip hop

Some subjects are barely projects, or unfinished stories that are underway but stalled out, and a couple things are just one or two poems into what I envision will be a longer series. I've also been thinking about the difference of approach when it comes to compilation (mixtape) books and project books and how the latter seems to be driven by intent from the start and the former slowly take shape during the process. But I suppose that's a blog entry for another day.

6 Literary Road Trips Across America You Can Actually Take

There are few things more quintessentially American than a road trip. The sheer size of the country, an abundance of connected highways, diverse regions and incredible landscapes of our national parks make a cross-country road trip the ultimate bucket-list experience. Discovery is ingrained in our culture. Recognizing that many Americans are descendants of immigrants who left their home countries, John Steinbeck wrote, “Every American hungers to move.”

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Naturally, it makes sense that so many of us yearn for the open road. One might even say it’s symbolic: the vehicle being the visual representation of freedom, a drivers license the ticket and the route the destination. Road trips go far deeper than simply a travel experience, which is why literary lions like Tom Wolfe, Jack Kerouac, and John Steinbeck documented their adventures by car in the form of novels. 

Inspired by some of the most popular travels in American literature. CarRentals created this guide to literary road trips. Only, instead of living these adventures through the pages of a book, they re-created the author’s routes to give us a list of road trips you can actually take.

https://www.carrentals.com/blog/your-guide-to-literary-road-trips-across-america-infographic/

 

Writing a Killer Essay Conclusion.

Crafting conclusions to essays can be challenging. It takes skill to end on a good note and drive your points home one last time. It’s the final chance to impress and give readers understanding as to why your essay matters. The style of the conclusion that's most effective will vary depending on the tone and point of view of your essay. However, there are some key points that apply no matter what style of essay you're crafting.

A good essay conclusion restates, not rewrites your thesis from the introduction. It usually consists of three sentences minimum. And it concludes thoughts without presenting new ideas.

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One standard structure I've used is to Restate, Review, Connect, and Combine (I remember it as R-R-C-C):

Sentence #1: RESTATE the thesis by making the same point with other words.

Sentences #2-4: REVIEW supporting ideas; summarize how they prove the thesis.

Sentence #5: CONNECT back to the essay's main premise and relate your closing statement to an opening thought; make it relatable to impress a reader and give them something to contemplate.

Lastly, COMBINE these sentences into a conclusion. Eliminate redundancy. Add a transition word or phrase to make it clear you're concluding. Just try to be more inventive than the standard "In conclusion..." or "In closing..."

There are pitfalls to avoid. Resist the temptation to write any new information; focus on summarizing the thesis and statements. Try not to share personal thoughts unless it's a first-person opinion piece. Don’t attempt to restate every detail - that's what the body paragraphs are for. And finally, don't use boring, mundane words. Choose concise but vivid language instead.

To end an essay in a strong manner, consider its type and audience. A conclusion is your last chance to impress readers. R-R-C-C can be effective, but don't be afraid to take a more creative approach if it presents itself...just avoid the pitfalls I mentioned.

Broken Lines.

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If there is one thing that reflects a poet’s style, it is their usage (or non-usage) of line breaks. It may seem like a small factor, but line breaks can greatly influence the effectiveness and meaning of a poem. Which is why I found this discussion of line breaks over at Frontier Poetry thought-provoking. It discusses the three types of breaks and what goes into crafting a line of poetry. It is an interesting read.

https://www.frontierpoetry.com/2018/04/19/poetry-terms-the-three-lines/

To insult or not to insult...

Happy Shakespeare Day! In celebration of the 402nd anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death, Invaluable created a Shakespearean insult generator. The tool rounds up over 70 of Shakespeare’s top insults from his most famous works, like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Whether you wish to insult a friend, colleague, or your greatest enemy, we’ve got you covered. What better way is there to celebrate Shakespeare than to use his insults when you need them? Below are six sample insults that I liked (click the right edge to see the next image):

Check out the generator for yourself at this link: https://www.invaluable.com/blog/shakespearean-insults/.

Oxford Comma Drama.

I recently stumbled on an old but interesting article on the Grammarly Blog about the Oxford comma and why its use (or non-use) gets folks fired up. For much of my life I was blissfully unaware there was a debate over this tiny bit of punctuation. My elementary school taught the gospel of the Oxford comma, so I’ve used it religiously even since. It wasn’t until recent years while editing reports at my day job that I noticed many others don’t use it.

Use of the Oxford comma is stylistic. Some style guides call for its use while others don’t. I personally don't see what the controversy is. The Oxford comma makes things clear and it also establishes a visual pattern as part of that clarity.

Like style in clothing, I recognize why others have a personal style that differs from mine…but I know my style is right for me. So I’m a black leather jacket, Oxford comma kind of guy, I guess. No apologies.

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/what-is-the-oxford-comma-and-why-do-people-care-so-much-about-it/

What I Find Fascinating About Poetry

When done right, poetry teaches you without forcing you to learn.

A great poem doesn't try to attach a bridle to the reader and lead them through a desert like a cowboy would his horse. A great poem invites a reader to ride alongside the writer, to travel with them, allows a reader to learn from their insight and see their world via metaphor and musicality.

So…what do you find fascinating about poetry?

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Finding Places to Submit Your Work

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So let’s say you’ve been diligent in writing every day. Now you have a huge pile of poems, stories, and essays that you’re ready to show the world. But how do you take your creative works from your hard drive and get them onto the pages of a literary journal?

One place to start is by reading Nausheen Eusuf’s “Where to Submit Your Work” on the Submittable blog. It provides an awesome list of places where you can find journals to submit all your brilliant stuff. Good luck in finding homes for your literary darlings!

https://blog.submittable.com/2018/04/where-to-submit-your-work/

What are some tips for writing articles or blog posts quickly?

Save the introduction for last. This tactic helps. I don’t write the intro until the rest of the article or blog post is finished. By doing this, I push right into the info readers want, and I don’t waste words on a long intro that’s often expendable anyway.

Focus on what readers want. If a piece is supposed to provide “5 ways to do X”, the bulk of the text must be about those 5 ways. Don’t spend too long on your intro or explanations. Drill down on what readers need, and don’t give too much extraneous info.

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Formulate an outline. It doesn’t need to be extensive. Often I create a quick-and-dirty one such as:

  • Introduction
  • What Is X?
  • 5 Methods (list each solution)
  • Conclusion

Research to find support for the meat of your article or blog post, and then list those sources in the outline before you start writing. It will help you write faster by linking the sources to the point they are supporting.

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, which presents a great opportunity to infuse your poetry writing and reading activities with new energy. In case any of you might be wanting to do that, I present the following sources for poetic inspiration:

National Poetry Month Homepage: https://www.poets.org/national-poetry-month/home

2018 Poetic Asides PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2018-april-pad-challenge-guidelines

30 Days, 30 Poems Challenge: https://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/2018/03/17/30-days-30-poems-challenge-national-poetry-month/

10 New Poetry Collections to Read During National Poetry Month: https://lithub.com/10-new-poetry-collections-to-read-during-national-poetry-month/

NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month): http://www.napowrimo.net/

30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/issues_in_depth/30PoetryIdeas.html

Poetry Super Highway Prompt-A-Day for National Poetry Month: http://poetrysuperhighway.com/psh/ (check the tab for "special projects" and then "a poetry writing prompt a day" to locate the prompts and other info)

Good luck and positive vibes as you celebrate National Poetry Month!

Writing the Perfect Blog Post.

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If you’ve ever struggled with establishing a strong methodology for creating content on your blog, then you should check out this awesome post from Jeff Goins’ blog called “4 Essential Elements to Writing a Great Blog Post.”

Goins contends that by establishing a little bit of structure in your blog writing process, you will become more creative within the constraints and be easily able to produce great articles and ideas for your blog, Check it out.

https://goinswriter.com/great-blog-post/?inf_contact_key=a694018da6be3a2bfe50ab0764726b362c9514135db615b95b291840f52c2b73

What makes a great writer?

To me, great writers need to be efficient and committed. They force themselves to be productive under time constraints despite the distractions of daily life.

Great writers do good research. Writers often include fictitious details in the tales they create, but they do enough research to make their work believable. They gather enough knowledge to sketch an authentic picture in readers’ minds.

Great writers possess amazing imaginations, They can do exercises to bolster their imaginative prowess, but having the preexisting talent to imagine & invent is a huge benefit.

Finally, great writers have confidence. Putting your creative vision out there for others to criticize can be scary. But writers must be brave and willing to take risks in order for their work be distinctive enough to make a mark.

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Quirks.

Let’s be real - writers are an interesting breed. Creatives are often a little weird. And most of us revel in our own personal version of eccentricity…whatever that may be. I encourage you to accept the quirky preferences you have when you write. Relish them, embrace them, nurture them. Just make sure you keep writing!

Jack Milgram developed an entertaining infographic about 20 famous writers and their most bizarre habits. I think you’ll find it interesting. You can check it out and other infographics by Jack at Custom Writing.

Everyone has something “different” they do when they create. Or maybe it’s something they don’t do. Some oddity that defines their process and influences their art. So…what are your quirky writing habits?

https://custom-writing.org/#famous-writers

Writing Cover Letters.

To get short stories or poems published, a good cover letter is important. It’s the first part of your submittal that an editor sees, and therefore can make the difference between a great first impression or getting lost in the slush pile.

As an editor at 2 Elizabeths, Elise Holland has seen countless cover letters - some good, while others could use improvement. Check out Elise’s guide on how to develop a simple, yet effective cover letter here.

https://2elizabeths.com/2017/10/how-to-write-a-cover-letter-advice-from-a-lit-mag-editor/

Revision.

Writing is a process that goes through many stages. Revision is the catalyst that helps it progress from stage to stage. It’s not just changing a few words, adding a sentence here or there, or deleting material that’s unnecessary. Revision is a chance for a writer to actually re-vision a piece…in other words, to see a piece with new eyes and visualize it in a different way, all with the hope of seeing improvement.

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Seven Questions.

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There’s a short list of questions I ask myself when I’m writing and editing, whether it’s poetry, fiction, essay, or other. These questions help guide me towards clarity.

  • What is it that I’m really trying to say?

  • What words will express my thoughts without ambiguity?

  • What analogy, metaphor, or simile might make this concept clearer?

  • Are the images vivid & fresh enough to have an impact with readers?

  • Can I say all of this more concisely?

  • Am I using big fancy words just to use them?

  • Have I said anything that’s offensive? If so, can I eliminate it or soften it and still get my point across.


It’s not a perfect list, but I believe maintaining the habit of going through these questions improves each piece of my writing.