Writerly Roundup – May 2020
Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
One of my professors once compared trying new forms in writing to practicing yoga. She noted that, even after trying yoga just once, your body is never quite the same. You’ve opened new spaces in yourself and thought about your body in new ways. It’s the same with writing. When you try something new in your writing, even if you don’t like the product, the practice of expansion builds your creative strength.
With this in mind, below are some voices that push us to try new, creative forms, and help us feel a little less stuck.
Discovering the Available Means: On Reading and Writing in Quarantine, Nancy Reddy (@Nancy_Reddy), PANK
Reddy’s voice is refreshingly honest in this reflection. She writes about being suddenly unfamiliar with her pre-COVID identity as a writer, and how jarring that feels to her.
And writing right now feels like that, like a new search through unfamiliar materials. For most of us, the time and space and material conditions of our writing lives have shifted immensely. What are the available means for this new version of our lives?
She notes how frustrating life can be when you’re not producing new work. It seems like, with so much time at home, we should all be flourishing in our writing identities. But many of us are not. This, she points out, has a lot to do with our suddenly changed geographies.
But I have come to realize that much of what I miss about the old life is the casual social contact of public spaces: greeting colleagues and students in the hallway, the awkward shuffle for the sink and paper towel dispenser in the campus bathroom, chit chat with other parents at school pickup at the end of the day.
So, her writing looks different now. Reddy has taken up old revision methods from earlier times in her life, and began some new exercises in an attempt to “sneak up on the writing.” These days, she might not be able to do “serious writing” by her pre-pandemic standards, but with some creativity, she can keep her ideas alive.
I open a document and play around in it. I scrawl a few phrases, standing at my desk, before going to bed, because that isn’t Writing, it’s just making notes. At some point last semester I’d pilfered the end of a pack of large post-it paper from the supply closet on campus, and a few weeks ago, I hung the last two pages horizontally on the wall with painters tape to make a large timeline for the book of narrative nonfiction I’m writing. I’ve started adding chapter titles and notes to the paper. When I make a new connection, I add it in pencil. I draw arrows between the ideas.
How can you give your ideas new space? Pin them on the wall? Hang them from a mobile? Reddy encourages us to give our ideas a new places to breathe, to see how big they can grow.
Show & Tell: Making Body Language Work for Your Story, Molly Martin, Hunger Mountain
Now may be a good time to breathe new life into old characters. In this craft essay, Martin gives us tools to “show” our characters through developing their body language on the page.
Body language can also characterize, breathing life into flat characters or differentiating characters who otherwise might be too similar. Figure out your characters’ ticks, mannerisms, marks of class, status, culture, and age. For example, a young character is going to move differently than an older character. A character from York, UK is not going to flip someone off the same way their friend from New York, USA would.
Along with her words, you will find a copy of the “wheel of emotions” Martin keeps handy when she writes, as well as textual examples from other writers who use body language to develop a character’s ticks, oddities, or other defining features. She shows us how to break apart emotion and assign unique movements to feelings. Have you ever taken your short story and tried to write it as a play? A poem as a paragraph of prose? These exercises can lead to fresh descriptions by creating fuller characters or reviving memory on the page.
Walk It Like You Talk It: #fivewordfridays, Ashley Strosnider (@BraveNewLady), Prairie Schooner’s Blog
In this quick writing prompt, Srosnider challenges us to consider how our own unique habits of speech creep into our writing.
If you have a sneaking suspicion about words or phrases you’re always writing (or words your workshop group or beta readers are often teasing you about), go take inventory. Try to read a stack of poems, a handful of pages of prose, and see what’s creeping in. Sometimes this can show you something about your obsessions; this can reveal things you have more to say about, trains of thought you might expand on, subplots you might tease out, other poems you might write. Sometimes this can show you opportunities for invention; these might be places you’re porting over ideas you’ve already sorted and descriptions you’ve already used, and you might see an opening to go deeper or look at something from a fresher angle.
She suggests a delightful exercise to bring some new phrases to the page.
Today’s challenge asks you to think about your own signature words and consider where they’re hurting you and where they’re helping you. Think about the vocabularies of your favorite writers and your favorite people.
Take some time to scrutinize those expressions you also seem to repeat. How can you play around with them, or give them an update? Strosnider’s prompt is a great first step.
My Weird Quarantine Obsession, Various Authors, Barrelhouse Online
Finally, if you haven’t already checked out Barrelhouse Online‘s series about quarantine obsessions, it’s worth a skim and a laugh. This series also works great as a new prompt to get your creativity back in swing. What’s something new you started in quarantine that you haven’t written about yet?
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!