Tag Archives: writing process

Poetry Bingo instructions

I’ve referred to the Poetry Bingo creative writing activity before, and I’ve published some poems that resulted from it, but I wanted here to post the directions I’ve been using lately, along with a couple filled-in examples (Day 1 empty form here; Days 2-3 empty form here; Day 1 filled in here; Days 2-3 here — I space this activity out over 3 class days, but that wouldn’t be necessary. Before I assign students the Step 3 part, I model it by leading a class through the process by asking several students what is their least favorite line of the current poem, and then replacing that line’s words by using other words from the original poems or chart, randomly looking up new words in books, finding synonyms or antonyms, or sometimes just writing a new line from my mind). What I love about this method is that it allows writers to put together essentially random words so that we can write things beyond the ideas we already have. Readers’ brains (and writers’, too) can’t help but find meanings out of even randomly associated words, and I love thinking things that I’ve never thought before. 

Here’s the poem I wrote (as copied from Days 2-3 above):

Notice lies of
disgraced iodine 
that carpet the memory 
of a cardboard lament. 
The soaring harvest 
of tall bells 
includes image expense.
Sinuous buds want 
convincing tells. 

Links on writing, poetry

1. Word sounds and food tastes: Small, thin things get front vowels; creamy, heavy things get back vowels.

2. An article explaining how meter for Greeks wasn’t measured in stresses but in long-and-short vowels.

3. Writing may improve health.

4. Explaining rap to U.S. Supreme Court justices.

5. Jeff Tweedy writes mumble-lyrics before putting in real words. He says he doesn’t want to have the words get in the way of the melody.

6. Rhyming in sign language.

‘Every guy is a serious conversation with a kangaroo’: More Exquisite Corpse poems (2 of 3)

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More new Exquisite Corpse poems from this semester’s creative writing class; these are from my fourth-hour section. See here for more from this fall.

Guts are in the body and the mind.

Tranquility on the moon when the moon blows up to touch the sky.

Bathrooms are where to be, or not to be, mean.

I don’t want this anymore, so I will touch the backside of the bouncy castle.

Pizza, given the circumstance, is a big word.

Then I was like I was doing something.

Corn makes the cork sound a lot like cake.

Fish, scaly and forever moving like a cactus sleeps.

When we had his funeral was last week on the bench next to your front door.

Midnight is when the narwhal who ate the man’s large chest smacked the truck.

We will all tumble down the stairs, breaking up with you because it was really cold.

Snack time is for a question unanswered.

My child climbed up the slippery, so don’t fall down the, stairs.

She went to the mall yesterday. I had to work hard and play hard when she walked in.

Every way he went, people knew that apple.

Tuxedos look good on penguins deep in ice epiphany.

Night time is so pretty ugly when the clouds of smoke came from buying some illegal DVDs about baby dolphins swimming.

And “he shall bamboozle” was what she said to fly a kite.

Grapefruit is not a fruit, which proves mangoes are so boring and hungry after playing a game.

The little boy short and very annoying when I grew my hair.

Melodies played loudly in the fish in the ocean.

Eating bananas alone is a fun way to show off.

Anything can happen with hope; I can also.

She whispered, “Oh! Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon, watermelon is a red fruit is what loves me.”

The world is ending, was rather sad but

Soft, curvaceous, kind — but French fries are better.

The zoo is a great place, is so much fun to party at night when you climbed into a wet, dark hole in one.

Serendipity: like when ice cream melts into my friend’s car.

Of course it’s hot inside a person’s eye.

I do what I wish I had.

Yonder window breaks my heart that she fell down the stairs.

Fish open the gate to gardens where the seahorses play with the three girls.

Love is not love which alters when it was really, really awkward.

I like to go to the gym with my heart’s desire.

A weird-word dictionary, book-Bible God is all-knowing, or not.

Not only the pepper, but also we bake a dozen eggs that broke on the parade float stands by the blue bleachers at a game.

Pepperoni face has feelings.

Feelings are way too mainstream.

The trees’ leaves fell off a cliff and she fell over rocks.

A baby lion tried to scratch my back as we kill the neighbors across the field.

My milkshake brings all the courage it took.

My life is full of jerks and jocks; also, thine own demise is a cruel word.

A cruel word is very, very boring in the way of the day’s death, twilight.

I hate when people are wasteful; they waste the hairspray for my dog.

The ocean is very blue and usually likes eating tacos.

Common is a rapper who will be the next fire truck.

The best way to do it is with long nasty hair with the German sparkle.

Stagnate like a baker who will end the game tonight.

Old and beautiful ancient toys break when babies will bury their bottles.

Soda pop is sticky, and carbonated car engine is loud.

Most people don’t know when I can eat this with a spoon with my cute pet, the largest hedgehog ever — ever — getting back together.

The woman with huge hands grabbed ahold of me and yet he — doth thou even lift?

Why is that question, and answer this: question all that is wanderlust like a Pilgrim who will eat the cookie?

Sun shine on the beach is so hot, but I love Mexican food, which was already cold.

That is wrong done.

I love to go to the store for me to realize how would you like it.

Match the shirt with the mastermind of the American flag.

Finite color, whatever that means.

Something is gonna kill me after lunch.

Set my heart ablaze like a fire tomorrow.

Event-planning like Aunt Betty’s old maple syrup recipe to make fudge brownies but not the kind lady gave me.

Me, myself, and I will love to share me and her workout with heffalumps and weasels.

In my nightmares, paranoia like a Reece’s Pieces of my heart scattered bones everywhere at the ugly park.

Clothes should never be on and off with emotions.

The topic of the size of the cat is lame.

Nails can be pretty, or you could buy milk.

Bones break under pressure, so I married my sister.

That led her to God, but he shan’t give me money, so I am a weird kid who does other things.

Harold can’t ever fix the tires to my mom.

This is not what I am ready for.

Day or night, he will love to see the classroom is boring.

Floating around the big lake house is the perfect way to end the night.

Violets are black and falling apart from my baby girl.

The weird troll sang my favorite song when the saints go marching down by the river.

Games don’t like me.

Freddy Kruger saw the sign, and it was huge, and loud music is the way you turn right, and then I can go watch this girl play volleyball.

Very big animals hate my facial features.

I never had to smell a rose like donkeys who jump down the water park slide to the right.

Every guy is a serious conversation with a kangaroo.

Movie stars will always start something in the far distance between us, creating feelings.

Sweet chocolate is like heaven seems to be, so I do not forget that I gotta go to the bathroom bad enough to cry excessively.

Excessively telling is not a way to eat food.

I do not like to eat what I see.

Big hopes and dreams crushed God.

Stuff is fun to have.

Solstice fruit punch tastes like the way the shore line were many shells.

People just aren’t the same thing as I said to kill my brother.

‘Most flowers die fast or get passed gas’: Exquisite Corpse poems (1 of 3)

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New Exquisite Corpse poems from this semester’s creative writing class, second hour. Minor changes (punctuation, appropriate word endings) were made to improve readability. I love how poems created somewhat randomly, unintentionally, end up being so wonderfully surprising.

He shaves your grandma’s legs when cash rules everything.

Love is a many-splendored thing that scares us so.

I’m giving up, up, and away.

Stop signs are pointless because there are many dogs.

Bed time is my favorite color.

Underwear is like outerwear, except for the exceptionalism of the word.

Donkeys are dumb animals on the edge of moonbeams and rainbows having to see the light at the end.

I did not want to drink, or not, to my house and kids I destroyed.

I need you to find true love, which is beautifully hot in Acapulco with coconut.

Winter is the season that rhymes with a bat.

I want a drink of me and the time.

And the award goes to go home sad.

The alligator chewed the gum loudly. The trumpet played quietly.

I ate is the past tense purpose of writing.

Good fortune is bad luck in the bowl of being the best person.

Death-defying stunts are two words that cannot express hatred.

The future will never change.

Big people eat a lot of the tip of my nose.

To the supermarket for 20 years to life.

True friends don’t really exist, like in Jurassic Park with dinosaurs running around.

Mate like two moths under the sea where [you’d] better run or else nothing matters the most.

Twelfth Street is the place where the people stay with me ‘til we are like you.

See the big trees die in the clear blue skies and cold lemonade.

The tree was at the park to hold my love.

You gave up instantly the coffee began spilling.

Red violets are blue; I’ve been drinking watermelon juice.

Time goes by very much in the style that only I have.

Your personality intrigues me to rescue her majesty and marry her hair.

Most flowers die fast or get passed gas.

Orange squares taste exactly enough.

Milk does a body; good God, we need ketchup.

Goldfish are very funny looking through Alice’s looking glass.

The ocean sand in your toes feels like gorillas on water.

Mind-numbing gets done at the people.

The cutest little girl in the middle of the ocean where the water looks like an ugly monkey.

Once upon a time flies when you’re having a kitten.

Why did she do whatever you want to do with my favorite food?

Last night I experimented with all the power in a meadow for unicorns.

“This isn’t fun anymore” reminds me of Macklemore.

“Very odd” is what people call me later.

Selfish people always live longer than an elephant’s trunk that has baby chickens.

Night owl was an owl that I wanted to eat.

Me? I’m the best I ever had.

Man, I feel like a person with a pair of socks.

Any dish makes me feel greatness.

A wild animal had been really confused lately.

Like playing a musical chicken that sings girly stuff, yo’ daddy likes when pony tails aren’t.

Clean is better than nothing.

I’m excited about girls who stink like you.

‘Punk rock is not my dear Aunt Frank’: More Exquisite Corpse Poems (2nd of 2)

For introductory explanation, see previous post.

Her origami smells like your love of dogs.

Fast running is not very reliable.

Now is the time for score, and seven years until my cat dies.

Money is my favorite thing, with some stuff, and then the cops came home like I never say you can’t.

A healthy unicorn ate my baby girl that no one notices.

Old ladies love old men.

Love is admiring something’s beauty, and the beast is Miley Cyrus, cried the young son.

Who will watch your mind? I have no mind.

The man-eating bunny is just a rabbit.

Time is always poorly wasted.

Easy does it, but hurry up now, you child of mine. You are my sunshine babe.

My shiny bicycle, wobbly and shaking — it’s hard to define this section.

Youthful old people still die.

Yum is what candy tastes like, heaven with sin.

Amazing things always happen never.

The one who has the pirate once said, “this is so long, bro.”

“Me scurvy is acting up” is the way where the wild things dance like nobody is watching you pee while eating away at my insides.

Distorted TV pictures make me or a tiger wild and dangerous.

Breathing like I’ve been running makes me very unhappy.

My domain name is nothing but letters.

The everlasting time traveler gets lost at Petro.

I don’t care to explain yourself.

Sometimes the dog can whistle your problems to someone.

Monkeys fling poo towards me because I want yogurt.

“Off with his head and toes” are in LeBron James’ poetry.

Music is the worst thing that I like most of the time here and now.

“Bro” is the name he lives in.

Here lies the body. Of course I like salmon.

A sweetie told my mother to say “that is good riddance; I hate going to the air balloon.”

Overrated is rated too overly.

An overly ambitious cab driver has smells that are lightly crisp, and remind me of Kit-Kats.

Hate is not nice love.

Big tigers are very big; Europe is not so.

Cows never loved you.

Punk rock is not my dear Aunt Frank.

Turtle beats the hare every time I see you are my nemesis now.

Kittens will kill you hard enough to scratch glass.

As it always seems, you’ve broken the black cat of me.

One flower is all left turn on Second Street lights dangerously placed.

Was the chicken really worth anything anymore? And that I need to know about the chupacabra in the bathtub, yo. How are you, man?

You punched my big nose is what I smell.

Two dolphins walked into bars and held on tight.

Another plane of existence is futile, ye wench.

You are beautiful, no matter of fact.

Will you sign your name and find yourself there?

Word is a stupid word.

Dinosaurs blame the government, twisting words and alibis.

Words are sometimes very weird-beard on your face.

“Rawr” is what a lion is the phrase for.

Mandatory that you have fun time to sleep in a pool of vomited words like sour and sweet mixed together.

Number the amount of children [who] are becoming new elders.

The grand piano sounds heavenly in silence with really big bells.

The gingerbread man I’m behind now: Thanks for not being there.

Elsewhere must be near.

The kindergarteners are not the best of all I get me out of hell.

Hell has cookies, apparently, so has come the lion.

Upset emotions were lacking with her old blue shoes that I want a dog in.

The Jonas Brothers’ rock is the best music, is my life-blood, is a gross sacrifice to my grandpa’s parrot.

Murder is a serious crime like stealing someone’s lipstick.

What are you really saying that he doesn’t want to know many more?

More than words can describe this thingy-thing-thing, what is this thing that is a noun, for they can always degrade.

Fire burns things I love is a beautiful thing.

“Bing bong” went the door and indulged our interests in having many things like syrup.

I think of songs [that] make me sad about that one day in this room there, blue-azul-rojo like no other ocean [that] has all sorts of the beautiful autumn day.

Songs that are very good habits die hard.

I feel the same as the carrot that is quite ridiculous, sir.

A treacherous life in water comes from my mouth.

Mouth to mouth makes life a beautiful thing.

Body [is] just cyberwire essence of the mind’s thoughts I’m having. Right now is the time for the love of God who never was there.

Sometimes life sucks as much of your knowledge lies!

I dislike the fact that unicorns are scarier than goblins.

I hope you find yourself a new beginning-end-middle era that begins too soon.

Too soon I will be free puppies on my street next to Wal-Mart.

Always will my hair be as big as you plus me equals love.

Last chance to waltz alive on the inside like potato chips and bologna.

Leg hair flowing like goddess divine is a key to success in Halloween costumes.

This morning arrived late today.

The squid thoughts: squishy movement, tanky, tall, buff, skinny, short, but tall enough to look at her sadly.

Tiger Woods’ prose is a true novelty I can’t read.

The wind is messy little kids that ruin the moment by saying things like “ooow weee” all the way home.

Home is where I live like you are never ever deal[ing] in absolutes.

Math is not my strong-suit of my body armor.

Amazing grace, how sweet the trees are saying stuff and things to do what you want whenever.

Click here to see a longer listing.

‘My metaphors are all elephants’: Palate-cleansers for the mind (Part 1 of 2)

Using the “Exquisite Corpse” method described here, my students and I last week made some new texts that have parts that, like these below, are like palate-cleansers for the mind.

Live is just a verb for I was just young.

Bananaless lunches are so horrible, taste of chocolate cake.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed to be very small world after all.

Mangoes fall from the tree huggers.

My metaphors are all elephants.

Feel like I was hit by a big bus that ran over a person who knows nothing.

This right here is my swag is off.

It really does suck oiling the tires on a flower.

Let’s go swimming with me and you at the movies with mom.

Kill me very slowly please. Help me find my parrot.

Very thrillfully I lunged toward a big house on the left, haunted.

America is the opposite of somewhere over the rainbow.

Money makes me sad like the wind I ran across.

Love can be fake, although peanut butter is delicious.

“Pen” is my pen-name.

Why try to change your ugly face? Please show what you are.

Everyone got annoyed smiling at what no chimpanzee made out of copper.

Today I will wash my words are nonsense banana.

Sky rhymes with words like a fish out of the dead horse.

the McDonald’s parking lot of cats

Violently beat a man to make food right now.

That was not what I was expecting a bakery to have.

Work with what you own, a waffle cone.

Rocks are hard like metal hospital garage roof kittens get eaten by ants.

Piano is the dumbest instrument of your utter demise.

Morons are really dumb. I never knew that. I now know.

I could be anything, all you need. You will fight me now.

Life is like a story gone wrong because of mice and men.

I chose the right egg, Jimmy.

House is a word like a unicorn because yeah.

Tomorrow is the day when I get older.

Now the fighting began because Harold lost his pants.

So now I am your favorite mouse.

Love is a four letter to my lover, Bob.

Stop yourself before you need to stop talking to my wallaby.

How do you spell the world’s longest word of the great man who is also a pig in a pen full of blood?

A longer listing is here. Last semester’s poems made by similar method are here and here.

Nonfic: Fractal nonfiction, or What if digressions are the text?

When I tell people that I like writing nonfiction, I have a feeling that they may be thinking I like writing profiles or research-based articles or essays. Nonfiction is such a huge category, with such a non-descriptive name, that it’s nearly useless. All it says is “not fiction,” with is like describing all manner of living things as “not dead.”

Anyway, I sometimes describe the nonfiction that I like to write as “informal nonfiction,” in the sense that the texts I write nonfictionally tend to not end up resembling a formal structure. This is still vague. At the risk of overdefining (and thus limiting myself) here, I want to describe my nonfiction (for examples, see most of the texts listed under the “nonfiction” category to the right on the screen) as “fractal nonfiction.”

A quick definition of fractal: it’s a pattern that is self-similar at any level of magnification or “zoom.” Examples: A leafless tree is a fractal shape in that the same pattern of branching can be seen at the whole-tree level, at the branch level, at the stem level, etc. Another example is in a coastline: from an Earth-orbit view, a coastline looks fairly smooth, with maybe only major bays and peninsulas jutting into smooth lines. But as one’s perspective gets closer and closer to the coastline, say, flying over in an airplane, more irregular features appear. From a cliff above a coastline, one can see even more irregularities, such as individual boulders that make the coastline rough. Looking at an individual rock at the coastline, one may see a pattern that is mostly smooth but has some irregularities — similar to how the entire coastline looked from space. Presumably, as one could see down to pebble length, then the crystal level, and even the atomic level, there would be a similar pattern, and this is one way (of many) to define fractals.

Disclaimer: I’m not making the claim that there is a fractal pattern visible from zooming in from the whole-text level to paragraph to sentence to word to letter, etc. (although that idea seems intriguing) — I rather want to describe a form of writing nonfiction that, like a tree, starts in an arbitrary spot, branches off to associated ideas (not unlike following a hyperlink trail on a websearch), that may then also branch off. I’m describing texts that have no particular beginning or end, and thus are an analogue to a human life that may go in new directions but which also is continuous.

Or, another way to say this: What if digressions from  a topic aren’t digressions at all but are a new branch? It’s an assumption or presumption that a particular text has to be discrete and self-contained. An article about nesting habits of egrets shouldn’t also discuss the land-grant college system. Now, a personal essay might include such topics, under a larger unifying idea that the text is the writer putting down her experience on paper, and maybe her experience somehow does go from egrets to land-grant colleges. But unless these ideas are somehow transitioned between, the second topic might be considered a non sequitur, and an editor may tell the writer to stick to the topic at hand.

But, of course, real life sometimes does have non sequiturs — my dog often demands my attention while I write — and these may or may not be interesting. But my mind seems to function creatively by association. When I freewrite, the next thought may not have much to do with the previous thought, or if there is a connection, it’s not a meaningful one. One word or sense memory may bring to mind something that doesn’t seem meaningfully related, though there may be a connection that could be quite telling, from a psychological aspect, about the writer or about the text’s discussion.

I want to suggest that the digressive, branching “freewriting” process can be reflected in a text product that maintains this branching, and that this branching text that seems to have no clear beginning or end could be called “fractal nonfiction.”

Of course, ideas that come up during drafting or freewriting can be taken out of their freewriting context and shaped to fit into a traditional form (an academic essay, say, or an op-ed). Some may make the point that it is the writer’s job to impose order on his thoughts and turn the relative chaos of actual thought into a polite, familiar form that will be easily understood by a general reader. Art, of course, may contain or use artifice, and there is plenty that is artificial in an academic essay. For just one example, when I teach my high school sophomores to write a thesis statement about their experiences in a personal narrative essay, I am aware that determining and declaring the meaning of any experience is pretty artificial. Who can known what their experiences mean, especially before writing about them, and who sticks with one interpretation of an experience?

Even though I journal about many of my experiences, I don’t often  intentionally try to figure out what a particular event means. Usually, I have a feeling about an experience, and my first impulse is to say the experience itself means nothing — only my interpretation of the event can possibly have meaning, and my interpretation can easily be flawed, limited as it must be by my limited perspective, my subjectivity, my emotional/biochemical mindstate (at the time of the experience and at the time of the writing), my imperfect memory, etc. Now, I have written about experiences, but I find that my interpretations of those events may change significantly as they recur in my thinking and writing over the years.

So artifice can be useful at times, and it can even be interesting, but I find rawness to often be more interesting because of its rawness. Highly revised and edited texts can be beautiful and moving, etc., like a Bach organ composition (not sure why, but that’s what my mind is playing for me now. Speaking of this, aren’t most metaphors or similes spontaneously created by the mind? Whenever I’ve tried deliberately to make a metaphor or simile fit a situation, it’s horrible. I’m also sensing that I’m digressing right now, and I’m tempted to edit it, but it reminds me that I value spontaneity and honesty and that most of the particular statements I make about writing could boil down to “don’t plan it out–write in the moment”). But there’s also beauty, if one wishes to look, in bird songs and in the splash-and-gurgle sounds of a running stream and also in the rough draft of a song.

Taylor Mali’s poem “What Teachers Make” contains

I make them show all their work in math
and hide it on their final drafts in English.

which is a great line for a poem, but when I play his performance of that poem for my students, I wonder about the validity of that way of teaching. Why should writers hide their work? Mathematicians have to show their proofs; scientists have to show their process of discovery. Art is different, yes, but it doesn’t have to be any one particular way — that’s what I love about art. There can be works, like, say, “West Side Story,” that are wonderful for their artifice; but there can also be jam sessions and improvisations — so why not freewrites?

Thing about writing is, when we writers don’t show the process, it seems as if it sprung whole-born from our heads. It took me years to realize that that’s not the way most writers have ever worked. Yet, I will contradict here to say that the most-interesting ideas I have ever had have come to mind spontaneously, without my intention, as I wrote. It was effortless, though not without effort.

If I try to stay in control of my writing, of what I write, then I can only be as smart as I am, which process is limiting and also exhausting. But if I can let go of control and just see what happens — “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” then I can write things, create texts, that are smarter than I am. Also, that way of writing is way more fun.

Basically, I’m advocating here for letting the form be born at the same time as the content/message, if we even want to make that distinction. Thoreau’s “Walden” is a great book in spots, but it feels more polished, more dead, than his original journals. A piece of wood can only be polished once it’s been cut from the tree — the polishing would kill a growing tree by rubbing off that narrow growing edge — there’s a metaphor. Also this one: the tree grows outward, getting larger, from the outer layer of bark (I’m of course ignoring the outermost layer of bark, which is also dead — all metaphors are incorrect, of course), leaving behind the solid, but dead, cellulose that makes up the tree trunk. We grow as writers, leaving behind dead wood — so why not grow outwards, leaving the past writing behind as is, without needing to polish it. Grow outwards, branch, leave behind (to only-at-the-end-intentionally joining this metaphor up to the earlier one.

Of course, this freewrite is already over 1500 words — as the familiar idea goes, if I had more time, I’d make it shorter — and yet, that’s now how my brain works. I’m not editing for readers. There is no royal road to arriving at a new idea. I’m not making these texts easy for readers — I’m not intending these texts to be difficult to read, either — but these are not processed by editing to be easy to digest. But I guess I get tired of reading things that are too easy to read, that merely express an idea or an opinion, neatly and tidily. I guess I’m more interested now in how people come up with things, in how people think, (and by extension, in how they live), than in what are the contents of those thoughts. (And I just realize, after having written that sentence, that I don’t know if I was aware of that idea before. Just now, via writing, I’ve learned something new.) I often feel I’m aware of the range that most opinions fall within: in favor of some idea or proposal or work, for reasons A,B, and C; opposed to it, for reasons D,E, and F; in favor, but with caveats G and H; the contrarian finding something to like where most others do not; the ironic self-aware contrarian; “this reminds me of this other thing I’d rather write about”; etc.

Now I’m criticizing, and I don’t want to criticize, mostly because I don’t want to respond to or react to things; I’d rather mind my own ideas, my own path. But if criticizing can lead me to a new idea, a new perspective, it’s fine and fun.

Back to “easily digestible”: When a text’s structure is familiar (say, the five-paragraph essay of the standardized writing tests, or the average newspaper op-ed piece), the reader doesn’t even need to read all of it and may skip it. It’s so easily understood that the reader may not even engage with it — it’s something to take for granted.

So, I feel like wrapping this freewrite session up. Maybe all art works can be finished whenever the artist feels he/she is finished. And maybe I feel like writing these fractal freewrites now because, well, that’s where I feel I want to be now, and I may change later, but of course, we all only live now — we wake up to find ourselves, as any particular moment, being the particular people we are at that moment. I wake up now on the 3rd of February 2013 to find myself having certain things, being a specific age, having written nearly 2,000 in previous moments.

Links: High school is life, sorta; writing to write

1. These two articles have some interesting thoughts about the long-terms effects of going to high school.

2. Writer and writing teacher Aaron Hamburger makes this point:

Writing without rejection is like playing tennis without a net—it’s just not the same game. Actually, it’s not the game at all.  I’m not just saying that rejection is a helpful tool for writers.  In fact, the business of rejection and the business of writing are one and the same.

This is what writers do.  We invite rejection into our lives.  Constantly.  If you’re not getting rejected, you’re not a writer.  You’re a hobbyist.

And I want to react to this. Actually, I sorta don’t want to react to this — I don’t want to get caught up in trying to argue about advice. But this comment stayed with me over recent days, and I do want to say this:

I don’t want to say he’s wrong, but I wonder what exactly what is the “game” and the “business of writing” that he’s talking about? I mean, yes, if what one wants to do is sell one’s texts, then, sure, by all means, one ought to market oneself to anyone who will entertain pitches. But I don’t think that “writer” means this, exactly. Someone who wants to sell their work is a “commercial writer,” and someone who just wants to get published, whether there’s pay or not, is just eager for attention. Writers who write for the joy of creating, or who really feel they have an important idea to share, perhaps we are “hobbyists,” but I guess I don’t see that as a put-down.

To get published by someone else is to write something that the editor/publisher likes. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but neither does that mean that anybody besides the writer and the editor likes the writing.

I remember hearing or reading somewhere a while back that book publishers have never made much money from publishing “important” works; their income mostly came from selling cookbooks and smut. Today, I’ve been thinking that publishing a book for any reason other than making money might possibly be a bit silly.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with publishing, but that maybe it just doesn’t matter very much, from the perspective of the moment of creativity. Once a text is complete, it’s in the writer’s past. We work in the present. It’d be sorta terrific to get a royalty check every month (or to be royalty, and have a sinecure income, no?), but, eh, I don’t know that money helps me to be any more creative.

Once we’re done with a piece of writing, once we’re no longer engaged in working with a text, the text becomes a product — I like to think of my completed texts as the byproduct of my real purpose, the experience of being engaged with writing. I would write even if I threw away my pages or didn’t save the files. I don’t do this, because it is sometimes interesting to re-read my work (from more than a year ago or so; any sooner, and the work seems too familiar to me and I tend to read the text in a context of “what I should have said” or “how I should have said it.” After a year, and I can look at the writing more as separate from me and my mind.), but I write not to produce things but to have the experience of writing. If what gets written interests others, great, but if it doesn’t, I don’t think I care. I can’t really do what I most enjoy doing — exploring the ideas and poems and etc. that I want to explore — if I had to write for an audience. I write for an audience of me, I guess (as some of my posts would indicate) — for whom else would writing be more satisfying to me?

Poems: Noses smell like other noses (Exquisite Corpse, 2 of 2)

Here are some more lines I took from the Exquisite Corpse poems we, my students and I, made this semester. Minor changes (punctuation, appropriate word endings) were made to improve readability. I know this is a long list, but there were many creations that amused me. I love how poems created somewhat randomly, unintentionally, end up being so wonderfully surprising.

Noses smell like other noses.

Observation: Simple bliss in yogurt is good when frozen yogurt is the best time in Creston ever.

Upon lobsters, I demolished buildings because their water is not tasteful, bland.

Pedestrians are worth ten people in the room for all of us. We don’t speak Klingon.

During the old times of people being themselves, people are liars, liar liar pants on the bottom shelf.

I don’t have a lurking motion towards home.

The quick brown fox jumps into the kitchen sandwich.

In this classroom, rows are blindingly straight, like my peace pipe

Please send that message to me, myself, and I, or be forgotten like the Pythagorean theorem of a dead dog.

Stupid is what stupid was.

Everyone thought they were driving in the car that we all hate.

Heads will roll, for this life is not ordinary folks eating brownies.

Yesterday was today in future tenses.

I will be known to whoever should hold this hammer.

His head is full of stuffed crayfish, red with anger.

Ugly horse can become beautiful barbecue.

Evilness makes me puke where no one stands.

Hippopotamus is a small animal that punches puppies willingly, as a doctor should, dancing under the rain.

Earth can be hardened by not showing off the bees that filled the air when I was a boy.

At Mississippi is a wood chuck who could chuck a peck of peppers skipping through the grass.

This person is one but what is two?

Pink bird, flower, orange you glad I didn’t know her well?

Loving people dearly endure the teasing of antelopes.

Obesity is a big problem like a cat that has to have fingers on its hands.

Puke smells bad and is green; everything green is good.

I’m used to being sly foxes who don’t deserve fish that are very colorful.

You have a huge shoe size, which varies depending on the same level as a level-nine sorcerer making coffee for grandma, and I cried until I couldn’t even think about it.

Cheerios are as tasty as a pear tree in a large cup of the birch tree skies colored blue.

Everyone is real talk, big ears, flying in the blue sky.

Magenta and the young rapper Pink Tree have red bears that are often red sky in the morning.

The 5 of us as humans rule life.

Green leaves in the trees surround me like A, B, C, one, two, three.

It’s impossible to resist the smell of the interesting problems with a genius outside town.

Slowly he saw everything, its big ears flapping on the ground.

Today I ate my own stop sign, drop and roll.

“Up” is a movie about a really slow caboose.

Daylight brings out the bright and shiny new day, when everyone was going to sleep on a sloth.

Go off a cliff and into a sea of cows’ milk and cookies, which are really good to fly away like mosquitoes.

Links: 1 Jan. 2013

A fun thing about having a blog: it’s like being able to edit my own magazine (and I don’t have to even commission the pieces). I’m still figuring out the form, the capabilities, of a blog, and I’m now thinking of a blog as a magpie’s collection, a curiosity cabinet of things (ideas, texts, images, sounds, video, etc.) created by me and also of others’ works curated by me. I’ll have more to say about forms — and their ability to encourage new ways of thinking —  in another post.

1. An NPR interview with musician Miguel, who talked about creative inspiration and commercial motives:

AUDIE CORNISH: What do you hear in modern R&B? Are there specific things you embrace in your own music and others’ that you’re trying to move away from?

MIGUEL: I don’t want to overgeneralize. Historically, black music has influenced other cultures and other genres, and created other genres. Rock would have never happened without blues, you know what I mean? We would have never had hip-hop without R&B. And somehow I feel like R&B and soul music has forgotten that it was, at one time, the influencer. Now, it’s being more influenced by other sounds. Which is great; I think we should be cultured and want to incorporate other influences. That’s what art is really about: taking your knowledge and your sensibilities and incorporating them in a way that celebrates the commonality, but also highlights the individuality.

R&B has been kind of consumed by dance music in recent years.

I think that in those balances where the commonality and individuality happen, R&B has lost the importance of the individuality. It’s more about, “What does everyone else like? What is everyone else doing? Let me be acceptable to everyone else.” It’s so commercially driven that it’s lost the essence, the soul and the emotion behind it. [On the other hand], take an artist like Adele: She can create a song that can live in a dance world, or is danceable, but still is soulful. That’s R&B to me. I mean, there’s plenty of artists who are making R&B music, but because of their ethnicity, it’s considered something else.

You’re one of a few R&B artists to be singled out lately as pushing the music different directions. You and Frank Ocean and The Weeknd all have very different sounds, but you do share some things: Your production is denser, and your songs are more lyrically focused. Is there a little bit of a quiet revolution going on?

I mean, why not? There are artists that are pushing boundaries. More than anything, I think there’s an awareness for soul again — almost redefining or reprogramming people’s expectations or whatever preconceived notions there might have been, based on the past decade and a half.

Because pop music, and R&B pop music in particular, can be very regimented: chorus, bridge, breakdown, rapper comes in.

Yeah, it’s very formulaic.

But a song like “Where’s the Fun in Forever?” doesn’t feel that way at all.

I appreciate that. That song was originally written with and for Alicia Keys, [who was recording an album in Jamaica and invited me to come]. We created a makeshift studio on the roof — so, I mean, just a blanket of stars in the sky, and nothing but the sound of the ocean in the distance. The very first thought [I had] was, “We’re not gonna live forever, but where’s the fun in forever, anyways?” And it just became this song. For me, the notion was very personal, because I feel like this year I started to realize that I’m not invisible or invincible anymore. Times are changing, I’m changing, my family’s getting older — and I’m happy to be responsible for things now. For a moment, it felt really heavy. But for some reason, at that moment in Jamaica, just looking up at the stars, I felt this incredible sense of relief.

2. An article in Chicago magazine about instances of abuse in an Indiana church described some cults as preaching that “it’s a sin of pride for you to think for yourself … It’s your ego or a demon or Satan’s influence that causes you to doubt the edicts of the leadership.”

A former member of the church described “a process of hollowing out the followers and repopulating them with yourself. … [The founding pastor] took your voice, he took your beliefs, he took your likes and dislikes and opinions, and he gave you his own. But in the process of hollowing you out, he made you very weak.”

This idea of “hollowing out” the beliefs of a person struck me. I was thinking yesterday how I sometimes take suggestions and follow orders from some people in my life — family members, supervisors, etc. — that is, I externally, objectively, do what they ask me to do, but that doesn’t mean I change my internal beliefs to match theirs. The ideas we have about what reality is, what’s really true: Why would I allow anyone to convince me of their “truths” about anything?

Maybe the question is this: To whom do we grant authority on reality?