Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Setting

Free MOOC Course from The University of Edinburgh – How to Read a Novel – Focus on Plot, Setting, Character, & Dialog

A MOOC or a Free University Class is a good way to keep your mind sharp and hone your skill in almost any field that might interest you. I have just begun the class How to Read a Novel, offered by The University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Because I teach a writing class and also monitor a book club, I am always looking for lists of great books and for tips to help improve my understanding in either field. I am excited that in the class How to Read a Novel, the class will be focusing on four books that have recently been published. Because I am from the South, I am extremely thrilled that the class will study The Sport of the Kings by C. E. Morgan.

The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan

A Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

Winner of the Kirkus Prize for Fiction • From a Recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the Rathbones Folio Prize • Longlisted for an Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence • A New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Named a Best Book of the Year by Entertainment Weekly • GQ  The New York Times (Selected by Dwight Garner)  NPR • The Wall Street Journal• San Francisco Chronicle • Refinery29  Booklist • Kirkus Reviews Commonweal Magazine

“In its poetic splendor and moral seriousness, The Sport of Kings bears the traces of Faulkner, Morrison, and McCarthy. . . . It is a contemporary masterpiece.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Hailed by The New Yorker for its “remarkable achievements,” The Sport of Kings is an American tale centered on a horse and two families: one white, a Southern dynasty whose forefathers were among the founders of Kentucky; the other African-American, the descendants of their slaves.

“It is a dauntless narrative that stretches from the fields of the Virginia piedmont to the abundant pastures of the Bluegrass, and across the dark waters of the Ohio River; from the final shots of the Revolutionary War to the resounding clang of the starting bell at Churchill Downs. As C. E. Morgan unspools a fabric of shared histories, past and present converge in a Thoroughbred named Hellsmouth, heir to Secretariat and a contender for the Triple Crown. Newly confronted with one another in the quest for victory, the two families must face the consequences of their ambitions, as each is driven—and haunted—by the same, enduring question: How far away from your father can you run?

“A sweeping narrative of wealth and poverty, racism and rage, The Sport of Kings is an unflinching portrait of lives cast in the shadow of slavery and a moral epic for our time.” Amazon

You can register for the free course How to Read A Novel Here

Other book choices for the Course How to Read a Novel:

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker

“From the best-selling author of Longbourn, a remarkable imagining of Samuel Beckett’s wartime experiences. In 1939 Paris, the ground rumbles with the footfall of Nazi soldiers marching along the Champs-Élysées, and a young, unknown writer, recently arrived from Ireland to make his mark, smokes one last cigarette with his lover before the city they know is torn apart. Soon he will put them both in mortal danger by joining the Resistance.

“Through the years that follow, we are witness to the workings of a uniquely brilliant mind struggling to create a language to express a shattered world. A story of survival and determination, of spies and artists, passion and danger, A Country Road, A Tree is a portrait of the extremes of human experience alchemized into one man’s timeless art.” Amazon

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

Longlisted for the National Book Award in Fiction • A Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction • A Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the James Taite Black Prize for Fiction • A Finalist the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize • A Finalist for the Green Carnation Prize • New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • Los Angeles Times Bestseller

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by More Than Fifty Publications, Including: The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times (selected by Dwight Garner), GQ, The Washington Post,Esquire, NPR, Slate, Vulture, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (London), The Telegraph (London), The Evening Standard (London), The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Millions, BuzzFeed, The New Republic (Best Debuts of the Year), Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly (One of the Ten Best Books of the Year)

“Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You appeared in early 2016, and is a short first novel by a young writer; still, it was not easily surpassed by anything that appeared later in the year….It is not just first novelists who will be envious of Greenwell’s achievement.”―James Wood, The New Yorker

“On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.

“What Belongs to You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created an indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.” Amazon

The Lesser Bohemians by Elmear McBride

Winner of the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction
Shortlisted for the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize
Shortlisted for the 2016 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards Eason Novel of the Year

The breathtaking new novel from Eimear McBride, about an extraordinary, all-consuming love affair

“Eimear McBride’s debut novel A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING was published in 2013 to an avalanche of praise: nominated for a host of literary awards, winner of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and the inaugural Goldsmith’s Prize, declared by Vanity Fair to be “One of the most groundbreaking pieces of literature to come from Ireland, or anywhere, in recent years,” McBride’s bold, wholly original prose immediately established her as a literary force. Now, she brings her singular voice to an unlikely love story.

“One night an eighteen-year-old Irish girl, recently arrived in London to attend drama school, meets an older man – a well-regarded actor in his own right. While she is naive and thrilled by life in the big city, he is haunted by more than a few demons, and the clamorous relationship that ensues risks undoing them both.

“A captivating story of passion and innocence, joy and discovery set against the vibrant atmosphere of 1990s London over the course of a single year, THE LESSER BOHEMIANS glows with the eddies and anxieties of growing up, and the transformative intensity of a powerful new love.” Amazon

 

Creative Nonfiction Is More Than Just the Facts

For me, the first step in learning to write was to gather the courage and the energy to look at the facts of my own life and then, to record them, and I have done that diligently for the past year.

Now, I am working on the next step in my writing journey: I want to learn how to look at the facts of my life and to learn to tell those facts in a fresh, exciting, and original way. Great creative nonfiction [and the best memoirs are creative nonfiction] is more than just the facts.

While you are reading the first chapter of Annie Dillard’s memoir An American Childhood, it is not immediately obvious what the author is doing. Clearly, she is describing an area of lush vegetation, and if you have been to the area near Lake Chautauqua and Lake Erie, you might realize that she is talking about that part of western Pennsylvania. But then, she talks about Ben Franklin and George Washington, and after that, Dillard’s purpose might become vague, and it might take a bit more reading for you to realize that this highly skilled author is  creating the setting that she needs to tell the story of her chidhood.  But instead of simply saying, “My name is Annie Dillard, and I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, which once was a vast woodland inhabited only by Native Americans, Annie Dillard takes a more original approach:

creating the setting that she needs to tell the story of her chidhood.  But instead of simply saying, “My name is Annie Dillard, and I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, which once was a vast woodland inhabited only by Native Americans, Annie Dillard takes a more original approach:

Image result for an american childhood by annie dillard“When everything else has gone from my brain–thePresident’st name, the state capitals, the neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own name and wat it was on earth I sought, and then at length the faces of my friends, and finally the faces of my family–when all this has dissolved, what will be left, I believe, is topology: The dreaming memory of land as it lay this way and that.

“I will see the city poured rolling down the mountain valleys like slag, and see the city lights sprinkled and curved around the hills’ curves, rows of bonfires winding. At sunset a red light like housefires shines from the narrow hillside windows; the houses’ bricks burn like glowing coals.

“The three wide rivers divide and cool the mountains. Calm old bridges span the banks and link the hills. The Allegheny River flows in brawling from the north, from near the shore of Lake Erie, and from Lake Chautauqua in New York and eastward. The Monongahela meet and form the westward-wending Ohio.

“Where the two rivers join lies an acute point of flat land from which rises the city. The tall buildings rise lighted to their tips. Their lights illumine other buildings’ clean sides, and illumine the narrow city canyons below, where people move, and shine reflected red and white at night from the black waters. [p. 3]

“When the shining city, too, fades, I will see only those forested mountains and hills, and the way the rivers lie flat and moving among them, and the way the low land lies wooded among them, and the blunt mountains rise in darkness from the rivers’ banks, steep from the rugged south and rolling from the north, and from farther, from the inclined eastward plateau where the high ridges begin to run so long north and south unbroken that to get around them you practically have to navigate Cape Horn.

“In those first days, people said, a squirrel could run the long length of Pennsylvania without ever touching the ground. In those first days, the woods were white oaks and chestnut, hickory, maple, sycamore, walnut, wild ash, wild plum, and white pine. The pine grew on the ridgetops where the mountains’ lumpy spines stuck up and their skin was thinnest.

“The wilderness was uncanny, unknown, unknown. Benjamin Franklin had already invented his stove in Philadelphia by 1753, and Thomas Jefferson was a schoolboy in Virginia; French soldiers had been living in forts along Lake Erie for two generations. But west of the Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania, there was not even a settlement, not even a cabin. No Indians lived there, or even near there.

“Wild grapevines tangled the treetops and shut out the sun. Few songbird lived in the deep woods. Bright Carolina parakeets–red, green, and yellow–nested in the dark forest. There were ravens then, too. Woodpeckers rattled the big trees’ trunks, ruffed grouse whirred their tail feathers in the fall, and every long once in a while a nervous gang of empty-headed turkeys came hustling and kicking through the leaves–but no one heard any of this, no one at all.

“In 1753, young George Washington surveyed for the English this point of land where rivers met. To see the forest-blurred lay of the land, he rode his horse to a ridgetop and climbed a tree. He judged it would make a good spot for a fort. And an English fort it became, and a depot for Indian traders to the Ohio country, and later a French fort and way station to New Orleans.

“But it would be another ten years before any settlers lived [p.e 4] there on that land where the rivers met, lived to draw in the flowery scent of June rhododendrons with every breath. It would be another ten years before, for the first time on earth , tall men and women lay exhausted in their cabins, sleeping in the sweetness, worn out from planting corn.” Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood, pgs. 3-5.

When I read the first chapter of An American Childhood, I felt the same way that I did after I had read Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. Poisonwood is fiction and Dillard’s book is nonfiction; yet, the quality of the writing for both pieces is the same. I realize that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I understand that I have only been writing a year, but I am eager for the day that I will be able to nudge into the company of great writers, like Annie Dillard, who has learned how to tell her story and in doing so to share more than just the fact.

©Jacki Kellum October 11, 2016

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Jacki Kellum Free Writing Class – Day 3 – Write about A House in Your Past

Think about All of the Houses That have Become Main Characters in Books: Tara in Gone with the Wind, Grandfather’s Cottage in Heidi, Bleak House, the Castle in I Capture the Castle, etc. Learning to describe a house is important for anyone to provide a setting or a sense of place for his writing. Our strongest and most readily available descriptions stem from homes our actual experiences; therefore, today, you will practice creating a sense of place by describing a house where you have lived

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Exercise Day 3: Write about a House that was Meaningful to You in Your  Past.

The house may have been one where you lived, or it may have been a place where you visited quite often. It is important that you actually stayed in the house for a long period of time.

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As I was preparing this assignment, I remembered one of my very favorite books about a House, Virginia Burton’s The Little House.  The following images are from Amazon:

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Image result for tara gone with the wind exterior

Without a doubt, the book and the movie Gone with the Wind had great influence over my life, and if you think about it, Tara, the house, was one of the main characters in that story

 

Image result for heidi's grandfather' house It is not necessary that the house that you describe is grand, however.  I am as attracted to Heidi’s Grandfather’s cottage as I am to Tara. In fact, if I were forced to choose one of those two places to live–Tara or Heidi’s Grandfather’s Cottage–I would choose the latter.I love the warmth and the coziness of the cottage.

Your writing exercise for Day 3 is to write about a House that was meaningful to you in your past, Don’t focus on any specific rooms in the house. Tomorrow’s exercise will be to write about one of the rooms.

You may notice that we are drawing closer and closer into a place that is important to you.

  1. On Day 1, you described a county where you have lived.
  2. On Day 2, you described a town or a neighborhood where you have lived.
  3. Today, you are describing a house where you have lived.
  4. Tomorrow, you will describe one object in that room.

When you write, you need to be specific. You need to avoid vague generalizations. The  first four exercises of the Jacki Kellum Free Writing Class will help you learn to write specifically.

Get busy an d write.

©Jacki Kellum October 3, 2016

As I have said before, in sharing these exercises, I am Blogging to Book. For that reason, you may not share any of the Free Jacki Kellum Writing Exercises or the other discussion about the exercises.  They are free for you to use but not free to reproduce or share.

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Course Exercise 2: Write about Your Town

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Course Exercise 2: Write about a Town or a Neighborhood Where You Have Lived

The second  Blog to Memoir writing assignment might seem easy, but don’t over-analyze the assignment or your response. Simply think about all of the towns where you have lived and describe one of them. Grab a breath of fresh air and begin writing.

Note: If you grew up in a big city, like New York City, you may want to write two articles–one about all of New York City and one about the area where you lived, like Long Island or Manhattan.

After you decide the area to describe, begin writing.

  1. Don’t stop writing for about ten minutes.
  2. Don’t hesitate,
  3. Don’t erase.
  4. Don’t correct your spelling.
  5. Don’t try to edit as you write.

In a matter-of-fact way that as near to your own speaking voice as possible, simply write what you know about a town or a neighborhood where you have lived. You may want to describe the natural setting of the area. You may want to share a legend that you have heard about the county. You may want to say what you liked about the county and you may want to say what you disliked. As long as you are honest, it really does not matter what you write. Just write.

When I write a description, I close my eyes and look with my mind’s eyes at what I am describing. When I see the place or the object clearly, I simply write the words that describe it.

Later, we’ll do more with your writing for this first assignment. Don’t throw it away. It is not necessary for you to share what you write. It is not necessary that you blog your response. Simply write and save your writing.

This exercise will make more sense for people who live in smaller towns. People who live in large cities may want to write two article: one about their cities and one about the neighborhoods where they grew up.

List of Fictional Towns:

When I think about writing that has evolved around fictional towns that were inspired by the writers’ homes, I immediately recall Winesburg, Ohio, and Our Town, but more contemporary books have also evolved in the same way:

In Under the Dome, Stephen King’s Chester Mills, Maine, is based on Bridgton, Maine, which is one of Stephen King’s hometowns.

Bathsheba Monk’s Cokesville, Pa, is also based on the area where she grew up.

Now You See It . . .: Stories from Cokesville, PA by [Monk, Bathsheba]

It’s pretty much a straight shot from the upstate New York towns of Richard Russo’s books to Bathsheba Monk’s Cokesville, PA. This is coal and steel country. The sort of place where an inch of soot on the windowsill means a regular paycheck—and two inches means a fat one. And what’s the best make-out spot in town? Next to the burning slag heap.

In seventeen beguiling, linked stories, spanning fourty-five years, Monk brings a corner of America alive as never before. Her world bursts with indelible characters: Mrs. Szilborski, who bakes great cake, but sprays her neighbors’ dogs with mace; and Mrs. Wojic, who believes her husband was reincarnated—as one of those dogs. Then there is the younger generation: Annie Kusiak , who wants to write, and Theresa Gojuk, who dreams of stardom. Cokesville is their Yoknapatawpha; they ache to escape it and the ghosts of their ancestors and the regret of their parents. What ghosts—and what regrets! When Theresa’s father Bruno falls into a vat of molten steel, the mill gives the family an ingot roughly his weight to bury.

As deliciously wry as Allegra Goodman in The Family Markowitz, and with the matter-of-fact humanity of Grace Paley, Bathsheba Monk leads us into a world that is at once totally surprising and recognizable. These stories glow like molten steel. Amazon

This is the area where Bathsheba Monk grew up.

From The New Yorker

Monk, who grew up in Pennsylvania coal-and-steel country, sets her stories in the fictional town of Cokesville, where gardens grow through slag heaps, women scrub their sidewalks free of soot, and men scrounge for jobs that are likely to kill or maim. Set mostly among Polish immigrants and their descendants over a forty-year period, the stories use deadpan humor to combat a sense of hopelessness and economic futility. The most compelling are narrated by an adolescent would-be writer determined to avoid the “lava show” make-out spot, where carts dump molten coke and girls her age get pregnant. Even those who escape, however, can’t seem to free themselves from the slow burn of their heritage, much like a decades-old underground coal fire, ignited “when someone dumped a load of garbage down a mine shaft.”=

Winesburg, Ohio 1st.jpg

winesburg

“Winesburg, Ohio (full title: Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life) is a 1919 short story cycle by the American author Sherwood Anderson. The work is structured around the life of protagonist George Willard, from the time he was a child to his growing independence and ultimate abandonment of Winesburg as a young man. It is set in the fictional town of Winesburg, Ohio (not to be confused with the actual Winesburg), which is based loosely on the author’s childhood memories of Clyde, Ohio.

“Mostly written from late 1915 to early 1916, with a few stories completed closer to publication, they were “…conceived as complementary parts of a whole, centered in the background of a single community.”[1] . . .

“Winesburg, Ohio was received well by critics despite some reservations about its moral tone and unconventional storytelling. Though its reputation waned in the 1930s, it has since rebounded and is now considered one of the most influential portraits of pre-industrial small-town life in the United States.[5]

“In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Winesburg, Ohio 24th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.[6] . . .

“It is widely acknowledged that the fictional model of the book’s town, Winesburg, is based on Sherwood Anderson’s boyhood memories of Clyde, Ohio,[18][19] where Anderson lived between the ages of eight and nineteen (1884–1896),[20] and not the actual town of Winesburg, Ohio located in the same state. This view is supported by the similarities between the names and qualities of several Winesburg characters and Clyde’s townspeople,[21] in addition to mentions of specific geographic details of Clyde[1] and the surrounding area.[22]” Wikipedia

Our Town.jpg

our-town

“Our Town is a 1938 metatheatrical three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. It tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.” Wikipedia

“Throughout, Wilder uses metatheatrical devices, setting the play in the actual theater where it is being performed. The main character is the stage manager of the theater who directly addresses the audience, brings in guest lecturers, fields questions from the audience, and fills in playing some of the roles. The play is performed without a set on a mostly bare stage. With a few exceptions, the actors mime actions without the use of props.

“Our Town was first performed at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey in 1938.[1] It later went on to success on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It remains popular today and revivals are frequent.” Wikipedia

©Jacki Kellum October 2, 2016

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Class – Blog to Memoir Find Your Path – Day 1

Buckle your seatbelt. You are about to begin one of the most powerful journeys of your life. As you may or may not know, this is phase 1 of 4 events that will not only change the way that you look at life but will also enlighten you about the way that you write–about the way that you write everything and not just about the way that you write Memoir.

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Blog to Memoir: Find Your Path is Phase 1 of the entire Blog to Memoir Program,which will arrive in intervals over the next year.  Find Your Path is the simplest of the four phases. In fact, as you complete the first half of the daily writings for Find Your Path, you will probably begin to balk, feeling that you have not been challenged and that you are possibly wasting your time. Mark this spot and highlight these words: Do ALL of the writing exercises–even the ones that seem ridiculously simple. There is a method to my madness. The initially very simple and non-threatening writing exercises are designed to overcome problems that writers may have formed

  1. Writer’s Block – Most of us are plagued by writer’s block to one extent or another. Most of us have been bullied by our Self-Editors, and most of us are a little bit leery of writing because of our Self-Editors.
  2.  Writing with Pretty but Meaningless Words – Others of us may have formed some bad writing habits, such as  cloaking our passages with pretty, but meaningless images.
  3. Writing What You Believe that People Want or Expect You to Write – Another problem occurs when we write what people expect us to write and we fail to write what is truly on our minds.
  4. Writing that is Safe –  One of the worst mistakes that a writer can make is that of failing to take a stand.
  5. Writing that is Superficial – Many of us are slightly afraid to peer into some of our darker corners, and we may have developed a tendency to write about abstractions and about things that aren’t terribly personal.

Great writing is deliberate and specific, and poor writing is generalized. One of the biggest mistakes that a writer can make is to write about things that seem to interest everyone else but that only vaguely interests himself. That is like being the person who always tries to please everyone and who continuously straddles the fence, trying to do so. Invariably, the fence straddlers are those people who want to please everyone and in doing so, they please no one at all.

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” – Abraham Lincoln

In the current realm of Social Media, where being “liked” becomes the raison d’etre, it becomes tempting to simply chit chat when we write. In other words, it becomes tempting to use meaningless words that won’t offend anyone at all. Being liked is important to most people. It has certainly always been important for me, and at times, I have stayed in the middle of the road–striving to please everyone, but I didn’t even like myself when I was doing that.

As we move through the course, I’ll be saying more about all of the above. For now,  I simply want us to jump right into the writing. I do want to assure you that by writing all of the responses to the very simple and almost safe prompts in Phase 1 of the Blog to Memoir Course, you will gradually break out of some of the behaviors that I have outlined above. After about a week of writing, I’ll begin to explain things that you need to know about these behaviors and about why you need to write more authentically. To begin, however, simply write. Your initial writings will be short and sweet, but I have plans for your extra time.

What The Free Jacki Kellum Writing Course Is Not

  1. This course will not be your confessional. It will not challenge you to write a series of tell-all’s, and it will not dare you to slice open your veins and bleed.
  2. This course is not about some radical therapy, and it will not be a substitute for Alcoholics Anonymous, for joining Codependency Groups and for seeing your mental health professional. When I suggest that you look into your past, I am not prodding you to exorcise all of the demons that might be there. That is someone else’s job.
  3. This course is not for people who want to continue to wallow in the pain of their pasts,

What The Free Jacki Kellum Writing Course Is

  1. This course is a logical next step for many people who have already identified that things were not perfect for them when they were children. This course is for people who are ready  to move on.
  2. This course  is for people who want to alchemize the experiences of their childhood and to allow them to transform into gold.

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Course Exercise 1: Write about a County

The first Blog to Memoir writing assignment might seem easy, but don’t over-analyze the assignment or your response. Simply think about all of the County or a Region where you have lived and describe it. Grab a breath of fresh air and begin writing.

  1. Don’t stop writing for about ten minutes.
  2. Don’t hesitate,
  3. Don’t erase.
  4. Don’t correct your spelling.
  5. Don’t try to edit as you write.

In a matter-of-fact way that as near to your own speaking voice as possible, simply write what you know about a county or region where you have lived. You may want to describe the natural setting of the county. You may want to share a legend that you have heard about the county. You may want to say what you liked about the county and you may want to say what you disliked. As long as you are honest, it really does not matter what you write. Just write.

When I write a description, I close my eyes and look with my mind’s eyes at what I am describing. When I see the place or the object clearly, I simply write the words that describe it.

Later, we’ll do more with your writing for this first assignment. Don’t throw it away. It is not necessary for you to share what you write. It is not necessary that you blog your response. Simply write and save your writing.

Learning to write about setting and places essential for every writer in every genre. When we are able to zoom in on an area that we truly know, we create better settings and we are better able to bring those settings to life.

faulkner-Portable map

William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County

  1. William Faulkner’s writing focused on what appears to be the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, but Yoknapatawpha County is actually Lafayette County in Mississippi. It is the county where Oxford, Mississippi is located, and Oxford is where William Faulkner lived. 
  2. William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County evolved over time, and in the beginning, no one is expected to recreate a county of that portion. But everyone, even William Faulkner, began somewhere, and our actual memories are the best place to start.  
  3. As I said before, we’ll continue to explore our writing about our counties. What you write today is only your first step,

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Most of us would like to forget or bury some of the chapters of our pasts, but that is not actually possible. In trying to forget who we are and where we have been, we only succeed in numbing ourselves and killing our authentic writing voices.  The secret to becoming a better writer is to tap into your past and harness it and allow it to sail you forward.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens – by Arthur Rackham

“You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.” – James M. Barrie [ Author of Peter Pan]

Why Blog to Memoir?

  1. When we write about the actual experiences of our lives, our writing is fresher, more alive, and more authentic. For that reason, excavating your memories is an invaluable exercise–a way to create vivid writing samples for any of your other writing.
  2. It is not necessary for you to actually blog your writing. You may simply check out the daily writing exercises and explore them on your own. Throughout the course, however, I’ll share several ways that blogging daily has improved both my writing and my outlook on life. I heartily recommend writing daily, and for several reasons, I am convinced that blogging is the best way to store your writing. Blogging regularly is also a good way to build your brand and to share your writing with others. Note: You do not have to make your blog public.
  3. Several people have successfully completed books by blogging the parts of their books one by one and then, by assembling the parts of the book at the end. This practice has been labeled Blog to Book. For the past year, I have been blogging my memoir [and several other books] one step at a time. Soon, I plan to assemble my memoir pieces together and to submit my own memoir book for publication. Hence: I Am Blogging to Memoir  Book, and you can, too.

“We’ve forgotten how to remember, and just as importantly, we’ve forgotten how to pay attention. So, instead of using your smartphone to jot down crucial notes, or Googling an elusive fact, use every opportunity to practice your memory skills. Memory is a muscle, to be exercised and improved.” – Joshua Foer

I’ll run the free writing class through my blog site jackikellum.com Here
& through the site that I specifically created for the class: blogtomemoir.com. Here

Each day,  I’ll post the daily assignment by 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time USA. I believe that early morning is the best time to write and for that reason, your writing assignment will be ready for you first thing each day.

©Jacki Kellum October 1, 2016

Descriptive Writing – Sense of Place – Setting of the Upstate Area of New York in the James Fenimore Cooper Leatherstocking Tales

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“As this work professes, in its title-page, to be a descriptive tale, they who will take the trouble to read it may be glad to know how much of its contents is literal fact….But in commencing to describe scenes, and perhaps he may add characters, that were so familiar to his own youth, there was a constant temptation to delineate that which he had known, rather than that which he might have imagined….

“Otsego….lies among those low spurs of the Alleghanies which cover the midland counties of New York, and it is a little east of a meridional line drawn through the centre of the State. As the waters of New York flow either southerly into the Atlantic or northerly into Ontario and its outlet, Otsego Lake, being the source of the Susquehanna, is of necessity among its highest lands….

“Otsego is said to be a word compounded of Ot, a place of meeting, and Sego, or Sago, the ordinary term of salutation used by the Indians of this region. There is a tradition which says that the neighboring tribes were accustomed to meet on the banks of the lake to make their treaties, and otherwise to strengthen their alliances, and which refers the name to this practice.” Pioneers – Introduction

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[Cooper is describing the area of Council Rock, which is the area where he grew up. James Fennimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans and several other books that were set in the area around his home in upstate New York. In one of the books, he wrote about how the Native Americans would canoe to a big boulder to meet. This big boulder is Council Rock, which is an actual rock that is very near Cooper’s childhood home. The description of the rock in Cooper’s writing of historical fiction is beautiful and when we know that Cooper had first-hand experiences with the rock, we have little doubt that in writing what is supposedly fiction, Cooper was describing from his own memories.]

“Near the centre of the State of New York lies an extensive district of country whose surface is a succession of hills and dales, or, to speak with greater deference to geographical definitions, of mountains and valleys. It is among these hills that the Delaware takes its rise; and flowing from the limpid lakes and thousand springs of this region the numerous sources of the Susquehanna meander through the valleys until, uniting their streams, they form one of the proudest rivers of the United States. The mountains are generally arable to the tops, although instances are not wanting where the sides are jutted with rocks that aid greatly in giving to the country that romantic and picturesque character which it so eminently possesses. The vales are narrow, rich, and cultivated, with a stream uniformly winding through each. Beautiful and thriving villages are found interspersed along the margins of the small lakes, or situated at those points of the streams which are favorable for manufacturing; and neat and comfortable farms, with every indication of wealth about them, are scattered profusely through the vales, and even to the mountain tops. Roads diverge in every direction from the even and graceful bottoms of the valleys to the most rugged and intricate passes of the hills. …Only forty years have passed since this territory was a wilderness.” Pioneers – Chapter 1 – Opening Lines

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“There was glittering in the atmosphere, as if it was filled with innumerable shining particles; and the noble bay horses that drew the sleigh were covered, in many parts with a coat of hoar-frost. The vapor from their nostrils was seen to issue like smoke; and every object in the view, as well as every arrangement of the travellers, denoted the depth of a winter in the mountains. The harness, which was of a deep, dull black, differing from the glossy varnishing of the present day, was ornamented with enormous plates and buckles of brass, that shone like gold in those transient beams of the sun which found their way obliquely through the tops of the trees. Huge saddles, studded with nails and fitted with cloth that served as blankets to the shoulders of the cattle, supported four high, square-topped turrets, through which the stout reins led from the mouths of the horses to the hands of the driver, who was a negro, of apparently twenty years of age. His face, which nature had colored with a glistening black, was now mottled with the cold, and his large shining eyes filled with tears; a tribute to its power that the keen frosts of those regions always extracted from one of his African origin. Still, there was a smiling expression of good-humor in his happy countenance, that was created by the thoughts of home and a Christmas fireside, with its Christmas frolics. The sleigh was one of those large, comfortable, old-fashioned conveyances, which would admit a whole family within its bosom, but which now contained only two passengers besides the driver. The color of its outside was a modest green, and that of its inside a fiery red, The latter was intended to convey the idea of heat in that cold climate. Large buffalo-skins trimmed around the edges with red cloth cut into festoons, covered the back of the sleigh, and were spread over its bottom and drawn up around the feet of the travellers—one of whom was a man of middle age and the other a female just entering upon womanhood. The former was of a large stature; but the precautions he had taken to guard against the cold left but little of his person exposed to view. A great-coat, that was abundantly ornamented by a profusion of furs, enveloped the whole of his figure excepting the head, which was covered with a cap of mar ten-skins lined with morocco, the sides of which were made to fall, if necessary, and were now drawn close over the ears and fastened beneath his chin with a black rib bon. The top of the cap was surmounted with the tail of the animal whose skin had furnished the rest of the materials, which fell back, not ungracefully, a few inches be hind the head. From beneath this mask were to be seen part of a fine, manly face, and particularly a pair of expressive large blue eyes, that promised extraordinary intellect, covert humor, and great benevolence. The form of his companion was literally hid beneath the garments she wore. There were furs and silks peeping from under a large camlet cloak with a thick flannel lining, that by its cut and size was evidently intended for a masculine wearer. A huge hood of black silk, that was quilted with down, concealed the whole of her head, except at a small opening in front for breath, through which occasionally sparkled a pair of animated jet-black eyes.

“The mountain on which they were journeying was covered with pines that rose without a branch some seventy or eighty feet, and which frequently doubled that height by the addition of the tops. Through the innumerable vistas that opened beneath the lofty trees, the eye could penetrate until it was met by a distant inequality in the ground, or was stopped by a view of the summit of the mountain which lay on the opposite side of the valley to which they were hastening. The dark trunks of the trees rose from the pure white of the snow in regularly formed shafts, until, at a great height, their branches shot forth horizontal limbs, that were covered with the meagre foliage of an evergreen, affording a melancholy contrast to the torpor of nature below. To the travellers there seemed to be no wind; but these pines waved majestically at their topmost boughs, sending forth a dull, plaintive sound that was quite in consonance with the rest of the melancholy scene.” Pioneers – Chapter 1

[This post is a work in progress. I am reading all of the books in the Leatherstocking Tales, and I’ll be adding to these observations]

Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird – Humorous but Penetratingly Honest Advise for Writers

Before the last year, I have avoided writing, and because of that, I have avoided reading many of the books that everyone was telling me that I should read–books that would encourage me to write. Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird is one of those books. Anne Lamott has a sharp wit, and her book Bird by Bird is an enjoyable read. Her assessment of the challenges and the rewards of writing is penetratingly honest. In the introduction to Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott allows us to see her as a survivor of her own childhood gawkiness, and we begin to understand that writing became Lamott’s tool for survival. No different than the rest of us, however, she had to learn to deal with the reality that writing can be an arduous task.

“… we all ended up just the tiniest bit resentful when we found the one fly in the ointment; that at some point we had to actually sit down and write.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

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“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”

Lamott continues by describing her gawkiness:

“I went to the first grade, with all these cute little boys and girls playing together like puppies, and all of a sudden I scuttled across the screen like Prufrock’s crab. I was very clearly the one who was going to grow up to be a serial killer, or keep dozens and dozens of cats. Instead, I got funny…..first I got funny and then I started to write, although I did not always write funny things.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

Amazon.com Review of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

“Think you’ve got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn’t afraid to help you let it out. She’ll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication. Readers will be reminded of the energizing books of writer Natalie Goldberg and will be seduced by Lamott’s witty take on the reality of a writer’s life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer’s block and going for broke with each paragraph. Marvelously wise and best of all, great reading.”
 From Publishers Weekly Review of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
“Lamott’s ( Operating Instructions ) miscellany of guidance and reflection should appeal to writers struggling with demons large and slight. Among the pearls she offers is to start small, as their father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: “Just take it bird by bird.” Lamott’s suggestion on the craft of fiction is down-to-earth: worry about the characters, not the plot. But she’s even better on psychological questions. She has learned that writing is more rewarding than publication, but that even writing’s rewards may not lead to contentment. As a former “Leona Helmsley of jealousy,” she’s come to will herself past pettiness and to fight writer’s block by living “as if I am dying.” She counsels writers to form support groups and wisely observes that, even if your audience is small, ‘to have written your version is an honorable thing’ “
“But I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do–the actual writing–turns out to be the best part. …The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xxvi.
 Lamott describes the sensation that she had, as a child, when she first saw her poem in print:
“I understood immediately the thrill of seeing oneself in print. It provides some sort of primal verification: you are in print; therefore ou exist. Who knows what this urge is all about, to appear somewhere outside yourself, instead of feeling stuck inside your muddled but stroboscopic mind, peering out like a little undersea animal–a spiny blenny, for instance–from inside your cave.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

Other Quotes from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird:

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” 

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

“If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days–listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)”

Lamott shares what she tells her students about what they might expect from the act of writing:

“I tell them they’ll want to be really good right off, and they may not be, but they might be good someday if they just keep the faith and keep practicing. And they may even go from wanting to have written something to just wanting to be writing, wanting to be working on something…because writing brings with it so much joy, so much challenge. It is work and play together. When they are working on their books or stories, their heads will spin with ideas and invention. They’ll see the world through new eyes. Everything they see and hear and learn will become grist for the mill….They will have days at the desk of frantic boredom, of angry hopelessness, of wanting to quit forever, and there will be days when it feels like they have caught and are riding a wave.

“And then I tell my students that the odds of their getting [p. xxix] published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, ugly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe, but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. xxix-xxx.

“But I also tell them that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other times. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that tthey are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. ” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xxxi.

Chapter One: Getting Started

“…writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 3.

“Start with your childhood….Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 4.

“Do you remember how when you’d be floating around in an inner tube on a river, your own family would have lost the little cap that screws over the airflow valve, so every time you got in and out of the inner tube, you’d scratch new welts in your thighs? And how other families never lost the caps?…

“Scratch around for details…those terrible petaled swim caps, the mean’s awful trunks….Write about the somen’s curlers with the bristles inside….Brownie uniforms….Christmas when you were ten, and how it made you feel inside.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 5.

“Remember that  you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point at you, while a chilling voice thundered, ‘We told you not to tell.’ But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.”

“But how?” my students ask. “How do you actually do it?”

“You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind — a scene, a locale, a character, whatever — and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. 6-7.

“And so if one of your hear’s deepest longings is to write, there are ways to get your work done, and a number of reasons why it is important to do so.

“And what are those reasons again? my students ask.

“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life–wonderful, lyrical language….And quality of attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. 14-15.

 Chapter Two: Short Assignments

“Often when you sit down to write, what you have in mind is an autobiographical novel about your childhood, or a play about the immigrant experience, or a history….But this is like trying to scale a glacier. It’s hard to get your footing, and your fingertips get all red and frozen and torn up. Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk….And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back.

“What I do at this point, as the panic mounts and the jungle drums begin beating and I realize that the well has run dry and that my future is behind me and I;m going to have to get a job only I’m completely unemployable, it to stop. First I try to breathe, because I’m either sitting there panting like a lap dog or I’m unintentionally making slow asthmatic death rattles. So I just sit there for a minute, breathing slowly, quietly. …and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments.

“It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. …

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 16-18.
“Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise….We are just going to take this bird by bird.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 20.

Chapter Three: Shitty First Drafts

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 21-22.

Chapter Four: Perfectionism

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

“Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force….But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground–you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 28-29.

“They [our psychic muscles]cramp around our wounds–the pain from our childhood, the losses and disappointments of adulthood, the humiliations suffered in both–to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again,….Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. …They keep us moving and writing in tight , worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from    life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 29-30.
“Perfectionism…will only drive you mad. …
“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 30-31.

Chapter Seven: Character

 “You are going to love some of your characters, because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason. But no matter what, you are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story. Bad tings happen to good characters, because our actions have consequences, and we do not behave perfectly all the time. As soon as you start protecting your characters from the ramifications of their less-than-lofty behavior, your story will start to feel flat and pointless, just like in real life.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 45.

 Set Design

“You want to know its feel, its temperature, its colors….Every room is about memory. Every room gives us layers of information about our past and present and who we are, our shrines and quirks and hopes and sorrows, our attempts to prove that we exist and are more or less Okay. You can see, in your rooms, how much light we need–how many light bulbs, candles, skylights we have–and in how we keep things lit your can see how we try to comfort ourselves….
” ‘For instance, let’s start with the living room. Can you describe a really lovely living room in as much detail as possible?’ And then you can ask what smells your friend remembers, in the living room and kitchen, and what the light was like, and what various rooms sounded like or what their silences felt like. Or, by the same token, you can ask someone who grew up in poverty to give you an exact description of his or her house, the kitchen, the bedrooms, the couch in the backyard.
“Years ago, I was working on a novel that involved a woman who gardened, who in fact loved to garden….

“I love to see people in gardens, I love the meditation of sitting alone in gardens, I love all the metaphors that garden are.“The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity. The other, of course, is the river. Metaphors are a great language tool, because they explain the unknown in terms of the known. But they only work if they resonate in the heart of the writer. Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 74-79.

Plot Treatment

“My students assume that when well-respected writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they’ve outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully and why their lives are so easy and joyful, their self-esteem so great, their childlike senses of trust and wonder so intact. Well. I do not know anyone fitting this description at all. Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 85.

Looking Around

“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on….Otherwise we’d all just be barking away like Pekingese…Writing involves seeing people suffer and, as Robert Stone once put it, finding some meaning therein….

“The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in ‘The Farmer in the Dell’ standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes. You’re outside, but you can see things up close through your binoculars. Your job is to present clearly your viewpoint, your line of vision. Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate possible sense.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 97-98.

“Obviously, it’s harder by far to look at yourself this same sense of compassionate detachment. Practice helps….Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying gently to bring my mind to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don’t learn to do this, I think I’ll keep getting things wrong.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 99.

Broccoli

“You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself…Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

“You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.

“Sometimes intuition needs coaxing, because intuition is a little shy. But if you try to crowd it, intuition often wafts up from the soul or subconscious, and then becomes a tiny fitful little flame. It will be blown out by too much compulsion and manic attention, but will burn quietly when watched with gentle concentration.

“So try to calm down, get quiet, breathe, and listen. Squint at the screen in your head, and if you look, you will see what you are searching for….If you stop trying to control your mind so much, you’ll have intuitive hunches about what this or that character is all about. ”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 110-113.

Jealousy

“…if you want to know how God feels about money, look at whom she gives it to.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 128.

Index Cards

“One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer. You start seeing everything as material. Sometimes you’ll sit down or go walking and your thoughts will be on one aspect of your work, or one idea you have for a small scene…or you’ll just be completely blocked and hopeless and wondering why you shouldn’t just go into the kitchen and have a nice glass of warm gin straight ou of the cat dish. And then, unbidden, seemingly out of nowhere, a thought or image arrives. Some will float into your head like goldfish, lovely, bright orange, and weightless, and you follow them like a child looking at an aquarium that was thought to be without fish. Others will step out of the shadows like Boo Radley and make you catch your breath or step backward. They’re often so rich, these unbidden thoughts , and so clear they feel indelible. But I say write them all down anyway. ”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 136.

Writing Groups

“When you’re feeling low, you don’t want anyone even to joke that you may be in some kind of astrological strike zone where you’ll be for the next seven years. On a bad day you also don’t need a lot of advice. You just need a little empathy and affirmation. You need to feel once again that other people have confidence in you. The members of your writing group can often  offer just that.  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 157.

“There are four people…who have now been meeting as a group for four years. …

“They’ve  gone from being four tense, slightly conceited, lonely people who wanted to write to one of those weird little families we fashion out of whoever’s around us. They’re very tender with one another. They all look a lot less slick and cool than they did when they were in my class, because helping each other has made their hearts get bigger. A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing; it doesn’t protect itself and it doesn’t hide. It stands out, like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through. You can see this pulse in them now.”   Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 158-59.

Finding Your Voice

“…all of the interesting characters I’ve ever worked with–including myself–have had at their center a feeling of otherness, of homesickness….It turns out that the truth, or reality, is our home. …

“But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not to go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in–then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 200-01.

Giving

“…it is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence, of being Zorba the Greek at the keyboard. Others=wise I am a wired little rodent squirreling things away, hoarding and worrying about supply. …

“You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 202-03.

The Last Class

“Write about your childhoods….Write about that time in your life when you were so intensely interested in the world, when your powers of observation were at their most acute, when you felt things so deeply. Exploring and understanding your childhood will give you the ability to empathize, and that understanding and empathy will teach you to write with intelligence and insight and compassion.

“Becoming a writer i about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

“Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 225-26.

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 231.

“The society to which we belong seems to be dying or is already dead….But the tradition of artists will continue no matter what form the society takes…

“In this dark and wounded society, writing can give you the pleasures of the woodpecker, of hollowing out a hole in a tree where you can build your nest and say, ‘This is my niche, this is where I live now, this is where I belong.’ And the niche may be small and dark, but at least you will finally know what you are doing….you will be dealing with the one thing you’ve been avoiding all along–your wounds. This is very painful. It stops a lot of people early on who didn’t get into this for the pain. They got into it for the money and the fame. So they either quit, or they resort to a type of writing that is sort of like candy making.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 234-35.

” ‘So why does our writing matter, again?’ they ask.

“Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the herart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 237.

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