Explore the very edge of boundaries, those liminal places between safety and danger, smile and tear, cradle and coffin. Therein lie the stories.
Why does fresh ground cinnamon taste better? Does it actually taste better? Either way, there is a difference.
To me, the act of rasping the cinnamon into coffee grounds, onto an apple, into a barbecue rub adds to the experience. There is an ownership of the spice, an effort in making the most of the ingredient that elevates it. Instead of just tapping a few shakes from a plastic jar, you actually make the flavour come alive through action.
How does this apply to writing? Simply. Don’t use canned ideas, expressions, clichés, styles, conventions. Make something new. Create something never done. Act on your writing. Go beyond the idea of stringing words together; go deeper, into sound, structure, meaning, history, foundations. Writing should be active and not a passive exercise in retelling. This is best exemplified in Hollywood these days. Reboots. Reruns. Retellings. All boring, adding nothing new… When a well written, original movie comes along, it truly stands out. In each case, there is a conscientious effort to make a masterpiece, outside and beyond what already exists.
Practice by reading different styles, from different sources, from different cultures. Soon, you’ll transcend the words, you’ll find the elemental spice that make the work unique, vibrant, original. Then find your own ingredients, break them down to the constituent parts, build your own, fresh literary recipe.
Lately I’ve noticed a surge of statistics and articles on increasing popularity, discoverability, readability. This idea also seems to be trickling down into the creative writing world, especially poetry. It seems that content is being replaced by style, message by findability. Ok, so this isn’t new, but the sheer volume of noise behind the movement is disconcerting.
Every title of every article is the same, and some of these pieces even offer exact formulae for proper title wording. To me, an old school writer just wading into this new world, it seems self-defeating. It is the definition of vicious cycle: read articles about how to get articles read. While some of the pieces offer great information and insight, many rehash, refurbish, recycle. Does creativity take a backseat to search optimization?
The same holds true for poetry these days. Themes, styles, looks all drain into one homogeneous slush of ‘poeming.’ It is becoming more and more difficult to tell poets/writers apart — it all sounds the same, about the same thing, written pretty much the same way. Where articles use canned headlines, poems use the same short, choppy prose, losing any differentiating, interesting, identifiable characteristics. The essence of voice (see my short piece on voice) is gone.
● Commodification kills style
● Commodification kills voice
● Commodification kills art
Randomly select an article in a publication, on the web, anywhere, and truly try to find the author in it. Do the same with some contemporary poetry. Can you really, REALLY, identify the poet? It is getting tough. This is not to say there aren’t many great writers, poets, novelists, etc… I just find it disheartening that it takes much more effort to wade through the swamp of sameness to reach a little island of beauty. And, people are often instructed to become more homogenous:
● How to get reads
● How to get clicks
● How to get published
In each case, the message is simple: be more like everyone else, and everyone will read your stuff. Journals often tell writers to read what they like, what they’ve published, what they don’t like. If conformity was the goal, we would not have Samuel Beckett, H.D., or any other writer experimenting, excelling, inspiring. Instead of compelling, complex, cerebral writing, we would only have short, simple sentences and paragraphs of a certain length, apps to make us write like Hemingway (no hate, I LOVE Hemingway, mostly because he was Hemingway), apps to cut words we don’t need, to suggest better, shorter, more common words… oh, wait, nevermind…
“They don’t make movies like they used to.”
“Whatever happened to the classics?”
“Now THAT song will never get old!”
When we do find something different, exciting, fresh, a piece, poem, story, novel, song that is identifiable to a particular creator, we instantly know we’ve found something special. It will survive ‘pop’ culture, trends, the ‘must-dos’ of the day. Without differentiation, experimentation, deviation from the blob of sameness, there is nothing special. That’s why, for me, I want quirky titles, non-conforming articles, poems that are still poetry. I think it’s something we should all want, need, demand. My suggestion: make it yours and let the world find you. It doesn’t help to try and make it fit. That just fills the swamp. If it’s good, if it’s yours, if it’s fresh, it will be discovered, remembered, cherished.
Off to a tiny island, to read weird, wild, wacky stuff, I remain — RLR
What is Craft? Enjoyment? Mastery? The little things. Slow it down; learn to make something; lose yourself in something; become a master at something. This takes time, appreciation, love.
Somewhere along the way we have lost patience, we have neglected our ability to be awed, we have come to expect instant gratification with little to no effort. This must end. The very ideals of Craft and Art are fading into a snowstorm of electroniccommercialsocial static.
– No coffee from pods – brew it, taste it, experiment and learn flavour nuances
– No insta-poetry / no social media snippets and sound bites – read a book, on paper, from classics to contemporaries
– No AI – be your own brain. Write, draw, schedule, plan, dream, rebel, expand… on your own terms, through your own volition, with your results and failures in sight
– No shortcuts / no GPS – take the long road, get tired, get hurt, experience things you never would have expected
This is not an anti-tech or anti-progress manifesto. It is a love-letter to Craft, Enjoyment, Mastery. Only through the little things that we can master will we continue to create lasting magnificence. After the little things have hooked you, the Big Things will beckon, and you will gladly seek them out.
pitch dark where stars whiten at the death —albeit short-lived— of the streetlamp cycle-timed for conservation frogs creak and croak he hears them echoed reflected deflected from neighbouring houses with windows open to the calm evening air that carries the din there are no thieves conspiring or ne’er-do-wells whispering plans for mischief only frogs those night-sounds that bounce against constructions and preconceptions
Using vintage lenses makes photography fun – and you get to (re)learn the basics. Manipulation through aperture, shutter speed and ISO, along with manual focus, forces you to concentrate on the subject and the desired outcome. Search those old lenses out. Yard sales, parents’ or grandparents’ closets, online, second hand shops, all can yield cool glass that will guarantee hours of enjoyment and that polishing of your “artistic” skills. Don’t just focus on the internet darlings; any old lens will yield something different, often for a few dollars, or even for free. The flaws or imperfections will give your shots that character that breathes life into the images. No need for apps or filters.
Below: images shot with Fuji XT3, inexpensive Fotasy adapter, Minolta Rokkor 45mm f2 (free, from someone clearing out his basement).
Make your writing unusual
One of the best aspects of creative writing is the ability to manipulate, transform, mystify. Taking the everyday and making it sublime, ridiculous, awe-inspiring is a skill any writer should hone.
Anyone can describe. It takes a special talent to change what one sees in order to make in interesting, provocative, evocative for a reader. The “stuff” is the same, that original inspiration, but the execution is what counts. Without the ability to engage and entertain, we would all be but scribes, recording the everyday.
When you are writing, exercising the voice and vibe that makes the writing yours, remember that you must run everything through the filter of you. Failure to make the world around you yours, presented in such a way as to bring your world to others, will only result in boring retelling or rewording.
Always ask yourself:
● Is it presented in a new way?
● Is it exciting?
● Will people care?
If you know where to look…
We have always been told to learn from our mistakes. It’s a simple enough concept: don’t repeat things that don’t work or things that are bad for you. Wear shoes when you walk on gravel. Don’t stick your tongue to the pole in the schoolyard in winter. Simple.
When it comes to writing, the concept is a little more confusing. Picture the stereotypical frustrated writer, sitting alone in a room, staring at a blank page. Then inspiration strikes! Frantic writing… then, a page is torn, crumpled, tossed across the room in disgust. Zoom in on the pencil. This time, the author is on to something… a sentence, and then, SCRATCH SCRATCH SCRATCH, SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE… blacked out in disgust, as illegible as a classified document. Maybe another ball of paper, thrown away. Zoom out. Scribbles. Balls of paper. Frustration. Fade to black.
For writers it is almost second nature to destroy what we don’t like about what we just put to paper. Why? Maybe we worry that someone will read these unacceptable lines (and care). Maybe we think that the bad stuff will corrupt everything around it, like an algae bloom in the crystal clear pool of our genius. Nonsense.
Never throw away
Reread your drafts
Reread your journals
If you’ve thrown away a draft, or erased parts of it in one way or another, you can never learn from it. And don’t pretend to yourself that you’ll remember why it was ‘terrible;’ most times you can’t remember, a few hours later, that good stuff that comes to you as you fall asleep. If it’s gone, it’ll be repeated.
There is also another great reason to make your mistakes visible. When you reread your draft, your notes, your journal, you’ll see the
worlds words (wow, an example right here! I meant ‘words’ but typed ‘worlds’ so I’m going to leave it) under the strikethrough. Those were your original thoughts, your original gut instincts. Once you’ve removed yourself from the critical, “this sucks,” heat-of-the-moment hatred of your words, maybe you’ll see there was something salvageable.
Maybe it’s even better than just salvaging a little bit of writing. Maybe you’ll see an error, juxtaposed beside another word, another concept, and it will spark something totally new and fresh and different and inspiring. I remember writing feverishly, writing and crossing out (because I actually take my own advice and never erase), and coming up dry. A page of, well, nothing. But, under one pencil line, I read the word ‘ghost’ which had been either a written-typo (whatever those are called) or a weird mental connection I’d lost as soon as I’d written it. Whatever the case, in the nonsensical context, the ‘ghost’ idea became a fun little poem, using bits and pieces of the unrelated stuff that happened around the error. The original had NOTHING to do with what I eventually wrote. And the word ‘ghost’ didn’t even appear in the final piece.
If I had thrown out the page, or blacked out the ghost, I would never have found those interesting, accidental interplays that made the mistake worthwhile.
Keep the paper smooth, in your journal, notepad, binder, and cherish your strikethroughs, for there may be nuggets of inspiration in those words you originally thought garbage.