Feb 242012

I have just read some poignantly honest poems written by high school students in a class I visited. In fact, I read these several times. Beautiful–even if they are about painful subjects! Isn’t it interesting how the beauty of poetry can touch the heart and let us look pain and tragedy in the face without making the written presentation intolerable. Perhaps that is why Shakespeare’s tragedies, with the aesthetics of iambic pentameter, have endured all these years.

Free verse has beauty in its form too—and often in its brevity.  I know that the beauty of the free verse in Out of the Dust (Karen Hesse) made even the most painful parts of the story both more powerful and more tolerable for me. In free verse, rhythms are still critical; but young writers in search of a voice may find free verse, without the encumbrance of set rhythms with rhymes, particularly freeing.

Jan 122012

When we write in journal form, we often write without an outline as the ideas come to mind.  We gather and mesh our ideas in a first draft.   The first writing often will record events.  With each subsequent visit to that draft and the drafts that follow, we realize more and more what else we could have said and how we could have said it better.  Fortunately, we can take a different set of thoughts into each reading.

With later rewritings, our first ideas spark further recollections and emotional responses, so we write emotional responses to events.  Some of us consciously or unconsciously avoid revealing emotional responses. For others, however, the emotional responses can take over and overshadow the important concrete images and details.  We need a mix of the concrete (to wrap our minds around) and the emotional (to touch our hearts) to make our writing interesting, engaging, and lingering—while keeping the reins on the emotional parts lest the writing become overly sentimental.

Oct 212011

As I lead workshops on “Keeping Our Stories,” I am often intrigued by the stories participants of all ages share. At a recent workshop at the beautiful Sylva Public Library, I talked with my group about photographs and the way they lead us to stories by inviting us to think about what is happening both within and beyond the frame of the picture. I was delighted when one of the participants pulled out a photograph of her neighbor and her granddaughter–a perfect example of an image revealing a relationship, in this case, a sweet relationship.

A favorite snapshot of the paternal grandparents I never knew shows the two of them with John the mule between them. My father said that his dad was very tall. The picture shows me just how tall he was because it stopped at his shoulders. His head was above the frame. Tall, indeed. That picture leaves me wondering who held the camera and why my grandfather’s whole image wasn’t included, and why the photographer didn’t just step back a bit. I’ll never know, but I do see my grandfather’s height. My grandmother, who came just to his shoulders, was rather tall herself. I love that picture.

My book The Picture Man looks at photography as a keeper of our stories. Whether you read the book or not, why not pull out your own pictures and enjoy some family conversation over personal memories and stories of days past.

Aug 162011

Writing Imperfectly

The first step in writing is giving ourselves permission to write imperfectly. First attempts aren’t perfect, and that’s okay.

People often tell me that they would like to write but don’t know how to start. Others may be making plans but hesitate to move forward to the actually writing. My response is to write what they can at the time, even if that writing is in fragments.

When we have words on paper, we can add, edit, reorder, question ourselves, delete–all of which can be productive steps toward reaching our writing goal. I often tell my tutoring students and others who dream of writing that we can improve writing that is on paper. Giving ourselves permission to write imperfectly comes first.