Dec 28 2015

Things I Learned from the Brainery Workshop

Last week, the Brainery Science Fiction Fairy finished up with an analysis of the final set of portfolios (including my own). The class was a wonderful and empowering experience. Jilly Dreadful is an amazing teacher and the class was filled with great writers — Katy Stenta and Kirsten Squires. (A few other writers started out with us, but for personal reasons were unable to complete the workshop.) It was cool to see their work develop over the course of twelve weeks and I can’t wait to see where all their writing goes from here.

The weekly mash up of a fairy tale with some element of science was a fascinating exercise, which pushed the boundaries of what fairy tales can be. Although each week we worked with the same fairy tales and science, the stories that came from each writer were vastly different, some barely containing any resemblance to the original tale.

I’ve learned a lot about the craft of writing and myself as a writer from this workshop. Here are just a few of the bits and pieces that stick out most for me.

Henry Meynell Rheam - Sleeping Beauty

“Sleeping Beauty” by Henry Meynell Rheam

Things I learned about craft…

The Magic in the Gutter

One of the ideas Jilly presented was the idea of the Magic in the Gutter, a concept I believe she found in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. In comics, the gutter is the blank space between panels of art, the space between one image and the other. In that blank space, the reader uses their imagination to fill in the details themselves. This concept can also be applied to fiction writing, as she noted in response to a story I had written, which had a more fragmentary style. In order to have something to submit, I had focused in on specific detailed scenes without connecting them and I was concerned that without these connections, the reader might get lost in the story.

The concept of the Magic in the Gutter, however, trusts that the reader will fill in the details between the scenes for themselves. In many cases, its possible to get away with just leaving the gap and letting the reader make the connection — unless knowing the exact details of what happened in between is important to the story, in which case, it should probably be a scene itself.

Learning this was incredibly freeing to me, as I’ve often obsessed about trying to make my stories linear, following every step from beginning to end in order to achieve clarity. The Magic in the Gutter reveals how that clarity can still be present, even with well placed gaps in the action.

Draw from Your Passion

Sometimes, as in the case of one of my fellow workshop writers, a story has a clear core passion, a message or point of view about the world, that comes out through the story. Figuring out what that core is, what is a driving you to write the story — whether is a central relationship or a frustration regarding how society today is hyper-vigilant over parents — can help clarify the goals of the story and drive conflict.

It was one of the many moments in workshop, where I found myself immediately wanting to apply this new knowledge to other things I’ve been writing. What is the core of this story? What is the underlying passion for me that is driving me to write it? How can I draw that out in the characters and the conflict?

Arthur Rackham Little Red Riding Hood

“Little Red Riding Hood” by Arthur Rackham

Things I learned about myself as a writer…

Apparently I CAN Finish a Short Story

You might not think this that big of a revelations, but it was huge for me. I’ve been a poet for a long time and am fairly comfortable with poetry as a form, but have piled up stacks of story drafts that were never completed or never edited to the point in which I felt they were good enough to submit for publication (although, I’ve “finished” and posted a number of flash fiction drafts on my blog over the years).

One of my goals in joining the Brainery Workshop was to break free of that cycle and to write and edit some stories that I could then send out for publication. I finished two stories — “How Bluebeard Ends” and “Missed Connections – Nov. 11 – Redhead at the House of Needles” — both of which have been submitted for publication. Two other stories were fully drafted and need some editing in order to get them ready for sending out. The rest of the fives stories that were drafted during workshop are not anywhere near ready, but I can see the trajectories of the plots and how to finish them and I know I can put the work in to get them done.

It feels pretty damn good.

My Super Power is Voice

A few weeks into the workshop, Jilly addressed all of the writers and shared  what she felt our writing super power is with each of us. According to Jilly my power was voice, the ability to personify a character or tone in the story.

It was an interesting revelation. During the process of writing a new story draft each week, I found that if I was able to narrow in on the right voice or tone for the story, then it would flow more easily for me. But if I couldn’t figure out the tone, then the story was often more of a struggle.

Knowing this, I wonder if my struggles in continuing with my novel at the beginning of the year might have been partially been influenced by the fact that I never really felt as though I had a handle on the characters. The novel is written from two separate first person POVs and yet they sound the same to me. Maybe finding their individual voices is what I need to do in order to get back into finishing the novel.

What now…

I thrive on deadlines. Self imposed deadlines don’t always work. Far more effective are the deadlines imposed as part of a group or class, in which I ramp up my own sense of obligation to contribute. This is part of the reason why the Brainery workshop worked so well for me. And now that I know that I can write and finish short stories, I’m toying with the idea of participating in one of the novel writing workshops as a way to get back to being engaged with an even longer work. I’m a little intimidated by the idea, though, as I can foresee the level of work involved in participating. If not in the spring, then maybe in the summer or fall.

Jun 3 2015

Submission Bonanza 2015

Jaclyn Bergamino over at Lightening Droplets announced her plans to once again do Submission Bonanza, a challenge to send out 30 submissions in the 30 days of June.

It’s a fantastic challenge and, since I’m currently trying to stick my neck out more, I’m planning to throw my hat in as well. I’ve been slow about getting around to submitting, mostly because I’ve been slow to get around to editing first drafts. This might just be the kick in the pants that I need to get a move on.

Realistically, I don’t know that I’ll be able to manage a full 30 submissions, but I might be able to stretch myself and send out 20 submissions this month, which would be awesome.

So here I go!

Feb 25 2015

Organizing the Writing Life

My poems, stories, novel, and script drafts exist in various stacks, clumps, and file folders of uncertain date or destination, making it a difficult task to track down the latest version of anything. I have been thinking about how I might be able to better organize this mess, pulling both the physical paperwork and digital drafts together into a system that works on both sides.

After a little internet searching I found a system online shared by Sarah Selecky that might work, at least digitally. The system breaks things down into five file folders: Fresh Ingredients (notes, thoughts, ideas, etc.), Cooking (drafts in progress), Ready (finished pieces ready to be submitted), Published, and Leftovers (pieces that are not actively being worked on but you don’t want to throw out).

I’m trying to figure out how to work collections into the mix, such as chapbooks that are still “Cooking” but would include “Ready” poems. One of the things I’m hoping this system will do is to help me get rid of confusing duplicate drafts of some of my pieces.

The system also won’t help with filing hard copies of paper, but I’m trying to think of how I can use better organization on my laptop to reduce the amount of paper I have on hand. One thought is that I should type up all the notes and snippets I have in journals and on scraps of paper, and then I can toss the scraps or store the notebooks out of the way.

I also have print outs of poetry and fiction in various stages of drafts (some with reader notes and some without) that I need to organize in my filing cabinet. Another thought I had was to have a file for drafts with handwritten notes, which would then be moved into a “changes made” file once they had been entered into the computer.

I’m still toying with it all, and I would love to hear recommendations on how others manage their drafts so that they can find them easily.

Dec 26 2014

2014 Recap

At the beginning of the year I posted my Giant List of Goals for 2014.  My results this year were mixed, but if I break down and take a look at all I pulled off this year, I can see how it’s been an action packed year with a lot accomplished — even if it wasn’t all what I set out to accomplish.

Continue reading

Nov 18 2014


As I was avoiding getting ready for work early this morning, I noticed a theme of posts about “words” showing up on my feed. I always find it fascinating when my reading naturally falls into themes without purposefully meaning to.


The Oxford Dictionaries have named “vape” 2014’s word of the year, explaining that “As e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) have become much more common, so vape has grown significantly in popularity. You are thirty times more likely to come across the word vape than you were two years ago, and usage has more than doubled in the past year.”

In response to this news, John Kelly wrote and excellent post about the etymology of the word.


Hel Gurney writes, “ALL WORDS ARE MADE-UP WORDS,” explaining how it’s silly for modern writers to complain that the younger generation is ruining the English language:

If English had never changed then we’d all be reading Beowulf without a translation; and yet there’s always someone who seems to think that English-as-it-is-right-now is the pure, immutable, “correct” form and everything after this arbitrary cut-off point is Wrong. All it takes to see the absurdity is to imagine people tutting over Shakespeare for all the words he “made up”.

Gurney also discusses how the creation of new words and terminology can be empowering to marginalized groups by reshaping what is defined as “real.”

“A word after a word after a word is power,” wrote Margaret Atwood (Happy Birthday!) and there is truth to this. Words have power and the way language shifts and changes over time to some degree mirrors some of the power shifts in society.


These coincidental commingling discussions of words lead me to discover Pet Words by Brad Leithauser in the New Yorker. Leithauser writes:

The word “sweet” appears eight hundred and forty times in your complete Shakespeare. Or nearly a thousand times, if you accept close variants (“out-sweeten’d,” “true-sweet,” “sweetheart”). . . . Every poet, every novelist has his or her pet words. Which words these may be dawns on you gradually as you enter the world of a new writer. . . . Either way, you’ll likely discover that your author’s personal dictionary contains an abundance of amiable acquaintances, but a select few intimate friends.

I’ve learned over time that I have my own pet words, which cycle through depending on my mood. The word that most insistently comes to mind is “tether,” which has appeared again and again in several poems. (You can find an example in my poem “Miscalculation“, published on Train Write.) I love “tether” for the way it feels on my tongue, a soft feathery feeling. Something tethered seems to be bound in such a fragile and gentle way, like a boat taping lighting against the dock or a spider web strung between two poles. It’s a word I can’t help but return to, always there waiting for the right moment to slip quietly into the text.


What are your thoughts on words this fine day?