Word Purge Writing Prompt

Sometimes when I’m writing, all I can think of is the same words popping up. Most of the time these words don’t help what I’m working on and adds to a lot of senseless head-clutter/head-noise that hinders the flow of things. It helps to do a Word Purge.

Writing Prompt: Word Purge

For five minutes, write down every and any word you can think of. You can stick to a theme or not, but the point is to purge your mind-clutter of all that junk you don’t need. But these words aren’t all bad, sometimes words lead to other words which lead to ideas which lead to a kinda sorta good poem (or something). Just list out the words, go for five minutes, and see what you can come up with!

A Room of One’s Own

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  Virginia Woolf

While I neither have money nor do I write fiction, it is important for a writer to have their own space in which to write. This space, to me, means it is free from distraction, and free from the outside world. Since moving into a one bedroom apartment, and since sharing said one room with a three month old baby, I’ve found it difficult to create a “space” for me to work, let alone time.

Well, I may not have the whole “time” issue figured out yet, but I’ve found a space. Said space is what I like to call The Poop Room, also known as the storage closet filled with junk and cat poop. It’s a small closet, 2.5 feet by 4-ish feet, but just big enough to house some books and a small desk.

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First step was to clear out all the junk. It didn’t look like much to me when I looked at the clutter from the outside, but I forgot how much crap was shoved into the crevices of the closet.

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Once the closet was clean, I was able to find a small desk and chair at Target as well as some office supplies. I love my ampersand, which is supposed to be a bookend, but, well, they only had one left. Oh well.

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For now I have to leave the door open because it gets too hot in there. Next weekend I’m going to try and add a few more decorative elements and a battery-operated fan. And now I have a room to write in! Do you guys have your own rooms to write in?

Breaking Out the Typewriter: I am back, again.

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After a 6 month hiatus from blogging and intensive writing to have a baby, I’m back.  My darling Sweet Pea is wonderful, and I love being with her every day. But! It’s time to get back into the full swing of things: writing every day, reading, yelling at my cats to stay off my typewriter. I start classes again in early September. I’m taking another poetry workshop with Gail and a flash fiction class. I recently decided to drop the Literature of Evil course. One, because I would have significantly less money if I took three classes instead of two, and two because I’ve never taken a fiction workshop and I want to try it. 

Keep this a secret, but I’m actually starting to enjoy living in Massachusetts. This feeling couldn’t come soon enough. 

New Year’s Resolution for 2013 and a Photo Recap of 2012

2012 has been one of the busiest years in my adult life, no exaggeration. So much has happened that I don’t really know how to process everything that happened. Last New Year’s, I made the resolution to be happy. I didn’t have any set definition of what that meant, all I knew was that I was tired of living a life determined by my anxiety and depression. So, Mitchell and I set off in early January and drove from the Deep South of Statesboro, GA to the frigid Northeastern town of Salem, MA. Nothing has been quite the same since we left.

Despite all of the chaos that was this year, I believe I have just begun to meet my New Year’s Resolution. Since mid-November, I have felt most of my depression lift and some of my anxiety subside. Happiness is a process that demands constant work, and it’s worth it. While this post isn’t about how I’ve achieved this small bit of happiness and is more about what I hope to gain from 2013, I will post more on what I learned this year over the next several months.

As I mentioned in my last post about my first semester in my MFA program, I didn’t write as much as I expected to during the latter half of the year. So, get ready, my New Year’s Resolution for 2013 is…

To write at least one complete poem every week

Obviously that’s not my only goal, but it’s the one that is most important to me and my career.

I can only expect great things from 2013. Mitchell and I will be getting married, and my sweet, beautiful daughter Selena will be born. I hope that all of you amazing readers had a great 2012. What are your New Year’s Resolutions for this upcoming year?

Now for a photo recap of 2012…

I moved to Salem, MA from Statesboro, GA

January

9

(That’s my mother on the bottom left)

I got accepted into Emerson College

March

5

I got engaged to Mr. Mitchell Logan Bernhardt

June

4

I’m pregnant? I’m pregnant!

August

5

Selena, Mitch’s 13 year old sister, passed away

October

1

My First Semester as an MFA Student

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Nothing about my first semester, both good and bad, is really what I expected.

Before entering my program at Emerson, I imagined this sort of idiotic kind of glamour, a substantially posh lifestyle that is living in Boston: theater shows, poetry readings at old stuffy Cambridge bookstores, $10 lattes, beautiful drunks (there were enough beautiful drunks to make up for everything else my experience lacked), and adults with 20/20 vision wearing thick rimmed glasses. Okay, so Boston is exactly like that, and I can only assume it’s a place for hipsters to go to feel more hipster and to have sex with lots and lots of hipsters. I don’t know, that’s not really my thing. Beyond this silly (and accurate) vision I had of Boston, I also imagined I would be a furious writer. Not furious as in angsty, but someone who writes with furious intensity. I pictured a 70 page manuscript, publishers, street cred. I’m being facetious, but you understand the sentiment; I thought I would write more.

I actually wrote less during my first semester than I did before starting the program.

While I wrote less, the quality of my work substantially improved. I don’t mean that an MFA program is there to make you a better writer; it is and it isn’t for that purpose. An MFA won’t give you talent, by any means. What it will do is help bring clarity to your work. Not just the clarity in the sense that readers will understand what you are saying, but clarity as a way to communicate your ideas and images to mean exactly what you want them to mean. In other words, you gain control of your craft. For example: pre MFA I broke my lines so that the next line would be unexpected; during the MFA I learned to break lines more naturally in regards to rhythm and pace. The latter is not necessarily better than the former, but I am more able to control my lines than before. Okay, so I learned stuff. That’s not so bad. What is bad is that I wrote about 7 poems, only 4 of which I really like. I’m uncomfortable with that kind of slow pace.

I didn’t go to any poetry readings.

My program does have a weekly reading for students, but it’s for all genres (fiction and non fiction as well as poetry). I can’t think of anything more boring than listening to someone read me their story or essay. I’m sorry, I don’t discriminate against genres, but I don’t have a great attention span. It is very rare that I don’t get lost when hearing other people speak for more than a few minutes at a time. Also, there was only one guest reader who came to do a poetry reading at our school. Back at my undergrad university, we sometimes had two or three a semester. Granted, Emerson is a very small school whereas GSU is huge. But I feel that I should be getting more since I’m paying almost 3X as much to attend Emerson than Georgia Southern.

Grades don’t determine talent or improvement with your craft; it only determines how consistent you are with turning in your work and showing up to class.

So this isn’t just a problem with MFA’s, but with all of academia. Grades don’t determine intelligence or artistic ability. What it does show is that you go to class, turn in your work, and participate. The problem? All of that is nice and dandy if you are looking to hire someone reliable, but that’s not the point of the MFA. The point is to make better writers out of us, and you can be a good and prolific writer without being reliable to others. Secondly, the application process to these programs is based almost entirely on talent and craftsmanship; why  bother doing that if we are just to be subjected to being graded on our course completion? Maybe they should start grading us on how many publications we get. Not only can the college brag about how awesome the students are, but it also fosters competition. Really, I’m just calling for something more tangible to be graded on other than being a good student. I mean this change in grades to only be applicable to workshops, not literature courses. (Note: I got an A in both of my classes, I’m not complaining because of my grade, just what the grade really stands for).

You will be distracted by other obligations to your program than just writing.

This goes along with my first point that I wrote less than I did before joining the MFA. I spent much more of my time completing work for my literature course than I did writing. In all honesty, there was very little writing that I did turn in. If you want to get an MFA to take time off to write, don’t do it. Many of you will end up teaching along with school, or even work part time when you realize that big check they gave you for attending their school really wasn’t all that much and you can’t stand the thought of living off Ramen like you did back in college. An MFA isn’t time off; it’s work. Lots, and lots of stressful, unguided work. You are what determines if your time spent during the MFA is worth it or not, and that means a lot of time spent not writing, a lot of time researching, trying to get published, reading and writing essays, reading other poetry. The worst part is you have no idea what works and what doesn’t work and you have no one telling you if what you are doing or writing is what you should be doing or writing.

And I absolutely love it all. Yes. I loved/love it. Almost every day I went to class tired, pregnant, hormonal, sick, angry, upset. But I loved every second of it. I am always around poetry. I am always reading poetry. I have the time to figure out how to do it, for the most part, on my own. I love that I have the balls to not care about criticism of my work. I love that I can pick and choose which opinions to listen to. I can decide for myself what is and isn’t bad advice. I feel like I’ve earned something from poetry.

So, if you want a master’s degree that’s almost useless unless you have the publishing cred to go along with it, along with some of the most amazing writerly experiences you will ever have, do it. Go get that MFA. But don’t expect to learn how to be a writer because no one will tell you. You have to learn that part on your own. Don’t expect to have lots of time to write, you won’t, especially if you have any sort of life outside of writing. Don’t expect your grades to matter; they don’t. If anything, your first semester as an MFA student will show you if you really really really oh so badly want to be a poet like you’ve always dreamed your wildest dreams about being, or you really just like the idea of being a writer. Being a writer means that you have to write when you are sick and tired and pregnant and cranky, when loved ones die, when your relationships start to fail, when you’re fat and hate yourself for it. It means doing the goddamn work when you really don’t feel like it but you do it anyway because that’s who you are: a writer. You, writer, have titanium testicles the girth of Zeus’s head, so hoist those bad boys up into a jock strap, put on your big girl panties, suck it up and go write because you know that it’s completely worth it.

Winter 2012-2013 Poetry Reading Course

Looking for something to do this winter break? Why not catch up on some reading? If you’re anything like me, you buy a crap ton of books at once and end up with a bunch that sit there and look lonely for years. While trying to sit down and figure out what I’m doing this winter break, I created a syllabus for a short and easy reading course. What I hope this will do for myself, and for you, is that it will generate more than vague understanding or appreciation of a book. I want to get down and dirty with the books I’ve picked out for myself to read (and I hope that you read them too, but the selections are totally up to you). So, here is my second instalment of self-directed courses. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to share how it is going for you! I’d love to hear from you folks. I’ve made it available for download so you guys can edit it to your liking or to your schedule. Enjoy!

 

To view as a Word document:

Winter 2012 2013 Reading Syllabus

 

Winter 2012-2013 Poetry Reading Course

December 17 – January 11 [4 weeks]

Created by Kaela McNeil

 

 

Course Description

 

If you are currently in school and are about to start winter break or are just looking to read some books over the holiday, it might be difficult to determine how much or how involved you should be with your readings.  You could be ambitious and put together a huge stack of books and power through them all in four weeks, or you could pick a few books to read and really get to know the author and their work. This course is for the latter of the two.

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