Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Teens Take Their Poetry Out Loud




(assembled) by Susan*

As anyone who's ever participated in a reading might know, poetry is both a written and a spoken tradition. Poetry takes on a different dimension when performed rather than read.

Across the nation, teens experience poetry as an oral art form in Poetry Out Loud, and right now, the Wyoming Arts Council is inviting 9th-12th teachers and students to take part. There's still time to get involved -- the application deadline is December 22.

Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation and memorization contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. The program encourages teens to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance. Students can work on mastering comprehension, public speaking, acting, performance, drama and English skills while building self-confidence and internalizing our rich literary heritage. (You can see performances on the POL YouTube Channel.)

Learn more and register. But if you're not convinced yet, keep reading...

Lauren Haiar, 2017 Wyoming Poetry Out Loud winner, spoke of her experience competing in the national round in Washington D.C.:

"I’ve enjoyed poetry my entire life, and so I immediately loved the idea of Poetry Out Loud ... I knew that [national competition] was an amazing opportunity and would be a great experience, but little did I know how much it would shape my life afterwards. My experiences there have played a part in many of the decisions that I’m making today, in and out of the classroom ... Coming from a small school where not many people share my love of literature, to be in a group setting with peers of the same interests was absolutely thrilling. I felt like I became a part of a family of like-minded people. However, like-minded as we may me, the amount of diversity that I was exposed to from interacting with high school students from all over America and our territories was so eye-opening. Through the influence of poetry and the power that our words have, we learned together, and learned from each other."

Mason Neiman, educator
"In the rural Midwest, where arts opportunities for students are few and far between, Poetry Out Loud allows for my often unrepresented students to shine ... excitement in our community has grown steadily, especially since we made it to nationals last year. Poetry is steadily emerging from the shadows here in Sundance, as the town show becomes more of an event every year. Last year, we were privileged to compete at Nationals in Washington D.C. ... to see my young poet, from a town of a thousand in “flyover country”, stand alongside and cultivate lasting friendships with other young lovers of poetry from across the country, made this teacher smile wide. The opportunity for my students to identify with the triumphs and trials common to us all through the art of the spoken word and other poets has time and again transformed wallflowers into performers and bubbly extroverts into thoughtful mystics ... I wouldn't trade POL for anything and will keep my students involved so long as the program exists."
Here at Writing Wyoming, we're way into anything that encourages young people to appreciate poetry and literature. Appreciation of words is often the first step to writing.

Finalists in Wyoming’s 2017 Poetry Out Loud
state finals prepare to compete.
Photo courtesy of Wyoming Arts Council
Teachers and home school groups can learn full program details and register on the Wyoming Arts Council site. Registered schools and groups will receive a free multi-media toolkit that includes a teacher’s guide complete with lesson plans, guidance on classroom contests, evaluation criteria, posters, and a customizable contest announcement poster.

Registration deadline for this year's Poetry Out Loud is December 22. Participating teachers and homeschoolers use the POL  toolkit to teach poetry performance and run classroom competitions. Following a pyramid structure, classroom winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to the state competition in March, with the state winner awarded an all-expense-paid trip to the national competition in Washington, D.C., April 23-25.

In addition to the wonderful learning experience this program offers, students have the opportunity to win cash prizes and money for their school library to purchase poetry books.

If a school is interested in participating in Wyoming’s Poetry Out Loud competition, needs further information, or needs a packet of printed program materials, contact Tara Pappas at tara.pappas@wyo.gov, 307-777-7109.

So get involved and encourage a teen's love of poetry. Good luck to our Wyoming competitors!

*Most of this info came straight from the Wyoming Arts Council, so I can't claim to have written this, other than an editorial comment interspersed here and there.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

HOW DO WRITING GROUPS ACTUALLY WORK? [PART ONE]

Writing can be like folding a banquet-sized tablecloth; you can do it yourself, but it's a lot easier when you can find somebody to help.


-- Ted Kooser & Steve Cox, in Writing Brave and Free: Encouraging Words for People Who Want to Start Writing



Lynn here: I'm a big fan of the concept of getting help with your writing--been doing it for years. That's why I put out a call to various writers to ask them to share with us how the writing groups they belong to work. Katie Smith graciously complied with the following information on Bearlodge Writers in Sundance and Prairie Pens in Gillette. In future posts, I'll share more contributions about this crucial tool for Wyoming writers.

Note: some of the information on Bearlodge Writers was previously published in an article by Writer's Digest Online that you can access here. Read it and you'll also learn about how groups in Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, California and Montana operate.

guest post by Kathleen Smith

Writing is a solitary endeavor until you have written an essay, a poem, nonfiction or fiction piece and want to make your craft better. Then you must share your words laid so carefully on the page from your heart. The easiest way to improve your craft is find a source of writers for companionship and critique.

In Wyoming because of the miles between communities some writers utilize on line writing groups. Others like me drive miles to be in the company of good writers with the desire to make the writing better for everyone at the table.

Let me share how Bearlodge Writers work.

THE BEARLODGE WRITERS (BLW) group has been active since 1979. BLW is open to any writer, new or experienced, seeking a welcoming, safe place to present work for praise and for constructive, sensitive critique. The group works with writers from first draft to last revision prior to publication. While BLW’s main mission is to offer assistance and support to one another, it has also sponsored writers’ residencies and scholarships and participated in writers conferences.

WRITING FROM: Sundance, Wyo.

SIZE: Currently, we have 20 members on our active email list. Members have ranged in age from 15 to 82.

FORMAT: BLW’s format is simple and effective. We sit around a large table located in a conference room at a very supportive local library, read the work, and garner both praise and critique from the other writers present at the table.

At one time, we did not bring copies of the work to pass around, but simply read the work while listeners made notes. Now, writers bring copies of the material to pass around the table. The writer reads while listeners write notes on the pages or suggest comments, and marks any corrections.

Sometimes, a writer will ask another writer to read the material. After critique, all copies are signed and returned to the writer. It cannot be stressed enough that we value kindness and respect for each writer’s work above criticism.

MEET UP: BLW gathers at the Sundance Library on the first Tuesday of every month, at 11:00 a.m., and on the third Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.

One member travels more than 150 miles, round trip, for meetings. Others come from neighboring South Dakota, a round-trip drive of about 60 miles. Those arriving first start the coffee and set out snacks—including lots of chocolate.

Before the reading and critique session, BLW spends about 30 minutes discussing any business, sharing information about writing successes and publishing opportunities, and answering general questions.

Those present needn’t have a piece of writing on a given day. Those who have brought work to be critiqued draw from a bag of dominoes that is passed around the table. Work is read in order from the smallest domino number to the largest.

Each writer brings a unique and valued skill set to the table. We have writers who envision the story arc, ferret out the thread of the writer’s intent and give advice on overall structure. Others are “grammar police,” able to determine proper word usage and phrasing. Members often comment about how the piece affects them emotionally and/or intellectually.

SUPPORTING EACH OTHER: Most importantly, it is about respect for the writer and the work. We are earnest about sharing a deep level of trust. What is read or said at BLW stays at the table until such time as the author chooses to share it. We offer consistent and sincere encouragement. As one member recently stated, “Bearlodge Writers is a safe place to be vulnerable.”

LESSONS LEARNED: Our individual successes help perpetuate and encourage the success of everyone in the group. The consistency of the format offers stability, and although members have come and gone—we recently lost one irreplaceable and beloved founding member—the heart and the purpose of the group remains the same: To encourage, respect and nurture writers, honor their processes, and celebrate their victories, whether that victory involves finishing a first draft or achieving publication.

Welcoming new members keeps the group vibrant, while long-time members offer an historical and experienced perspective.

I am the writer referenced in the above article that travels 150 miles. I choose to make that drive because I always know the words I share at the Bearlodge critique table will be improved.

After years of attending this writing group I have come to realize one person’s dedication and sacrifice of time has made group possible for all. Through the years, others have assumed small responsibilities for tasks to assist the group’s goals. There must be someone to arrange the meeting time with the library and maintain a current contact list for the multi-genre group of beginners and advanced writers.

Gaydell Collier was that dedicated person for Bearlodge and was a charter member of Wyoming Writers. She wrote the following in February 2007:
So what makes a good writers’ group? If we had to answer in one word, we would say, respect, and that includes trust
Respect for the writer. The writer comes as a pilgrim, bearing an offering. Whether the writer be prince (experience/published) or pauper (brand new beginner), he is granted the respect of willing attention and receipt of the critique he desires, whether it be “Does this work? Are the characters believable?” or a complete pre-pub edit. This includes respect for the writer’s emotions—a willingness to laugh or cry along with him. 
Respect for the piece. To place the offering on the table requires an act of faith by the writer. This is met by the respect of serious consideration and gentle but honest critique, focusing on the merits of the piece itself, the type of critique desired, and the intent of the writer. It is never the group’s purpose to change the intent, but to clarify, to suggest, and to encourage. 
Respect for the group. Each writer brings to the group his respect for its function and for the other members, making sure each one has time for his work to be discussed, is willing to give his thoughtful critique or expertise, and holds sacred within the group whatever revelations might be shared. Because of the mutal trust within the group, there is no “competition.” Everyone has the same goal—to make each other’s work the best it can be.
In my mind, the most important aspect of a writing group is to make the writing better without changing the voice of the author.

Our trust and respect is built by sharing an annual Christmas party, working together to bring guest speakers to our writers and others in the area, but most of all is developed by sharing lives in essays, poems, bios for submissions, and by being present at the table.


Prairie Pens 
By Kathleen Smith

PRAIRIE PENS writing group has been active since October 2004 in Gillette, Wyoming. Our group has undergone important milestones as we’ve moved forward through the years, and after experiencing the loss of Midge Farmer, the anchoring individual who gave unselfishly of her time to establish the group and was a Charter Member of Wyoming Writers.

Prairie Pens leadership has passed to Kathleen Smith and Donna Robbins, who continue to invite and encourage new writers.

Another milestone was the hosting of the Wyoming Writers Conference in Gillette in June 2017. We worked together as a group to host the catered conference in the Camplex Events Center, utilizing a hotel within easy walking distance. We learned about conference mechanics.

Our third milestone is the comaradarie and trust developed among our group from working together on this literary event. This event tied our writers in friendship and writing to others from Wyoming and other states.

WRITING FROM: Gillette, Wyoming

FORMAT: Our writers bring copies of double spaced, one inch margin, formatted writing to share with those in attendance. Writers read their work and request criticial input, as well as praise, from the group as they look to improve their efforts. Members record their comments on the critique copy, then sign, and return the piece to the writer.


MEET UP: Prairie Pens meet at the Campbell County Library on the third Saturday of each month at 1:00 p.m. in Pioneer Room 1. We are a multi-genre group welcoming writers and writing of all kinds and of all levels who wish to participate or observe.

SUPPORT OF THE WRITER: We have governing guidelines based on those used by the Sheridan Range Writers and Bearlodge Writers. Over the years we have modified these guidelines to better fit our local writers.

LESSONS LEARNED: We host in-depth work days on specific pieces to take critique to a deeper level. We share mini lessons on topics specific to the craft of writing. Prairie Pens serves and encourages talented writers in our community.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

OUR CRAZY, CRANKY TRIBE

photo by Lynn Carlson
repost by Lynn

I collect quotes, especially quotes by writers. As I read through the notebook where I scribble or cut-and-tape these quotes, I am struck by what a colorful, irascible bunch of human beings we writers are.

The quotes makes me laugh, and also leave me thinking that even on my most disgruntled days—it's not a problem, because I am in such excellent company!

You think I’m making this up? Here’s a sampling:





“A story is not a carrier pigeon with a message clamped to its leg.” 
- David Madden 









"There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts."
- Charles Dickens





“You’re miserable, edgy and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.” 
-Warren Ellis







“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into a bouillon cube.”          - John Le Carre


“If I had to give young writers advice, I’d say don’t listen to writers talking about writing.”             - Lillian Hellman







“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”
 - H.G. Wells 







So if today is a day you find yourself frustrated, grumpy, sharp-tongued or short-tempered…

Welcome to the tribe!


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Writing Through Fear

By Susan

Not long ago, I found myself in an email conversation with Page Lambert, author of In Search of Kinship and Shifting Stars. I confessed how I struggle to write through fear. No matter how many times I may hear the virtues of "shitty first drafts," I worry that my writing will not be good enough. Here's what Page had to say:

"You asked, 'How can our writing matter if it’s not any good?' I think it matters because expression matters and has an intrinsic value from first blush to final polish. The first blush of creative endeavor might not yet be refined into artistic expression, but the only way thought and human behavior can possibly reach toward a higher expression is when we humble ourselves enough to express even the simplest thought.

Some believe that all matter begins as thought. When enough like-minded thoughts collide in the metaphysical universe, matter is created. A million single expressions can lead to the manifestation of a sea change of thought.

Your writing matters, Susan. All writing matters. All singing matters. All creation matters. We keep the world alive through our expressions."
She went on to share:
"I’m in Montana, celebrating the birth of my son’s second little daughter. What a blessing. The older sister, three-year-old little Carly, was painting rocks today with grandma’s help. It never would have occurred to her that there was a 'wrong' way to paint rocks. Oh how I wish we adults could be so joyful in our expressions!"
There you have it. Go, be joyful in your expressions. There is no wrong way.

-----

A member of the International League of Conservation Writers and an advisor for the Rocky Mountain Land Library, Page Lambert has been writing about the western landscape and leading nature retreats in the West for twenty years. A founding member of Women Writing the West and longtime member of Wyoming Writers, Lambert’s writing can be found inside monumental sculptures at the Denver Art Museum, online at Huffington Post, and inside the pages of Sojourns, The Writer, and elsewhere. She designs and teaches graduate writing courses for the University of Denver’s University College. Forthcoming works include “Not for Sale” (Langscape Magazine, publication of Terralingua.org), and “The Rural West” (The Light Shines from the West, Fulcrum Books). Lambert writes the popular blog All Things Literary/All Things Natural from her mountain home west of Denver, Colorado. Find her online at www.pagelambert.com

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How to Plan a Personal Writing Retreat

Guest post by Tina Ann Forkner

I have been asked a few times about my writing process. The answer, if I really went into it, would have been very long, but honestly when I start a new novel, I have to bury myself in it. It’s not always easy to do, but it’s easier to get started if I can really be alone.

This is what I did for two days during what amounted to a mini writing retreat for myself while my husband worked during the day in St. Louis. I got away for dinner and time with my husband and other humans in the evening (So grateful for great company!), but during the day I buried myself in my own work. It paid off, at least in terms of creativity and word count. I’m so glad I just went for it and focused on writing.

How did I do it? If you want to do a personal writing retreat of your own, it’s easy. Here’s how:

  1. Try to get away if possible. Go stay with your sister, borrow someone’s loft, or reserve a hotel room. If you can’t, then find a space in your home, library, or other place where you can spend several hours alone.
  2. Make yourself unavailable. Let people close to you know you won’t be emailing or answering the phone. Decide whom you will communicate with during the hours you have set aside, if anyone. For me it was my daughter and my husband, and then only for short texts or calls.
  3. If you write on a laptop, disconnect it from the Internet. You don’t want to get distracted by checking Facebook!
  4. Preparation is important, so take along some journals, pens, a laptop or notebooks for actual writing, a book on the writing craft, a novel, and a devotional.
  5. It is important to prepare your mind. That’s what the novel and devotional are for. Start the day out by reading a little bit. Scribble thoughts in a journal if you like. Clear your mind of daily clutter. Be quiet.
  6. It’s important to consider the advice of others, hence the craft book. Read a chapter or section here and there whenever you need a break throughout the day. Underline your favorite quotes and/or write them down. (Breaks are important.)
  7. Nourishment is important. Start and end your day with a good meal, and drink more water than your morning coffee or wine at dinner. You want to feel treated and refreshed, but not sluggish for that long writing stint.
  8. Exercise and stretch. It’s a good idea to make a trip to the gym or take a walk outside during a break or after your writing day. Turning into a pretzel won’t help.
  9. Observe your Writing Rituals. It’s okay to go through all of your weird, oddball routines that help you write. I am not going to share all of mine, but every writer has them, or you will. They can involve coffee, prayer, chocolate, meditation, music, affirmations, and probably things you may not even notice. My kids say I talk to myself when I’m in my writing zone. I doubt it, but it’s what they say!
  10. Write. That’s right. Pretty straight forward. Write without stopping, without correcting, without censoring, without thinking. Don’t think about how and when this will be published or who will be reading it. Just write. Write, write, and write until you are empty. Then take a deep breath and be proud of yourself. Edit it all later. For today, close up shop and pat yourself on the back.

So that’s it! Easy, right? I would love to hear about any personal writing retreats you put together. What advice do you have for others?

-----

Tina Ann Forkner writes women’s fiction and is the author of five novels including the award-winning Waking Up Joy, as well as Ruby Among Us. She is a mom/stepmom to three almost-grown children who all attend the University of Wyoming. When Tina isn’t writing or traveling with her husband, she is a substitute teacher in Cheyenne where she has lived for almost twenty years.

Find her online at www.tinaannforkner.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tinaannforknerauthor. Her Twitter handle is @tinaannforkner.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

THE ART OF THE SEQUEL

guest post by Huntly Rinck

Lynn here: Since Huntly is part of the High Plains Register team at Laramie County Community College, I don't think he'll mind if I jump in here and let you know that the deadline for submissions of previously unpublished, original poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, music and artwork to this fine literary magazine has been extended to December 15th. Visit their website for more information.

Okay, enough of that. On to Huntly's post...



Sequels are evil!

They are insidious in the way that they’ve wormed their way into our culture. It’s rare to visit a multiplex without at least one of the offerings having a number following the title. At least when we, as writers, create sequels of our short stories or novels, we try to label them with actual titles instead of just appending a number.

Sequels themselves can be good – most people enjoyed Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, volume 2 as much as the original. But they can be bad. 1997’s Batman and Robin killed the successful franchise for almost a decade. (I do differentiate between books or movies with one or several sequels, and books and movies that were planned to be a series.)

My problem with sequels is that they’re usually written for the wrong reason. There are a lot of wrong reasons to write a sequel:
  • For the money – someone’s willing to pay for it (or at least the author thinks so). Most movie sequels, especially the bad ones fall into this category. 
  • For the characters – the author wants to revisit some favorite characters (or his fans want him to). Lillian Jackson Braun’s popular Cat Who series falls into this category – later entries in the series lacked plot, but were enjoyable visits with the familiar characters, both human and feline. 
  • Laziness – the author just doesn’t want to create new characters or settings.
There is only one good reason to write a sequel: you have more story to tell.


So as an author, you have a duty to your readers to ask yourself if the story you’re going to tell in your proposed sequel can stand up. Is the story, by itself, worth your reader’s time and effort? Is it worth your time and effort?

One good test is to ask yourself: which came first, the idea of writing a sequel, or the story idea?


If you do have that story to tell, the one in your head burning to get out, then start writing and good luck.

In the interests of full disclosure, I wrote an internet novel that eventually had seven sequels. But in my defense, I claim that it was all an unplanned series. I started writing a short story that grew up into a novel-length story. When I posted it, I almost immediately got feedback asking when the sequel would be out, and I emphatically denied that there would be a sequel, after all. Sequels are evil.

But the characters wouldn’t evacuate my head to make room for others, they had more to say. After I posted the sequel, I got more feedback asking about the next sequel. I replied that the sequel was a fluke and there wouldn’t be another. Sequels are evil.

Then I woke up after a dream, and rushed to my computer. My characters had more to say. After posting the third book, I stopped telling readers that there wouldn’t be sequels.




Huntly Rinck has been writing for almost half a century and is still learning the craft. He started submitting his work to magazines at age fourteen, though no one was interested. He sold a number of shorts in the seventies and eighties before turning to novels. 

His novel, Cartwheels, is available on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Where Does Creative Genius Come From?


Feeling writerly angst and anxiety? Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, offers a different way to look at things in this funny and engaging TED Talk from 2009, "Your Elusive Creative Genius."

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

DEAR EDITOR

Lynn here:

If you want to give yourself a challenging assignment, write a letter to the editor. Why?

  • It’s writing, isn’t it? Which means it counts in our apprenticeships as writers. 
  • It will force you to get clear about your thoughts and opinions on a topic that you feel strongly about; 
  • It is a privilege to join in the flow of public discourse. Never forget that not everyone in the world has this privilege—many are silenced; 
  • You know it will get read. 

I’ve written a few letters to the editor. One of them even got picked up by the Casper Star-Tribune and printed as an op-ed piece, much to my surprise.

My suggestion for writing a letter to the editor?

Go ahead and write hot, but then set the letter aside and edit when you have cooled down. Don’t, (please, please, please) don’t hit send after writing the first draft. Because these letters do go far and wide, you want to make sure you can live with the language you have put down.


Geri Maria Johnson is a Cheyenne writer who has penned plenty of well-written letters to the editor. I’ve tapped her to share some pointers with us…

guest post by Geri Maria Johnson

So, you have something you need to say?

First, be sure enough local readers are interested in your chosen topic.

Then, get acquainted with the publication process.

Here’s a secret. The less work editors have to do to get your letter to press, the greater the chances of acceptance.

Mechanics

#1. Spelling. No excuse for misspelled words.

#2. Grammar. If possible get someone to review your work. At the very least, be sure your verbs are correct and consistently in the same tense – past, present or future. It is also very helpful to read your letter out loud.

Punctuation is very difficult. If you’re not absolutely sure where it goes, leave it out. It is much easier for editors to add punctuation than to change it.

#3. Structure. Make sure each sentence is complete. No fragments. No run-ons.

Content

Readers should be able to easily understand the intent of your letter. Be very clear what you want to accomplish before you begin writing.

A statement may be true and yet not pertain to the discussion at hand. Make sure each point is relevant.

Give careful consideration to the order in which you present your points. Arrange them in the sequence that will best ensure readers will stay with you and arrive where you want them to go. Organize your thoughts well.

Letters that offer an informed opposing opinion to a position previously taken seem to be favored. Do your research, and when feasible, cite sources.

Avoid personal attacks. Politely differ with others’ ideas.

Editors rarely take the time to shorten your piece. They might return it or simply reject it without even reading it. Stay within the word count limit.

Don’t use five words when one will do. Be succinct.

My personal motto: Every word must earn its place on the page.

I share my views with Wyoming readers because I undoubtedly have a unique perspective, as well as a way of breaking down complicated ideas into more understandable parts. My hope is that they benefit from my take on issues about which I am both passionate and informed and are then led to expand their own viewpoints, especially on matters that concern us all.

Geri Maria Johnson was raised in Amityvillle, Long Island and graduated from SUNY at Albany. With a focus on languages and history, she has traveled to over 40 states, spending a summer in Anchorage. Seven times abroad, Geri has visited much of Western Europe, Greece and Egypt.

This essayist has extensively researched the history and genealogy of ten generations of the Johnson/Campbell family. As an avid political activist, Geri Maria has had numerous letters to the editors of Wyoming newspapers published. She’s retired now, a peaceful Cheyenne resident for nearly a decade.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

THERAPY AND SELF-AWARENESS IN JOURNALING

guest post by Samantha Case

Note from Lynn: I've been an admirer of Samantha's ever since she launched Wyoming Women Rise, a nonprofit that is working to get more women into elected office. When I saw that she had started working with WyoFile (one of my must-read sources of news), I chased her down for a post. 




jour·nal·ing v. to write self-examining or reflective entries, especially in school or as part of psychotherapy 
When my mom gave me advice in preadolescence to keep a journal, it would take me several years to realize that she had given me the gift of therapy that would prove to be my own personal time capsule.

My early days of journaling were primarily motivated by a desire to document the day’s events: who kissed who in 7th grade, a friend and I getting into a fight one day, how outrageous my parents were acting the next day, and other thoughts that occupy a teenage mind. It’s entertaining to read now, but I know in the moment it was relieving to translate my thoughts and emotions into symbols on a page and not have to worry about the consequences of storing unfiltered words somewhere other than my mind.

As I passed through several more years of life, what I wrote about began to morph in really profound ways. Instead of writing about the latest thirteen-year-old gossip, my mind began to grapple with thought-provoking questions like my purpose, the meaning of life and observations I had of the world around issues like privilege, oppression and suffering. I wrote about how earth’s seasons could apply to the cycle of life: heartbreak and healing; suffering and blessings; growth and stagnation could be better understood by appreciating the differences between winter, summer, fall, and spring. It was through writing that I was able to grasp these more complex thoughts – not necessarily in a single writing session, but over the span of a few months, a year or several years.

I wrote about everything: questions, answers, random thoughts that popped into my mind while driving home one night, fears, aspirations, love, lust, passion, mysteries and my desire to solve them all. I wrote letters to people I’d never send, I expressed my feelings of gratitude and joy when I felt them, and I wrote through my sadness and worries in a way that encouraged me to understand and wrestle with those emotions.

In many ways, just the simple act of writing felt like unraveling a hairball of ideas, emotions and words in my mind; that’s where I found medicine in ink.

I have learned that perhaps even more healing than the writing, however, is the process of reading through phases of my life and reflecting on my own experiences from a place of greater maturity and wisdom. It’s the process that empowers me to witness the lessons I have learned, the questions I had once fiercely grappled with that I no longer do, and the ways in which I had transformed as a person from one phase of my life to the next.

When enough time has passed and one looks back on their writing, it’s like observing oneself from an entirely different perspective. For me, past writing serves as evidence that I have completely outgrown a phase when I’m able to reflect back with a high degree of impartiality. In those moments, I’m able to understand my thought process in that time as if I were observing a younger sister, a daughter or a friend. It is reassuring and restorative in its own way to see one’s own process of growth and transformation play out between the lines of paper.

When I look back over my writing, whether I was in preadolescence or an eighteen-year-old woman grappling with thought-provoking concepts, it’s compelling to witness the phases of my life and how they all connect together figuratively but also in a literal sense – woven together with a line of ink. It helps me form a solid sense of self-awareness that is rooted in a foundation of words written in genuine, raw moments of life.

The mind tends to reflect on memories from the perspective of the present moment. Therefore, it’s difficult to contemplate who one really was in any given moment and to observe how one’s thoughts have changed over time. Human beings are dynamic; we change the way a riverbed transforms into a canyon over time due to the force of the water. If there’s no documentation of that journey from one point to the next, how do we fully understand our experiences and ourselves?

I have come to learn that writing is the most genuine, organic form of documentation of a single life. Now that I fully grasp the significance of the advice my mother gave to me at a young age, I now hope to pass that advice on to others. For the person who feels stable, to the one searching for a sense of self, the one grappling with depression or anxiety, the person overcoming hardship, the one experiencing bliss and for the child navigating the unknown: writing may not be your cure, but I promise you that pen and paper will prove to be a friend, a therapist, or maybe just a deeper relationship with yourself.



Samantha Case is a recent graduate from the University of Wyoming with a Bachelor’s degree in Gender & Women’s Studies. In early 2017, she launched Wyoming Women Rise, a nonprofit organization to encourage women in Wyoming to run for public office. Samantha works full-time for WyoFile, a nonprofit dedicated to in-depth reporting of issues critical to Wyoming and its people. On her free time, Samantha enjoys fleeing for the woods, traveling and writing poetry and narrative essays. She shares her writing on her website www.samanthacase.com and on Instagram under the username samcasee. 


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Writing Opportunities in Wyoming

Susan here: today just want to let you know about some contests and events coming up for writers in Wyoming and beyond. Both these organizations are near and dear to our hearts — Susan is president of WyoPoets, and Lynn serves on the board of Wyoming Writers, Inc. We encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities:

WyoPoets Chapbook Contest
Deadline extended to October 31, 2017
This is a members-only contest, but it's easy to join WyoPoets, and only $20 a year to be part of a wonderful organization.

Theme is Hunger and Yearning: Hunger denied and yearning fulfilled. Dreams dashed and wants satisfied. What do your mind, soul, body ache for? What is your deepest desire? Have you found it, or do you still long for it? Our judge, Art Elser, suggests this might include:

  • Hunger for justice 
  • Hunger for a simpler life 
  • Yearning for some life-time dream 
  • Yearning for someone long lost friend, person, parent 
  • Yearning of a teenager for city life 
  • Yearning of someone who wants to go back to childhood 
  • Hunger for peace in the world 
  • Yearning to be a better person, poet, writer, parent, grandparent 
  • Yearning for a trip to the home of immigrant grandparents, parents, great grandparents

These are just idea-starters -- there are many other variations on this theme.

Download the guidelines and send your entry by Oct. 15, 2017. Chapbook contest open to WyoPoets members. Not a member? Join us! You may send your membership fee separately to our treasurer, or include it with your submission. Questions? Contact wyopoets@gmail.com.

WyoPoets Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest
Opens October 1, 2017; Deadline December 15, 2017
The WyoPoets invite submissions to the 2018 Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest. First prize is $100, second place $50, third $30, and fourth $20. Up to five honorable mentions will be awarded. Poems, published or unpublished, of up to 40 lines, including title and line breaks, are eligible. Entry fee is $3 plus $1 per poem entered, no limit on number of poems entered. Questions may be directed to Katie Smith, contest chair, at wyopoets@gmail.comDownload full guidelines.

This annual contest is named in honor of Eugene V. Shea of Hanna, a long-time member and past president of WyoPoets. Shea chaired the national contest for eight years, represented WyoPoets at numerous meetings of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, and served as a juror for poetry contests in other states. A prolific writer, he wrote more than 1,300 poems and published eight volumes of poetry.

WyoPoets 2018 Spring Workshop
April 27-28, Cheyenne, Wyo.
WyoPoets is pleased to announce that our 2018 workshop will be held in Cheyenne on April 27-28. Friday evening at 6:30 we will meet at the Laramie County Library, 220 Pioneer Ave., for an open poetry reading. On Saturday from 9:00am to 4:00pm, award-winning Colorado poet Art Elser will share his insights on poetry at the Lions Park Community House in Cheyenne. A light morning snack, coffee, and lunch will be served. The cost will be $50.00 per person, with some youth scholarships available. Please contact Chere Hagopian at 307-287-6413 or chere@batteryship.com with any questions. More info coming soon at http://www.wyopoets.org/spring-workshop.html and on our Facebook page.

An added bonus to the conference: Dubois is beautiful!
Wyoming Writers, Inc. 2018 Conference
June 1-3, Dubois, Wyo.
Save the date! Lynn here: if you're like me, your summer gets planned out well ahead of spring (aka mud season). I already have several dates on my calendar for June--yikes! That's just the way it is for people who have a lot of interests, family and desire to travel when it (hopefully) isn't blizzarding out.

One of the dates, a very important one, is for the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference, June 1st through 3rd, 2018. The conference is going to be in Dubois, which is a lively small community, nestled in a beautiful part of Wyoming. I'm on the WW, Inc. board this year, so I've gotten to hear about all the great presenters who are going to teach and inspire us. Not my role to divulge yet, but the program is definitely going to be diverse, engaging and ambitious. Worth a spot on your calendar so go write it down, right now! June 1st through 3rd, 2018.

Check out the website. If you're on social media, follow Wyoming Writers on Twitter and the Facebook page and group. Consider joining! It's the most encouraging group of writers you'll find, and open to all.

A few bonus items
And don't forget...
You can find Writing Wyoming on Twitter and Pinterest, too. We'd love to have you follow us!
 



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Metaphor and Magic in Poetry

by Susan

Anyone who's ever taken a high school English class has, at some point, been introduced to simile and metaphor.

  • Simile compares one thing to another using "like" or "as" or a similar connector: Her eyes are like the sea
  • Metaphor doesn't just compare. It equates the two: Her eyes are the sea.
Both are used often in poetry. Both are powerful techniques. Neither is necessarily better than the other. Yet, I find myself drawn more to metaphor because for me, it evokes a tinge of magic.

When you say her eyes are like the sea, it draws on my senses and logic. Say her eyes are the sea, on the other hand, and it draws on my dreams and imagination. I picture not just the gray-green of her irises. I feel the cresting wave from the kraken rising from the depths, wrapping its tentacles around a doomed ship, its sailors paling with fright.

Perhaps it's because I've always loved fairy tales and magic. Give me a world where wolves speak, rivers demand the occasional drowning victim, and a little girl built of snow comes to life and runs through the woods in a red cape, a red fox companion at her heels.

Metaphor breathes life into inanimate objects so that I can enter into an almost human relationship with them. It makes abstract emotions and experiences concrete so that I may experience them with my senses. And it evokes my sense of wonder.

Lyndi O'Laughlin is a fine Wyoming poet from Kaycee. She has graciously allowed me to publish this poem of hers from Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers (ed. Lori Howe, Sastrugi Press, 2016), that deepens beautifully as rock turns to metaphor partway through.

















Kayak on Spring Run-off

It's a small boat I'm in, a thumbnail really,
spit down the Shoshone as if a tongue
were trying to separate itself from a seed,

and there is a lichen-covered boulder
squatting in the middle of the river,
at its base a muscular current,

like a toilet flushing, and it threatens to
block any forward progress I might be
entertaining in my mind, sucking me

and the kayak closer and closer
until I can't help but notice the tiny
snails attached to the rock;

they must think I'm one of them,
just another snail hauling her house
around on her back.

The boulder has a deep voice,
and he pulls me alongside and asks
if I will stay with him forever;

tells me that he knows how hard
I have tried, and asks me if I am
maybe growing a little exhausted

from all my clamoring for approval.
I jam my paddle in his eye to free myself,
and think of you, what you asked me

on that day before I left you
standing on the porch --
"What's wrong with you?"


Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with simile. I use it myself. And many fine poems employ neither metaphor nor simile. Be aware, however, if you have a simile only because of hesitance to make the leap. Don't let it be a bashful shuffling of the feet or a literary throat-clearing. I dare you: go out on a limb. Make that connection concrete. Her eyes are the sea. See if it creates the magic. If it doesn't, you don't have to use it.

What brought this all to mind was preparing for a poetry reading and presentation. It dawned on me that many of the poems that speak most to me -- including my own -- are those that employ metaphor and let me dabble my toes in fantasy. With that, I'll conclude with one of my own, also from Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone. I'll leave it up to you as to whether the metaphor succeeds.


Canoeing on Saturday

I want to wear this day
raindrop rings on pale olive water
circle upon circle
spreading, joining, fading

I want to wear
fuzzy, waddling, gold-brown goslings
silver trout breaking the surface
yellow warbler -- an egg yolk in flight
slicked umber otter swimming
within and oar's length

"Three yards of this fabric, please."
The clerk grasps the bolt by its clouds
water splashes against her fingers
ducks scatter before her scissors
geese honk in the crisp paper bag

I spread the lake on a table in a sunny room
pin brown tissue pattern to shoreline
run shears down grassy sleeves
toll tracing wheel along the darts that slip
between willows and snags
match front side to front, sew a 5/8" seam
I sew a sheath of rain

At the party, the hostess takes my hand
"That dress is beautiful," she says
"Oh this? I smile,
"I'll have it forever."

-----

Thank you, Lyndi Bell O’Laughlin, for allowing the reprint of her poem. Lyndi's poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press, Fall, 2017), Troubadour: An Anthology of Music-inspired Poetry (Picaroon Poetry Press, 2017), Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers (Sastrugi Press, 2016), Gyroscope Review, The New Verse News, Picaroon Poetry, Unbroken Journal, and elsewhere. She currently serves as Vice President of WyoPoets.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

KIDS AND STRAWBERRIES

post by Lynn

Mom, Aunt Nancy and Uncle Barney
I have been blessed to spend lots of time around kids through the years—the children of friends, my niece and nephews, step-grandchildren and now my grandnephews.

I’ve found that there’s nothing like a kid to bring you great ideas, an amusing twist on life and plenty of chuckles. Not to mention somersaults and bubble gum.

And for writers? Kids are the mother lode.

We can look to them for…

GIVING FRESH WORDS TO SENSORY EXPERIENCES
One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.                                                                          - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
It was the child of a friend who first pointed out to me that sagebrush has a lemony aspect to its scent, and another child who told me that raw broccoli tastes a lot like crunchy dirt.

Kids express their immediate, unsullied reaction to the things they encounter in the world. They haven’t learned all the clich├ęs that adults use. Because of this they can be wonderful guides in explaining things in fresh ways.

Ask a child, "What do you think that smells/tastes/feels/looks/sounds like?"

Take notes accordingly.


MASTERFUL WORD PLAY

As writers we often get into vocabulary ruts. We really need to lighten up and play with words, the way kids do. Even mistakes can be turned into fun new words and phrases to bring originality to our writing.

During make-believe time my granddaughter Claire said to me:

“Okay, you are gonna be the momma alligator. I’ll be the ala-baby-gator.”



And not long ago my grandnephew Mason was asked about where he lives. His response?

“We live in the middle of the nowhere.”

He does have a point there...

Last summer at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Colorado, there was a marmot sitting in the grass next to the river. I showed it to my grandnephew Lance. He called it a hedgehog.

“No, it’s a marmot,” I said.

Whereby Lance ran around telling everybody, “Come and look. There’s a varmint in the grass!”

OUT-OF-THE-BLUE COMMENTS

Need to get whacked out of logical thinking in order to write more imaginatively? Follow a kid around for a day.

Inside a big gazebo at Elitches amusement park in Denver, there was a sea of colored balls for the kids to play with. Mason was in heaven.

I noticed he only picked up the green balls, though, and asked him why.

“Those are good for the birds,” he said, as if the answer should have been obvious, and went on playing.

Whaaaa? 

SURPRISING WISDOM

I wrote a blog post about the motivating kick-in-the-rear I got from Lance one day, with a simple statement,

“I do my part.”

 AN APPRECIATION OF BOOKS

Jen Campbell, poet, short story writer and author of the Sunday Times bestselling “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops” series, shares some stuff kids have said in her bookstore:

Little girl: I’ve written a book.
Me: Have you? What’s it about?
Little girl: I don’t know. It’s in my head. I haven’t read it yet.

and...

Little girl (whispers): They gave us Kindles to use at school, but I prefer books.
Me: What do you love about books?
Little girl (thinking hard): I like how quiet they are.
Me: Yeah?
Little girl: Yeah. Stories should be quiet, and whisper to you inside your head.


Author and Illustrator Bill Peet collected a few humdinger things kids have said about his books in their letters to him, including:

“I like your books. My whole family likes them. My cat does not know we have them.”



 … NOT TO MENTION A DOSE OF HUMILITY

Another of Bill’s pen pals wrote…

“I am in grade two. I enjoyed your books. What do you do for a living?”


How can writers capture these pint-sized verbal pleasures? Here's a few suggestions...

Find ways to be in the presence of children.

If you have your own, or plenty of young ones in your family or neighborhood, you’re all set. If not, you’ll have to seek out settings where kids are talking and then eavesdrop shamelessly.

For Cheyenne folks I highly recommend the second floor of the Laramie County Library as a spot to listen and watch kids. I’m sure other county libraries would work well too.

Fast food restaurant playgrounds are another hot spot for kid watching.

Lance being, well... Lance
When we lived in Lusk, my mother, husband Mike and I were “Grandma Readers” for the local kindergarten class. (Yes, Mike was a Grandma Reader too. No gender bias in that designation, eh?)

In this role, we would go to the school, gather our assigned 4 or 5 kids, and read books out loud to them. Lots of chatter about book-related and not-so-book-related topics went on. Maybe your community has such a program?

Slow down and really listen when you are in the presence of children. 

This takes discipline and effort. We adults are always trying to get someplace or get something done. But the rewards are immense when we take time out to really hear what the kids are saying.

Ask questions, and give the kid plenty of time to respond. 

I was one of those kids who mumbled, stammered and talked in convoluted circles. Lots of kids do as they are learning to talk.

Patience with these ramblings will not only allow you to gather all those good things kids say, but will also present the child with a great bonus: the gift of your attention and practice in putting their squirmy thoughts into spoken form.

"Dragons are very stretchy," notes Mason. 
Designate a notebook just for their words. 

When I started to take care of my grandnephews, I bought a small notebook in which to gather snippets of things they have said along, with descriptions of memorable events. Initially my goal was to share the notebook with their parents someday, and eventually with the adults that Lance and Mason will become.

Now I admit I do it mostly for myself—for all those insights, revelations and chuckles that I get when I look through the pages. And, of course, to pilfer all those unforgettable, juicy-squishy words.

My "Lance and Mason" notebook
Do it--find a kid and get 'em talking...

This is perhaps the best writing assignment I could ever share with you. Follow through with it, and I promise your writing (and mood) will improve.

But just remember…

“When you are dealing with a child, keep all your wits about you, and sit on the floor.”                                                                                                    - Austin O’Malley




CRUCIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Tomorrow (Wednesday, September 6th, 2017) is National Read a Book Day.  To celebrate we are invited to grab a book and spend the day reading.

Alert your boss as to this important directive immediately.



 




Resources for this post included:
Children Say the Best Things in Bookshops, Jen Campbell
What Kids Say, Bill Peet


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Being an Active Writer



Guest post by Mandie Hines

Being an active writer involves more than getting words on paper. It’s more than consuming books on the writing craft. Although both of these are important, the piece that’s still needed is active participation in a writing community.

Many parts of writing are solitary, and for those of us who are introverts, that’s part of the appeal. However, our writing practice is enriched by the inclusion of other writers.

Writing groups and communities are part of the writing experience, and if you’re not part of a group and community, you’re limiting yourself.

Even more than being part of writing communities, participating actively is key. Joining a group is good, but are you bringing your work to your writing group for feedback? Are you engaging in conversations in online writing communities or with other local authors? I encourage you to seize the opportunity to learn and grow, while sharing your knowledge with other writers through participating in conversations about your writing, others’ writing, and writing in general. The more you give, the more you get.

There’s an additional step. The tools, tips, and tricks you learn from other writers won’t work until you put them to use. If you get feedback on a story, but never make the edits, you might miss an opportunity to improve. If you’ve been struggling to keep track of your story submissions and another author tells you about a tool that makes tracking submissions easier, but you never try it, you’ll continue to struggle.

Here are a few benefits of participating in writing groups and communities, but it is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Editing
  • Beta Readers
  • Exchanging Ideas
  • Support
  • Encouragement
  • Writing Resources
  • Networking

Sometimes there’s advice you already know, but you have to hear it from somebody else before you can make the change.

While you’re passing your knowledge to other writers, you’re helping yourself too, in two ways. First, the best way to learn or remember something is to teach it to someone else. And second, by growing writing communities, you’re also growing potential future readers. When I connect with another writer, I feel excited about their stories, and I’ve purchased and read many books simply because of the connection I had with the writer.

Recently, I created a Facebook group to unite the writing community in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It’s made the importance of being an active writer clearer. Previously, I would have been content being a lurker. I would have looked for announcements for events I found interesting, but my engagement in connecting with other writers, participating in conversations, or creating events of my own would have been nonexistent.

Changing my role from observer to creator has made me realize how much I want to expand my life as a writer. I want to engage with my website, my writing community, my readers, and pass on what I’ve learned to other writers. It enriches me to participate in all these different areas, and it allows me to help more people too. I want to show up, do the work, and I hope that other members come through and do the same. There’s so much more to learn if we each add our voice to the groups we belong to.

It is easier and more comfortable to live a solitary life as a writer, but it is more fulfilling to participate in the world of writers. Chances are, many of them are much like you and me in their struggles, in their writing goals, and in their passion for writing.

At the end of the day, I want to give writing everything I have, not holding back, participating in every part of the writing world, not just the part where I’m writing a story, and I want to be surrounded by writers who are active as well.

-----


Mandie Hines writes in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains where unsettling ideas knock around in her head, screaming for an outlet, compelling her to create horror stories and psychological thrillers. She’s not satisfied until her stories keep her awake at night, fearful of what lurks in the dark. She’s also driven to write flash fiction and poetry that capture moments of human vulnerability. Her work has recently appeared in Down in the Dirt, Scarlet Leaf Review, and The Flash Fiction Press among others. She’s a member of the writing group Page Turners, Wyoming Writers, Inc., and the Facebook groups Cheyenne Writers Community and Wyoming Writers. Visit www.mandiehines.com for more.

-----

Susan here: While we are talking writing groups, I'd also like to add a shameless plug for WyoPoets for all you poets out there. Check it out at www.wyopoets.org.