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The importance of place for writers and our characters

 

In honor of my poetry book, The Dragon & The Dragonfly, coming out next week, I wanted to share a poem from the book.

I wrote this poem last year as I was trying to find my footing after my husband died in 2015. It’s a poem about finding my place in the world again.

Writing and reflecting about place made me think about its meaning for us as writers and storytellers.

Place is an integral part of our daily lives and of the lives of our characters, but how often do we really think about our places and what they say about us?

All This Blue

At the casino hotel, I set up my computer
near the stone fireplace while you arrange
candles on the mantel, tease the barkeep
over club soda and bitters.

At Barnes and Noble, I finger pages
of new fiction while you devour books
on everything from Android apps
to Taoist secrets of love.

At the coffee shop, I scribble poems
about endings, not realizing these words
are the start of a long grief, while you read
quantum physics and chat with local police
in pressed blue uniforms.

Winters, we eat endless bowls of soup
at the Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse.
Summers, we lounge against Fay Bainbridge
driftwood, watch Salsbury Point fishermen.

After you die, I try go back
to our places. But I cannot find you
in the park, the clouds, or the sea.
I cannot find you in fireplace flames
or at the end of a fishing line.

But I do find you in the coffee shop—
in the calm of police uniforms,
in my words that grow strong again,
that find meaning in this place
where even time lies down
in the midst of all this blue. Read more

Poems for Las Vegas: poetry in an unsafe world

In a class I attended recently, the teacher said we all have that one thing that wakes us up to a deeper relationship with our soul. Poetry is one of those things for me. Through words, I discover my relationship to the world and try to make sense of the chaos within and around me. But sometimes, words fail.

This happened when I first heard of the Las Vegas shooting earlier this month. No words. Some pain is too deep for language. But eventually, as we begin to absorb what has happened, our words return and we use them to find healing.

My local newspaper put a call out to area poets to help find words of healing. The poems are now available in a book, Poems for Las Vegas. All book royalties will go to the National Compassion Fund, established by Clark County, Nevada, and the National Center for Victims of Crime to assist the victims and families of those affected by the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Recently, I read that in Chinese, the written character for poem is composed of two characters. One means word and the other means temple. Together they mean poem. The wisdom of poetry is in the combination of the sacred and the word as illustrated by the character in Chinese. Read more

Ask questions to find your story’s theme

Writers often hear the advice, “write what you know,” but my philosophy is, “write what you WANT to know.” A good way to begin discovering your story’s theme is to ask questions because we come to understand who we are and our place in the world by asking questions.

In the 12-minute video below, the creators of the animated movie “Inside Out” share how the theme of their story emerged for them over time as they went on a quest of discovery.

Read more

There’s no crying in writing

Actually that is a lie. There’s plenty of crying in writing. You know those days. You want to bang your head against the wall, throw yourself on the floor, and kick and scream like a toddler having a supermarket meltdown.

We love the moments when everything flows and every sentence feels pristine with jewel-like words and images. Everything is clicking into place. But we have plenty of days when that’s not going to happen.

The sentences on the page aren’t matching up with the vision in your mind. That’s usually a sign of overthinking, trying too hard, or getting too analytical instead of staying in your wild mind. (To learn more about how you can practice writing with a wild mind, read Natalie Goldberg’s book, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.)

Have a little cry if you want and then try these tips:

Put yourself in your story. Regain your connection with your plot by inhabiting scenes as you write them. Visualize yourself in a scene as you write it. Taste, touch, and smell the action. Now reveal the sensory images as you write the scene.  Read more

How and why you should develop intuition in your characters

This morning, I was working out at the gym on an elliptical machine, not thinking of anything, when suddenly an intense sadness welled up inside me. Having lost my husband over two years ago, I thought it was another layer of grief so I allowed it to rise up and release but instead of releasing, the feeling became more intense and raw. Tears welled up as I continued to work out. I couldn’t figure out what had triggered the feelings and why they were so incredibly strong. And then a thought flashed through my mind—whose feelings are these?

From years of working with and helping people, I know that sometimes I’ll intuit other’s thoughts and feelings, but I’m usually pretty good at recognizing when this happens and setting up my boundaries. For me, this means doing a specific visualization.

This morning, the thought persisted that the sadness I was feeling wasn’t mine. I looked at the man working out on the machine next to me. He didn’t look sad. He didn’t look as if he was in pain. He seemed fine. Read more

Poetry prompt: How to use a favorite poem to create your own

Have you ever read a poem that inspired you in your own writing?

Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes,” is one such poem for me. I have read it several times over the years. It’s one of those pieces that has stayed with me and became even more resonant over time.

My husband died two years ago so when I re-read Oliver’s poem recently it was from this new perspective of understanding how fleeting our time is here, how every moment is a blessing.

Her work inspired me to write a poem called, “When Love Comes.” I started by following the general form of her poem but then allowed my poem to flourish and take off in its own direction. Though I started off using her form as a guide, I made sure I used my own words and my own ideas.

The result? I like it enough that it’s going to be the final poem for my poetry book to be published later this year.

Below are a few tips for using another poet’s work as a jumping off place for your own poetry: Read more

What I love about writing poetry

For National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share some thoughts on my most favorite and least favorite parts of writing a new poem:

My favorite part of writing a new poem:

  • The idea that invades my mind like twining ivy and won’t let go until the entire poem has been put to paper
  • Making messy lines and blot outs and squiggles with my colored pen on paper as I play with ideas and words
  • Typing all that mess into a fresh, new document on my computer—that feeling of chaos becoming somehow ordered
  • Rereading the poem, feeling both its wholeness and its incompleteness in my mind and body
  • Editing the poem, fussing with words and line breaks, challenging myself to see what can be more specific or fresher
  • Reading the poem for my writing critique group to see my creation through new eyes, discovering where the poem can be improved

My least favorite part of writing a new poem? Read more