Wednesday, May 6, 2015

10 Ways to Give Writers Helpful Feedback

Identify what you want and learn how to ask for it. 

Lisa: So I was just wondering if there was one general thing that you've found over the years to be generally true in a general way that would help anyone in any situation?
Psychiatrist: That's a great question, yes, I would say figure out what you want and learn how to ask for it.
Lisa: OK. Those are both really hard.


The above quotations are from the movie "How Do you Know." I appreciate this movie psychiatrist's advice as it relates to writing as well. Many writers are intimidated to ask for what they need related to feedback. In fact, it is difficult to know what types of feedback will have a favorable influence on your work. Most of us have experienced that situation where a reader's feedback was tough and caused us to stop writing for a while. The best kind of feedback helps writers to move forward in a writing project. The following suggestions are given to my students so that they can benefit from and give helpful feedback on their class blog projects. They are adapted from Peter Elbow and Pat Belanof's book, Sharing and Responding. New York: Random House, 1989.


TYPES OF FEEDBACK for Blog comments:
I. No Responding: Sharing
1. Just read the blog out loud; see what the words sound like. What is your reaction? (Write this)

II. Descriptive Responding:

2.   Sayback
Write back in your own words some aspect of the post. But say it more as a question--Are you saying...?
3.   Pointing
Write the words or phrases that stick in your mind. Which passages/features did you like best? Don't explain why.
4.   Summarizing
What is the main point? Subordinate ones?
5.   What's Almost Said or Implied
Explain what is almost said, implied, or hovering around the edges. What would you like to hear more about?"
6.   Center of Gravity
What is the source of energy, the focal point, the seedbed, the generative center for this piece
7.   Structure
Comment on the Voice, Point of View, Attitude toward Reader, Level of Abstraction/Concreteness; Language, Diction, Syntax
8.   Metaphorical Descriptions
Describe the blog in terms of weathers, clothing, colors, animals.
9.   Believing and Doubting
Believe or pretend to believe everything that was written. Offer ideas and perceptions to help the case. Then doubt everything that was written. Say arguments that can be made against what was written.
10.   Movies of the Mind
Tell the writer what happens inside your head as you read the words in the blog.

These tips are a way to improve both the reader and writer's experience. Let me know how they work for you.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

5 Essential Tips for Burgeoning Writers

The Basic Question:

What do writers need in order to be successful in their creative work?


 Location 

1. Finding your place to write is of utmost importance.  In  “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf stresses this requirement when she writes: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Of course, not all writers have the luxury of having money provided so that they can develop as writers. Many have to spend some of their time in gainful employment. She stresses that women must make a special effort to write because during her time (1882-1941), it was more common for men to develop into great writers. She successfully broke out from her historical confines and became known as one of the first modernist writers. During her lifetime it was the "man of the house" to have a private study. Her life struggle to become a writer of merit led her to understand that having a place to write means that you are giving priority to your work. Nevertheless, the logistics of being in one location and/or finding a room in a busy house can be frustrating. The author of Writing as a Way of Healing,  Louise Desalvo, explains that you can be more flexible and place a desk in a hall or in any room to provide yourself with a place that is your own. A writing location allows you to form a routine. It is the writing habit that provides you with the platform to grow. For many writers, it may be a local coffee house that creates a sense of place. Students often write at desks in their bedroom or on cushioned boards (or laptops) while still in bed. Some writers such as Jamaica Kincaid, author of the short story "Girl," the novel Annie John, and the essays, A Small Place (among others), continues with this technique.  She has comments on staying in bed and in her pajamas all day so that she can write - a routine that allows her to concentrate. Maya Angelou discovered her time management strategy through necessity since she had to travel so much to speaking engagements. She decided to make her hotel room her writing room. Her solution worked so well that she continued renting a hotel room for this very purpose. She said in an interview, "I do still keep a hotel room in my hometown, and pay for it by the month. I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible."(Link to the full interview, The Daily Beast, "How I Write," Maya Angelou)  In this same interview, she explains that the room must have completely bare walls so as not to cause her any distraction, which demonstrates a significant degree of self knowledge. My writing room goes by the name of "the writing closet" because I store my clothes and write my secrets there. I visit the "closet" every morning. 

2. Self knowledge
Pensive Miss Junie

A writer should have some understanding of her personalized and unique path to writing or finding the muse. The discovery of your insight can be obtained by self-observation as you write. Through noticing your own process, when and in what circumstances trigger writing, allows you to develop as a writer.

3. Inspiration and Creativity 



Naranjito, Puerto Rico
 

Another strategy is to seek out writers you admire and read their works. Even though these writers may be personally inaccessible, it helps to have an image of a writer for inspiration. Through an internet search, looking for comments, blogs and writing workshops, a connection could be made with this author or other writers interested in moving forward with their own projects. 

Be ready to write. I am not alone in recommending that you keep a notebook handy (journal). Recently, in the two day "Student Research and Writing Conference" at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus, keynote speaker and author Luis Negrón (Mundo Cruel) emphasized that carrying a notebook to jot down writing ideas is important, "Relying on memory is a mistake because you think you will remember but you will forget!"

4. Feedback


Sunflowers in Ocean Park, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  


One of the most difficult aspects of writing is locating a trusted reader and receiving feedback. Often, we block feedback from others because we feel our creativity is at stake -  not an unreasonable fear. In fact, the wrong kind of criticism can shut down inspiration. The trick is to find someone you can trust and ask for the kind of feedback that might be useful. Reactions about specific writing areas are helpful. Readers questions and asking for clarity on certain meanings might be useful. Seek out readers who understand that you are developing a work, i.e., your writing is evolving. If your reader senses resistance and/or hostility, she may not be willing to read anymore of your work. That fact established, you do not have to make changes or do anything about the comments offered by readers. I rely on my own (flawed at times) judgment when it comes to sensitive revision and editing, but would love to find a reader (who also writes) to share in my process. Author Zadie Smith (White Teeth) recommends that you ".... try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would." Brave indeed!



5. Routine



Ocean Park beach, San Juan, Puerto Rico


Writers who consider writing a priority in their lives make time for it by establishing a routine. But that routine is highly specific to your kind of writer. Virginia Woolf scheduled a three hour morning routine while Maya Angelou stretched herself across the bed and maintained all day writing sessions. Louise Desalvo warns that you may not be able to find blocks of time in which to write. She suggests grabbing snippets of time (equaling three hours) throughout the day in her article, "Why Having Kids is No Excuse."

What matters to a writer is that you write. You continue to write throughout your days, perhaps feeling dissatisfied with your work but you continue. As Virginia Woolf said, 
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery...” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

 Give your writing a place in your life. If necessary follow Desalvo's advice, "Call it work, not writing. No one I knows cares if you’re writing.  That’s why you have to call it work.  Because that’s what it is.  Your work.  Your life’s work." 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Seven Reasons to Write in the Morning

Oasis Feature ~ Seven Reasons to Write in the Morning


 San Juan, Puerto Rico
Do you ever wonder how to develop your creativity so that your writing ideas are fresh and inspired? I am sure that the key to unlocking new ideas is to foster an ongoing relationship with your creative self. You can develop this ability. Decide to be dedicated to your own projects and make them a priority in your life. If your time is constantly compromised because of work demands, family duties and social commitments, be warned. You have to choose to develop contact with yourself first over being on call for everyone else. If you are a people pleaser making this decision is a lot harder than it seems. It forces you to reexamine how your life is organized and insists that you commit to fitting in alone time which is devoted to writing.

As a morning writer, you have to have the same dedication as the surfer in the above photograph. Waking up early, he walks to the water, carries his surfboard and enters the chilly ocean long before an ordinary swimmer feels the need to take a plunge. Every morning, you must write a few pages about anything. It does not matter if you write about nonsense because the initial point is to develop the habit of writing. Over time, your writing content will change. Many writing coaches suggest that it is important to write in the morning; however, over the years of my own writing practice, I know that it provides the perfect way to develop your insight and creativity. When you wake up and write, you gain these and many other benefits.

Seven Reasons to Wake Up and Start Writing


1. Remembering your dreams: When you start a morning writing practice, you are able to remember your dreams better. At first you will likely remember only dream fragments, but later you begin to discover that the more you record, the more you also remember your dreams. Dreams provide you with clues about your life and make visible the creative force of the unconscious.

2. Understanding yourself better: Writing over time allows you to realize who you are and identifies your values. As a consequence,  it becomes easier to say no or yes to people without feeling pressured or compromised.

3. Clarifying your intentions: Through the process of writing, you may write about why you made certain life decisions. These written explorations help to strengthen your resolve because you remember how you arrived at these decisions.

4. Discovering hidden motivations: Nothing reveals dishonesty as much as writing a long rationalization about how and why you are right. In fact, the real reasons behind a particular action become clear as you see your words on the page. 

5. Knowing what is bothering you:  It is so much easier to know the truth about your feelings if you write down some of the disturbing mental noise that bothers you upon waking. Without writing, these worries often accompany you during the day. Often just writing about anxiety lessens it or may even take it away.

6. Improving your life: A regular morning writing practice provides you with a sturdy framework that helps to build self trust and confidence.  It enlivens your day with zest and lends purpose to the years.

7. Making ideas real: Dreams and ambitions identify what you desire but writing about them helps you to become proactive. Through regular writing, you are able to move forward and accomplish these life goals.

Finally, I suggest that you extend your morning practice into your day by carrying a notebook and pen with you everywhere. I do not recommend that you use an electronic device because the temptation is too great. You will take out your smartphone to make a note; for example, and before you realize it, you are surfing the net, socializing on Facebook or reading Email. With paper and pen handy, when you have a few spare moments, you can continue writing and exploring the ever-enriching conversation with your creative self. 

Happy writing!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

CARPE DIEM: MOVIES, MEMOIR and VICARIOUS TRAVEL to ITALY



In the garden, the delphiniums were in flower. Through scented twilight the girl in the white dress walked with a step as light as a cobweb. That evening, she hadn't a care in the world.

Mrs. Delahunty, My House in Umbria

Mrs. Delahunty: I may be dead next month. The moon may have crashed into the earth. Who knows what dreadful things may come to pass? But at the moment, I'm happy. What else matters?

Colonal: Carpe Diem

Mrs. Delahunty: I'm never really sure just what that means.

Colonal: Oh. Seize the day. Embrace the present. Enjoy life while you've got the chance.

Mrs. Delahunty: Carpe Diem. I'll remember that.

My House in Umbria
~~~~~~

Lately, I am aware that I have to do just that, carpe diem, because everything seems to have a feeling of impermanence. Not in a dark somber way but in the way that you feel that something's moving and changing.

I wonder why after you hit a certain age, you wake up with memories of people and places that you haven't thought about in a long time. Often fragments of youth-inspired dreams come back to your mind with a strong force. When I was a teen, I wanted to travel to Europe and it became one of my main goals to tour England, Scotland, Ireland as well as France and Denmark. After much saving, planning and determination, I finally was able to make the unforgettable trip. I think my early obsession with travel was connected to my love of romance novels. Though the love story obsession was left in my teenage years,  the enjoyment of other lands and people remained.

I think that's why I love Maggie Smith in My House in Umbria. The film is set in Italy, where she plays the lead character Miss. Emily Delahunty but (as she tells us) her name is not important. In fact, we learn that she has many other nom de plumes and we realize that she actively creates her own fluid identity. She's a writer of romance novels who feels most alive when she's helping others. In one scene, she invites a group of complete strangers to move in with her after a train explosion. Through her engagement with the other characters, we fall in love with her quirky personality. Whenever I want to imagine myself in another life this movie does the trick.

If you can watch My House in Umbria and not yearn to travel to Italy, you are a strong person.  If you are having an Italian themed movie night, you might watch Under the Tuscan Sun or go out to see Letters to Juliet. Both of these movies will make you feel as though you have been in Italy or that it's essential for you to go there now!

I have read the memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes), and found it to be richly satisfying. I loaned this book to a close friend who found it tedious with detail about the Italian countryside, garden restorations and house renovations. However, I like these details of ordinary life. I like to see how people make decisions and what occupies their time. I'm interested in both real and spruced-up life. (A little magic making fantasy is fine with me.) Another popular book made into film that has an enchanting section on an vacation in Italy is Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. (Julie Roberts plays the author Gilbert in the movie.) There is another saturate-yourself-in-Italy movie that I have already mentioned in previous blogs, Enchanted April, which documents a life transforming month in an Italian Medieval castle. Gorgeous scenery!

In the London Times, a small classified ad appears:

“To those who appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine:

To let for the month of April - a medieval castle on

the Italian Mediterranean shore.”

Photographs and movie review here.



If you want to explore Italy or imagine yourself there in real life, try Rick Steves' link to travel. Now I wonder, which movies you watch (or books do you read) that bring you into lovely romantic Italy? Have I missed any? 

Do you hear Italian music...


~~~~

Waking up on the Island of Enchantment that is also know as Puerto Rico, I plan to bake a fragrant pan of vegetarian lasagna, toss a green salad and toast garlic bread.

I promise myself that at every moment I will carpe diem!

On a side note: my struggling gardenia bush finally bloomed after three years of waiting, hoping, and supplementing it with coffee grounds. 

I like to believe that this momentous occasion is symbolic, perhaps it's foreshadowing a trip in the near future?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

5 Ideas for Your New Year's Resolutions

Should you make New Year's resolutions? Yes, indeed, but make them with care. 
What can be a better time to start fresh than at the beginning of the year? What follows are my own 5 New Year's resolutions. By sharing them, I hope to convince you that you can make progress towards your 2015 resolutions if  you frame them in the right way.

1. My resolution for exercise this year is to walk everyday. I plan to walk for 30-60 minutes each day. Since I walk a lot normally, I believe I can do this. If walking is one of your resolutions and you cannot easily locate a place to walk, you would have to modify it. Perhaps you could go to the gym a few days a week. Just be proactive and sensible about exercising more often and give yourself a certain number, such as 4 times for 30 minutes each week. 

2. I plan to eat healthier in order to bring my  cholesterol levels down. My easy goal is to eat more vegetables at every meal. I know that about half of my plate should be filled with vegetables so I'll work toward that vision. If you have to cut down on fat, you could use olive oil instead of butter or eat meat-free meals two days a week. You can decide how to change your eating habits based on what is possible for you. 

3. So far I've mentioned exercise and healthy eating resolutions, now we move on to relationships. I want to be with more people who like me "just as I am." (Do you recall Bridget Jones, anyone?) I know that this means I need to be honest about myself and who I show to the world. Being honest is a brave stance. I admire people who are real in this way. My resolution is to stay true to myself (in words) every day. Tricky. How will I know when I'm being real? (I tend to please others and avoid talking about differences.) For this resolution, I will need reminders such as "Speak your truth!" posted on mirrors, calendars and in other key places. I believe that as I am more honest about my feelings and thoughts, I will connect on more authentic levels with others. Think through your own relationship resolutions so that you know your motives and obstacles, then tailor them into visible, accomplishable behaviors. 

4. Write every day. I've had this writing goal for a long while so I know I can do it. Now I need to be more specific about the   kind of writing I do every day. This year, I will write three pages related to a specific writing project - the memoir. I know it will be difficult to turn my free daily practice into a focused daily practice but it needs to be done. I'm procrastinating. I've made a writing plan so after my daily practice, I will write these three topic centered pages. Consider a project that you want to begin right away. Make a resolution that works in stages toward its completion. 

5. Have more fun! As my final resolution, I want to be more upbeat and change my approach to routines. To accomplish it, I need to identify what behaviors and activities encourage pleasure. I like to laugh. It's a good indicator that I'm having fun. I like to dance and sing, too. I can play more music in the house, at work and while walking. Oh no! With so much music added to my routine, dancing and singing will soon follow! Girls just wanna have fun! 

My five resolutions are offered to you as examples of how to create a thinking process to formulate your own New Year's resolutions. If you follow this method, I know that your resolutions will be meaningful, practical and last until New Year's resolution 2016!