Shelter and Write Prompt 2: Our Children’s Stories

Think about the current time through a child’s eyes. It could be your child, a child you know, or even a fictional child. 

You could write from the child’s point of view, or you could write about the child from an adult’s point of view.

How old is the child? What do they sense? What do they know? What do they see? How do they understand what is happening around them?

Then imagine this child in the future. How will they remember this time? What are the stories that the child will tell when they describe this time to their own children?

#shelterandwrite

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here.

Shelter and Write Prompt 1: Create a Written Collage

Create a Written Collage: Think of ten small, concrete things that are different in your life because of COVID-19. You want to choose some things that you can experience with your senses, and that you can describe in exquisite detail. 

It could be empty hand-sanitizer bottles, a work project left unfinished, an unused plane ticket, the pile of books you now have time to read, etc. 

Describe each one in as much detail as possible. How has this thing changed in recent weeks? What specifically has brought about these changes? How have you noticed this thing in a new or different way?

Arrange your descriptions to create a written “collage” of current life. Look closely at the small differences around you. Together, they tell a story. What’s yours?

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here.

#shelterandwrite

Shelter and Write: 30 Journal Prompts for a COVID-19 Quarantine

I don’t know what quarantine has been like for you, but I have spent the last several weeks huddled under the covers, unable to look away from the news, and sanitizing my child like crazy. There has been a great grief, a great helplessness, and the overwhelming feeling that I should be doing something — anything — other than just staying home.  I understand that I’m doing my part by hiding under the covers. But it also seems like I should be doing a lot more. 

There have been a lot of tears. I might have gotten in a non-verbal argument with my toddler. And the things I say to my plants these days makes me wonder if they think I am crazy. The anxiety is real. And I know it would make me feel so much better to do something for others, to connect with others.

Are you feeling this way, too? Both paralyzed by anxiety and seized with the need to do something useful, something helpful?

Maybe your situation isn’t right to make masks or adopt a grandma, but you do want to do something. I have been wanting to write. I have dealt for years with feeling like writing is selfish, and in this age of unease, it only seemed more so. 

But still, I felt that nagging feeling deep in my chest that begged for me to write. Maybe you have been wanting to write, too. Maybe you have been feeling like writing is a luxury right now and something you shouldn’t be spending time on. But I want to push against that idea.

I personally could really only do the work that was absolutely necessary in the past few weeks, and that was teaching. So I started thinking about how I could be useful to the writers taking my course, which also led me to think about how we could be useful as writers. 

As my students returned to our little online portal after an extended spring break, I asked them what would be useful for them as writers right now. Overwhelmingly, they wanted to journal about this time and overwhelmingly, they wanted prompts. 

I wanted to make prompts that would really be helpful for my students. Prompts that encouraged them be present, to look at the little things, to imagine a better future. But also prompts that allowed them to voice their fears and stare down their anxieties. I wanted to make prompts that they could connect over, draw insight from, and use to document what they saw and experienced. Basically, I wanted to make prompts that were helpful in making my students helpful.

And I thought, maybe it will also be helpful for others, too. So I wanted to share it with you.

Here is the thing: you can help. You can help by writing. Think of all the ways that the writing is useful.

On the most basic level, it is important to have a historical record of this time, and multiple perspectives will be important to get the history right. We need to know what nurses were doing, what patients were doing, what it was like to go to work, and what it was like to stay home. The more information and perspectives that can be gathered will help those in the future see what worked and what didn’t, and how the world changed in response. 

Also, taking care of your own mental health is helping. I can’t stress this enough. Look, no one is going to be served by letting anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue take over. Practicing isolation and social distancing are terrible for all kinds of mental health disorders, from anxiety to eating disorders. If writing is making you feel better, you should do it. If it helps you get through the day a little kinder or with a little more ease, it is important, and you are helping others by doing it. It’s also a great way to ease the sense of isolation (see below!).

Think about all the reading you are doing. We are all trying to make sense of what is going on right now. There are numerous conspiracy theories, constant live news updates, and people sure that this will change life as we know it forever. All of these things exist because people are trying to understand a situation so unlike what most of us have experienced. Writing about it is trying to make sense of it. Sure, you might not figure out the answer to the pandemic, but even coming to one little way of thinking about it that is helpful to you might be also helpful to others. 

And if you aren’t writing about the pandemic, but are writing something totally unrelated, like ancient alien dinosaur erotica or whatever, you are helping too! People are looking to artists for distraction, for escape, because we can’t exist on high-alert all the time.

This brings me to a last way you can help: share your writing. 

Share your thoughts and the ways in which you are dealing with it. There is a need for connection right now, and one of the ways we can connect and still be socially distant is to share our thoughts in writing. So share your writing. Even if it doesn’t have anything to do with COVID-19, it could help someone find a few moments of calm and connection. Maybe you send your mom a letter with one of your journal entries that you think she would like, maybe you share it on Facebook, maybe you share it completely anonymously on a forum. But let other people learn from your thoughts, and allow them to connect back with you. You will both be helped by it.

So this is my small way of sharing with you. You can use this with #NaPoWriMo or #CampNano or on your own, day by day, or when you feel moved. I hope you find this helpful and I hope you also know that you are helpful. 

These are some of the prompts that I created for my students. I’ll post a prompt a day and you’ll find a little sneak peak below. I hope that you can use them to be helpful, to yourself and to others. I hope that you can use them to share your fears, your hopes, and your thoughts. And most of all, I hope you can use them to connect. 

Thank you for connecting with me by reading this <3

#writethepandemic

  1. Create a written collage.
  2. Write about the pandemic through a child’s eyes.
  3. Write about your setting and how it is affecting your experience of the coronavirus.
  4. Interview someone about their daily living experiences in the time of COVID-19.
  5. Describe in great detail one thing you are taking comfort in.
  6. Compare and contrast a historical epidemic and the one you face today.
  7. Describe in detail what is happening outside your window right now.
  8. Write about someone who is helping.
  9. Write about how your setting has changed in recent weeks.
  10. Go outside and write a haibun.
  11. Write about a character who thrives during the pandemic.
  12. Write in detail about one small thing you are particularly grateful for right now.
  13. Rewrite a piece of writing that you wrote before COVID-19 began.
  14. Describe in detail one small, concrete change in your world in recent weeks.
  15. Look at your fears upside down to find keywords to use in your writing.
  16. Find at least one other person to create a piece of writing with.
  17. Write a letter to yourself 3 months ago. 
  18. Write about a character for whom the pandemic is a plot twist.
  19. Tell the story of an image that has left a lasting impression on you.
  20. Write a conversation in which someone quells your fears. 
  21. Create an erasure of a text having to do with the coronavirus.
  22. Respond line by line to a poem that resonates with you in these times.
  23. Write a detailed description of your current daily life.
  24. Write in detail about a place you cannot be right now. 
  25. Create a piece of writing based around found words and phrases. 
  26. Write a difficult conversation that you have had or should have. 
  27. Write a story in which a good-news headline is the catalyst for the plot. 
  28. Write about someone more affected by COVID-19 than you are. 
  29. Bring a piece of art about the pandemic to life. 
  30. Write about a new connection in recent weeks.

Different Kinds of Editing

Reposted from FireweedEditorial.com. Written by Kris Farmen.

I recently spoke on the phone with an editing client who was brand new to the process of writing and editing. I had read through part of her novel manuscript and found it to be a lively and engaging story, and I was looking forward to working with her. But because she’d never been through the book editing process, she was weighed down by elemental questions like, “What is developmental editing?” and “Why is copy editing necessary?” All the different kinds of editing services can be confusing. I explained to her the differences between developmental editing, copy editing, line editing, and proofreading, as well as the importance of each one. Then it occurred to me: she probably wasn’t the only one with these sorts of questions.  

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing goes by several names, including substantive editing, story editing, and structural editing (and probably a host of others). Whatever you choose to call it, developmental editing is the process of going through a manuscript to improve the flow of the story, to tighten up each scene, make sure there are no major Chekhov’s Gun issues, and to identify any places where the narrative drags or bogs down. In other words, the aim is to make the story itself as good as it can be.

Line Editing
Line editing focuses mainly on sentence and paragraph structure. A line editor helps you smooth out your language so that it flows like river water over a stone and keeps the reader engaged with the story. A good line edit will make sure that you’re saying what you want to say in the best possible way. Usually the feedback you get from the editor will come in the form of a redline document, that is, a version of your story with the editorial changes marked using Word’s Track Changes function.

Copy Editing
Copy editing, often confused with proofreading, is by contrast a much more technical edit on your manuscript. Its purpose is to catch any misspelled words (including affect/effect style misusage), rogue apostrophes, and any glaring grammatical errors. Copy editing is usually the last step in manuscript revision. With the manuscript done, you move on to proofreading.

Proofreading
Traditionally proofreading is done on galley proofs—the mock-up of what the final book will look like. The type is set, the margins are blocked in, drop caps are inserted. In short, it’s almost done. But any smart author or publisher will have one final read-through done on the typeset pages to catch any last-minute errors. Proofreading is just that: it’s the final editorial scan of the pages of a galley proof to like the extra period on page 112 or the en dash on page 209 that should be an em dash.

Every book manuscript needs multiple stages of editing before it goes to press, and the importance of a good editor cannot be overstated. Jack London, one of the most famous novelists ever, always refused to make any revisions on his first drafts, and it shows. Every time I read one of his novels the foremost thought in my mind is, This book could have been fifteen thousand words shorter and 20% better with an editor. 

Fireweed Editorial offers all the editing services described above, plus design and layout work. We also offer free trial edits so that you can feel confident that we are a good fit for you. But whoever you choose to help you, editing is absolutely vital to producing a great book.

Reading for Writers: Englishes in Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil

A former Tamil Tiger in an Australian detention center. A transgender grandmother in New Orleans. An Australian woman trapped in an abusive relationship in Uganda. With this wide, global view, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s collection of short stories, Foreign Soil: And Other Stories, examines issues of identity and displacement across an expansive swath of space and time. Clarke uses a poetic attention to vernacular to bring her readers past the narrative, offering an immersive experience with each story.

From the epigraph of the book (“Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English, for we intend to do unheard of things with it.” –Chinua Achebe), Clarke sets high expectations for her readers and she delivers. Throughout these stories, Clarke uses nonstandard English to tell nonstandard stories. The first story of the collection, “David,” follows a chance meeting of two Sudanese women in Australia, one who is Australian-born and one who was born in Sudan. Each woman’s voice mirrors the life she has known. These two voices side by side highlight the ways in which language shapes one’s view of the world but also the connections that can happen despite linguistic differences. From the outset, Clarke is playing with language. It’s no surprise that she is also a poet. Her attention to the smallest details of accent and sound are evident throughout the collection.

Clarke’s use of nonstandard English goes beyond dialog. For example, in “Gaps in the Hickory,” the narration is in third person but affects a dialect of the Southern United States that would be comfortable for the characters. “Ain’t no buckin up gon cover up how much Carter miss his gram,” (131) Clarke writes. Though the dialect is not always authentic (most Americans would use the term “bangs” for “fringe”), it nevertheless adds to the ambiance of the story and sets it more firmly in place. The use of dialect also requires the reader to set himself into the language and world of the characters, instead of trying to put the characters in a vernacular that is not their own.

Her most poignant use of language happens in the story “Big Islan.” In this narrative, which is written in a Jamaican dialect, we follow Nathaniel Robinson as he learns to read English. The language gives him a sense of place as he can find his home of Jamaica on the globe, but the language is inaccurate for his experience of the world. Nathaniel learns “E is for Inglan” (182) and “A is for Owstrayleah” (188). The letters don’t match his own speech. His newfound ability to read is a mixed blessing, giving him both H, which “always gwan stand fe home” (185) and “E fe envy” (189). In the end, his ability to read the newspaper makes “de city im grow te love so-so dear, Kingston, feel insignificant small” (191).

Clarke’s use of dialects makes her reader feel acutely the theme around which the stories in this collection rotate: displacement. Clarke does not stick to any one vernacular or voice. Instead, the stories cycle through some of the myriad Englishes that have evolved around the globe. Because of this, the reader can never settle in to one style of writing, but is constantly recalibrating her reading in order to adjust to the narrators.

The variety of characters, voices, and places in Foreign Soil underscores the variety of forms of displacement. One of the most compelling aspects of Foreign Soil is its “globality” (181), to use a term coined by the character Nathaniel in “Big Islan.” Clarke does not focus on one people or one part of the world. Nor does her exploration of displacement end with being in a new country. The collection explores racism, gender identity, immigration issues, and religious intolerance, to name just a few themes. Far from feeling scattered, the range of stories brings home Clarke’s point: that displacement in a global world can happen to anyone, anywhere.

The newest story in the collection, added for the 2017 edition, is “Aviation,” the tale of a Sikh child, Sunni, in need of emergency foster care. Sunni ends up on the doorstep of Mirabel, whose husband was killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. In her attempt to provide a home for a child in need, Mirabel comes face to face with her own prejudices. In the end, the reader does not find out whether or not she fosters Sunni. This story, like many in the collection, is a story of people who find themselves in impossible positions. The narratives resolve and feel complete, but they also often leave their main characters and their readers to sit in the discomfort. Nathaniel, of “Big Islan” is left restless in Jamaica. The eponymous main character of “Harlem Jones” is left holding a Molotov cocktail. Sunni is left waiting to be fostered. These stories are not about how displacement dissolves or is overcome, but about the displacement itself, about being in the thick of it.

Her final story, “The Sukiyaki Book Club,” feels strikingly autobiographical. The struggle of a young single mother trying to make it as a writer, told in first person, is juxtaposed with a story she is writing about Avery, a girl who is stuck upside down in an impossible position on the monkey bars. Once again, Avery and the writer are characters displaced. These narratives side by side highlight the constant question throughout the book: can Clarke’s characters find a way down, a place to land?

*This post is part of a series on the craft of writing called Reading for Writers.  This series examines a variety of authors to ascertain the choices they’ve made in their writing and the effects of those choices so that we as writers can make better decisions in our own writing.

Rejection Is Not Feedback

Thinking about doing another submission bonanza soon. This is a helpful read.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

For when you need a 1300-calorie dessert with a view

I need a sweater. So I go to the mall. (The mall is a temple of consumerism with an indoor ski slope overlooked by The Cheesecake Factory, because I live in Dubai.)

The first store specializes in argyle sweaters. Argyle is just not my thing. Do I:

A) Assume this brand is garbage and everything they will ever make is argyle.

B) Say “no thank you,” and head for another store, dismissing argyle from my mind because it’s not that big a deal, I’m shopping all day anyway and hey, someone else is going to love diamond plaids.

In the second store, I see a terrific red sweater. It’s got sleeves of exactly the right length and those cool little thumbholes so you can pull the wristbands over your hands, and it’s super soft. Then I look at the tag…

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Permafrost Magazine is Accepting Submissions!

Permafrost Magazine is the farthest north literary journal for writing and the arts. We’re proud of Permafrost’s thirty-five years as interior Alaska’s foremost literary magazine. Founded in 1977, Permafrost is housed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks MFA program, and run by dedicated creative writing graduate students. We publish a winter print issue as well as a spring online issue, both of which features compelling poetry, fiction, and literary nonfiction by established writers and new voices alike. In Alaska, our unique environment shapes our perspective, but Permafrost seeks original voices from all over the world.

We are now accepting submissions for our summer online issue!  We are looking for poetry,  fiction, nonfiction, art and everything in between. Submissions will be accepted until May 14th, 2015. Submit now!