Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Stimulate the Imagination!

Alice C. Linsley

Years of teaching creative writing to intermediate and high school students showed me that they are hindered by lack of imagination and limited vocabularies. I designed an activity that stimulates the imagination and expands their vocabularies. This is an example.

Random Word Exercise to build vocabulary and stimulate the imagination. Look up the meaning(s) of unfamiliar words before you try to use them in a poem.


Group 1: Use all 15 words and create a poem of at least 15 lines.



fevered brain





spreading silence


tortuous path


derailed hope




Additionally, students are to consider the importance of word choice and the value of devices such as alliteration. 

Why is "spreading silence" more ominous than "silence" alone? 

I invite readers to try this exercise. I'd like to see the results. You may submit your poem at aproeditor-at-gmail-dot-com. Include some information about yourself!

Related reading: Random Word Contests

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Stories Out of Time


Church near the Rock of Dunamase, County Laois in Ireland

What follows are excerpts from Jonathan Rogers' article "Wendell Barry and the Romanians: Story and Place".

"The point of Wendell Berry’s whole project, it seems to me, is that every place, if you settle down and look at it, if you pay attention, is a thin place. After he finished his education in California, Wendell Berry moved back to the Kentucky County where both sides of his family had lived for five generations, and he said, 'I’m going to keep looking at and listening to this place—this landscape, these voices, these folkways, these old stories—until it gives up its secrets.'"

"In his Port William novels, Wendell Berry is doing something very similar to what those Romanian villagers were doing with their story of the jilted fairy. Berry writes of a forgotten little place, and in so doing demonstrates that there are vast things afoot—much more than meets the eye."

"The job of a storyteller, you might say, is to make thin places, places where we can see truer things than we normally see in the world around us. To do that requires that we pay attention to the world as we find it. We need to look and keep looking, confident that the truth will tell itself.

Big, eternal truths are pulsing and surging just below the surface of things, forever threatening to bust through. And the surface of things is scarcely adequate to conceal them."

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Teach Writing Online?


Alice C. Linsley

Over the past decade I have taught writing remotely to over 20 private students. Mainly, we communicated via email, but sometimes we used Skype. Today, remote instruction can be done more efficiently using Zoom.

I also taught Creative Writing in the classroom and certainly my preference is to engage students face-to-face (f2f). However, the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed teachers to online instruction and to new levels of frustration.

Martin Weller offers this observation at his Ed Techie blog: “It’s forever 1999 for online learning critics”.
Online and distance learning does generally require more self-motivation from the learner, away from the physical cues that prompt learning. It also requires more organization of their time and study environment and so retention may always be an issue compared to f2f. But it also offers opportunities for other forms of teaching. The least interesting thing you can do is replicate the not very effective model of the lecture. We had these discussions back in 1999, and people explored problem based learning, constructivism, collaborative learning, and then later connectivism and flipped learning. I’m not proposing any one of these approaches as a magic bullet, and some students will like them and others hate them. But different approaches are achievable and have been realised for a long time. Just because you’ve been dumped off your lectern and feel aggrieved, is no need for another ‘online learning sucks’ hot take.


My advice is to find a level of technology that is comfortable for you. Work on that platform until you learn how to use Zoom. Start by communicating on Zoom with family and close friends. When you are comfortable, initiate a session with 2 or 3 students. 

Plan ahead. Have visuals ready to show the students. State homework assignments and follow up with email reminders. Most parents want to be copied on the email communications.

The teacher's attitude is very important to the students' success. Take the online challenge as something positive. Ask for help. The students are tech savvy and many are glad to help you. 

Remember that the final objective is for your students to write something worthy of publication. Then help them learn how to shop around for potential publishers. Learning to write and learning the business of writing are two different matters, but a good writing teacher will help students with both.

Related reading:  About This BlogYou Tube Video Editing; How to Teach Online With Zoom

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Beware of Proofreader Errors

"Why is a raven like a writing desk?" is a riddle proposed by the Mad Hatter during a tea party in Lewis Carroll's classic 1865 novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alice was unable to answer the riddle because there was no answer. The Mad Hatter admitted as much. When Alice said she couldn't answer it the Mad Hatter finally admitted the riddle has no solution. He said, "I haven't the slightest idea!"

Alice sighed at the Mad Hatter's response and said, "I think you might do something better with the time, than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers." The Mad Hatter replied, "If you knew Time as well as I do, you wouldn't talk about wasting it. It's him." You can read the chapter with the riddle here.

The riddle became one of the world's most famous riddles. Carroll did not intend for there to be an answer but her later offered an answer to the riddle in an updated version of the book. Carroll wrote that the answer is, "Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!" Carroll also wrote never as "nevar," which is raven spelled backwards but the clever pun was erased by a proofreader according to Gizmodo.

Read it all here.

Related reading: Pen Pecked Dreamers

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Writers on Writing

Wendell Berry
"The first obligation of a writer is to tell the truth--or to come as near to telling it as is humanly possible. To do that, it is necessary to learn to write well. And to learn to write well, it is necessary to learn to read well." (From here.)

Victor Hugo
"A writer is a world trapped in a person."

Annie Dillard
“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes." (From The Writing Life)

Fannie Hurst
“Writing is a chore. It cracks your bones and eats you, and yet it dominates you. You hate it while you love it.”

Saul Bellow
“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Story Lines

These four story lines can produce successful novels when the main characters are people that seem real. The plot is only as effective as the characters that are drawn by the writer. What makes a story good? A good story line and memorable characters.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Read Well If You Would Write Well

Writers must read good writing to learn to write well. That is the conclusion of all the great writers: Saul Bellows, Jorge Borges, Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg and many more.

Wendell Berry said it well in a letter he wrote to my creative writings students.
The first obligation of a writer is to tell the truth--or to come as near to telling it as is
humanly possible. To do that, it is necessary to learn to write well. And to learn to write well, it is necessary to learn to read well. Reading will make you a better writer, provided you will read ever more attentively and critically. You will probably read a lot of contemporary writing in your textbooks, in magazines and newspapers, in popular novels, etc. The contemporary is inescapable. You may more easily escape the writing that is most necessary to you. I mean the books we know as 'classics,' books that have been read for generations or for centuries and so have proved their excellence.
As you learn to judge what you read, you will learn also to judge, and so improve, what you write. Reading, I think, is half of your responsibility as students of writing. The other half of your responsibility, of course, is to write, and your effort to write well, as I hope you already know, will make you better readers.

Read the entire letter here.