Writing What You Know

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I remember hearing the old adage “write what you know” for longer than I knew that I would be a writer. Now, as an older, more seasoned, and sage writer I realize that there’s only the tiniest kernel of truth to that. It is impossible to stay in the small bubble of what you know or what you have personally experienced. I am inspired every day by the tiny vignettes that I observe in everyday life. I just wrote a poem based on something that one of my students said during class because it touched me.

So here’s why it’s impossible to write only what you know. Imagine the kinds of stories that we’d read if authors weren’t compelled to research or try new things in order to write about them. At one time, I would have said that you would never read about one of my characters at an oyster bar because I don’t like oysters at all. Just looking at them disgusts me but I have seen my grandmother fry them, put them in stuffing and order them in restaurants. She loves them so much that I don’t have to taste them in order to write a character who enjoys them. However, I can write several characters who love donuts and desserts without any research at all. If we wrote only what we know, we’d all be reading stories about the same things repeatedly.  All of the stories would be he same and there would never be any new stories under the sun or any new genres born.

What I know is astounding. I am an evergrowing ball of knowledge. I think that I’ve said it here before that one of my dreams is to always learn, to consistently keep learning as I grow older because I hunger for knowledge in a way that may be unhealthy but it is necessary for me. So what I know, every day increases, it changes and expands daily. And I love it! I feel like that’s one aspect of my personality that works in so many ways and makes me a better person, poet, teacher and writer.

So I encourage you all to write whatever you want. Write what you know, write what you’ve experienced but step out on a limb and write everything you’ve ever wanted to create. Reach beyond what you know and write something new and exciting.

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Caged Bird- Maya Angelou

This Maya Angelou poem, also the title of her autobiography, gives me hope. The poem has been in my mind all week but I pulled it up today so I could recall the words. It’s still as beautiful as the first time I read it. Maybe even more so because as an adult I am more able to relate to the content.
It is a dreary day and all I want to do is stay in bed and read. The poem reminds me of the need to be active, to do something even though I want to snuggle in bed. “The grave of dreams” is a powerful thing! I might not accomplish much today but this will be on the forefront of my mind all day.
Happy Saturday!!!

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The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Source: http://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/i-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings-by-maya-angelou#ixzz3y5dYM5lX
#FamilyFriendPoems

Ideas and Organization

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I have so many ideas for fiction that one of the things that I’ve decided to do this year is to keep a catalogue or spreadsheet of them. This was not originally on my list of writer’s resolutions but it has become clear to me that in order to be more productive as a fiction writer this is something that I need to do. I am not really organized unless it comes to certain things but I think that this will be helpful. I usually keep all of my ideas in a file but I haven’t updated it lately. One of the stories that I wanted to tell was inspired by The History of Mary Prince, West Indian Slave. It was not sparked by the brutality or the knowledge garnered by a slave narrative based in the Caribbean but by the idea of three sisters being separated and sold to different masters. In Mary Prince’s case, she ended up leaving her homeland but that was similar, in many ways, to the slaves who were sold “down the river” or separated by many states and the institution of enslavement.

So the story, although inspired by many real- life incidents, would have been fictional I was really drawn to the idea. But like many of my ideas, it has been relegated to a few bits of dialogue, some research on a yellow notepad and some scribbled or typed notes. I considered turning this idea into creative nonfiction but really I can imagine it turning into something like the Cane River series by Lalita Tademy with a bit of Susan Straight’s A Million Nightingales which are all really amazing books. Lofty expectations, I know.  I have a list of other projects ahead of this one but as I said yesterday, I am struggling with a lot of my storylines and plots so a departure from what I normally write would be a huge help. I’ve also been researching The Harlem Renaissance in order to include an element in what was my NaNoWriMo story which also sparked the idea of writing a short story about The Dark Tower, the artist’s salon where many members of The Harlem Renaissance gathered in from 1928-1929. It was housed in the Harlem townhouse of A’lelia Walker, from and she entertained numerous poets, writers, artists, and people from various walks of life. See, too many ideas to keep straight.

Since one of my goals for this year is to submit some of my academic writing; I could also use the catalogue system to keep track as I revise and submit those pieces. Have any of you used something to keep track of your writing ideas? Did it work? Was it helpful?

Writing Problems

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Here we are 15 days into the new year and I am failing miserably at the one goal that I usually consistently stay on top of. My blogging has suffered because of some crippling writer’s block, laziness and the desire to read. This is something that I’m not used to simply because I always have something to blog about. I always have something to share, some new poem or rant. Now, I ‘ve drawn a blank. No, I’ve drawn several. The reading part is not problematic except for the fact that the spring semester just began and I will now have to turn my attention to reading student’s writing. The laziness however coupled with writer’s block is a bummer.

Unfortunately, I have no quick fixes for either of them. In fact, I think that they’re closely intertwined. I have writer’s block so I am comfortable being lazy about creating new pieces. I also have a problem with the fiction that has been living in my head. I feel that the story lines all contain certain elements. All of them! I’m not sure if this is real or if it’s something that I made up in the middle of a breakdown.

So this weekend I will be reading but I also plan to write some fiction. I may start something fresh or it may be a new take on something old. I don’t know yet. I just know that I have to create something and post.

Josephine Baker Find Herself-Patience Agbabi

I was looking at this picture of the inimitable Josephine Baker and was pondering the path that she set for other female entertainers with her audacity. I have admired her for a long time, long before the movie about her life. When I was a teenager, my friends and I were known as The Rainbow Tribe which is what she called her children.  My first thought was to write a poem inspired by this picture but then I found Patience Agbabi’s poem and had to share it. I hope that you enjoy it!

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She picked me up
like a slow-burning fuse. I was down
that girls’ club used to run in Brixton,
on acid for fuel. Lipstick lesbians,
techno so hardcore it’s spewing out Audis.
She samples my heartbeat and mixes it with
vodka on the rocks. I’m her light-skinned, negative,
twenty-something, short black wavy-bobbed diva.
She purrs La Garçonne, fancy a drink? I say
Yes. She’s crossing the Star Bar like it’s a catwalk. So sleek!
A string of pearls, her flapper dress
studded with low-cut diamonds
through my skin, straight to my heart.
Twenties chic! She works
me up and down. I worship
the way she looks.

The way she looks
me up and down. I worship
twenties chic. She works
through my skin, straight to my heart
studded with low-cut diamonds.
A string of pearls her flapper dress.
Yes! She’s crossing the Star Bar like it’s a catwalk so sleek
she purrs, la garçonne! Fancy a drink? I say.
Twenty-something, short, Black, wavy-bobbed diva:
Vodka on the rocks, I’m her light-skinned negative.
She samples my heartbeat and mixes it with
techno so hardcore it’s spewing out Audis
on acid for fuel. Lipstick Lesbians,
that girls’ club used to run in Brixton
like a slow-burning fuse. I was down.
She picked me up.

2016 Writing Resolutions

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Okay, so here we are at the start of a new year and as promised I’m sharing my writing resolutions for 2016. Since these are my writing resolutions for 2016 I try not to make them too ridiculous in the hopes that I actually accomplish them. Do any of you have resolutions for the new year?

1.)Invest in myself, continue to build platform– I’ve joined a few organizations and an online group where I pick up lots of inspiration and tips. I am working on developing as a writer and a blogger. I’ve also met some amazing self published authors who have inspired me to put my writing plans into action.

2.) Writing Camp– it has been one of my goals for a few years to start a writing camp during the summer. I’m hoping that this is the year that I can finally make it happen.

3.) Submit! Submit! Submit!– this is one of my resolutions every year and every year I feel as if I fall short. I need to polish some of my academic writing as well as my creative writing and submit more pieces during the year. I want to submit a minimum of six pieces in order to consider this goal accomplished.

4.) Blog weekly– I put this on my list every year to keep me committed to the blog. I am always thinking of posts and trying to keep them interesting and I hope that this year brings more of that.

5.) Have National Poetry Month events– I’ve already planned some activities and am working on at least two more in my community.

6.) Attend literary events (conferences, signings, festivals)– this is one of the hardest things to complete for me. I am committed to attending at least four festivals, conferences or other literary events this year. I always seem to miss out on the ones that I really want to attend but this year I am committed to attending some smaller events as well as some major ones.

7.) Work on Tasting Salt– this is the thesis project from my MFA. It’s the project that I wrote about late last year. It was originally a novella but I may make it novel length. This year I want to reread it, polish it and perhaps self publish it.

8.) Publish– this is tricky because I’ve always wanted to be traditionally published but as I mentioned earlier, I absolutely have been inspired by some self published authors and this is something that I plan to accomplish in 2016.

9.) Grow the blog!– I love this blog and want to see it grow in popularity and content so I will be refocusing and doing some updating. I found some wonderful resources that help bloggers and I will be sharing them in a later post.

10.) Write– I often get caught up in everything else in my life so I need to focus on making sure that I am devoting time to writing. I want to establish a writing routine instead of haphazardly writing when the mood, dialogue or a bit of scene hits. I hope that setting a routine will help me become more productive and focused.