Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Write Fiction with Symbolism

Want to write with Symbol?  Do you want the objects in your fiction to carry special meaning above-and-beyond the call of existence?  Then take a look at Writing the Symbol Sketch on the IFP Blog.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Specificity of Detail Will Enhance Tone and Interest

In writing, we want our details to be as specific as possible without pulling us out of the narrative.  We need to provide our readers with the sights and sounds of a place without overwhelming them with superfluous details which distract from the true beat of the story...

Hiring and Interviewing Candidates for 1-2-Writing Associates

Yes, we're expanding. And in keeping with the idea of building an open-source writing website, below I've included my 1-2-Writing Interviewer's Guide. Although I am only hiring in the Baltimore Area, my hope is to gradually expand the website geographically, too. If you are running a small business of your own - or if you're simply interested in my approach to business - please read on.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Writing the Narrative Poem

Yes, narrative is not limited to fiction - it can also be a real feature of poetry, particularly when you want to tell an event with more poetic import than is possible with a traditional short story.  To learn more, read "What is a Narrative Poem?"

Manage the Shifting Tone in Your Writing

In fiction and poetry, we often discuss this idea of "shifting tone," sometimes as if it's some kind of leprous creature to be avoided at all costs.  "The tone shifts here - it really bothered me" is a common refrain in workshops.  But this isn't to say the tone of your story should remain constant throughout - quite the contrary...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Write Your Sonnet with Rhythm and Meter

Want to impress your lover?  Looking to use one of the most time-honored poetic forms?  Need a challenge for arranging words with rhyme and meter?  Then visit these two new posts on the Introduction to Fiction and Poetry Blog:

"Sonnets: Poems of Love and Ideas"
"Writing Sonnets with Rhythm, Meter, and Proper Form" (Exercises)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Free Writing Blog Subdomains

Are you a beginning writer?  Would you like a domain name that has something cool (like your name?) and something about writing?  Read on to find out about setting up a blog at ""

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Escape from the "Ethnic" Story

In class, it came up that one of my classmates doesn't feel that her stories are necessarily ethnic, but she doesn't like the fact that readers assume her characters are white simply because they aren't explicitly Asian.  And for many American writers who do write about their ancestors, there's an assumption that every story they write is meant to convey the perspectives of an entire people (see "Foreign Correspondence" in Mark Athitakis' American Fiction Notes).

Writing Workshop Feedback - Positive, Negative, and Progressive

My classmates and I have some interesting debates about how to run a creative writing workshop, particularly when it comes to giving feedback.  To a large degree, I differ from many of my MFA classmates not only in the way I view workshop feedback, but also in the role of the workshop in the writer's (i.e. the student's) writing career...

Online Resource: Creative Writing Prompts Website

Creative Writing Prompts (.com) - it's a neat site.  If you're short on inspiration, go here and just role your mouse over the numbers.  Each number has a new and intriguing prompt - 346 in total.  And you can order your very own journaling kit via the links to the left.

Publish Your Romance Novel with Harlequin

Do you stop by the Romance Section with each visit to the bookstore?  Do you find yourself writing surreptitious stories about loves lost and found?  Are you working on a novel?  Then you may want to publish a Harlequin Romance...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SciFi Book Pick: Armor by John Steakley

John Steakley's Armor takes the brooding male of literature, drops him on a planet filled with dust and wind and insects that give Starship Troopers a run for its money, and provides us a moving story of a man who must face loss, a disbelieving military, and his own deepest fears.

Book Pick: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

The book I Am Legend, in many ways, is more chilling than the movie. And the ending is very different - in the book, you'll learn the true source of the title.  As the back cover says, "The Last Man On Earth Is Not Alone..."

Revise by Reading Your Stories and Poems Aloud

We've all heard them - writers who get up on stage and trip over their own sentences, these long and precious lines which they've lovingly composed.  And it isn't a lack of preparation or a lack of love - it's because the sentences were written for writing rather than speaking.

Editing the MFA Thesis

Yesterday I finished editing my MFA Thesis, and it was somewhat brutal.  Don't get me wrong, I love writing - but when you have to line edit forty pages of your own work in three hours, it gets rough.  And that's after thirty pages of heavy revising the day before and another twelve pages of line-edits that morning.

Monday, March 22, 2010

For Writing Style, Read Strunk and White

Ready to be a serious writer?  Then it's time to master your style - and I don't just mean your style, the one you will use to distinguish yourself from other writers.  I mean the style that reveals your professional mastery of the writing craft.  The style that publishers will read and judge from the first page of your manuscript.  It's time to break out Style 101 with Strunk and White.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Harvard Lampoon Parodies Twilight

The Harvard Lampoon has taken aim at Twilight, and the result is pretty funny.  I just found Nightlight at Barnes and Noble last night, and the first few pages were so funny I had to buy it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

March 20 Newsletter - Character, Dialogue Tags, and Contests

The latest 1-2-Writing Newsletter is now online!  You can sit it by visiting my iContact Profile.  And if you would like to receive regular updates (about two newsletters per month), then you can Subscribe to Our RSS Feed or add your e-mail over to the right.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Writing Short Story Characters with Purpose

The saga of the MFA Thesis continues with Character Development.

The next step: developing my characters to reveal genuine motivations in the tight form of the short story.  And this can be challenging.  In order to be interesting and compelling, characters in fiction must have something at stake in the outcome of the story.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Narrative Magazine Contests for Stories and Novels

Narrative Magazine Announces their Winter 2010 Story Contest with $6,500 in prizes (deadline March 31, 2010).  Also, don't miss their Narrative Library Book Award Series, a year-round contest with awards of $25,000 to successful entries.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bridport Prize in Poetry, Fiction, and Flash Fiction

The Bridport Prize is a writing competition open to all countries, and it further offers very substantial prizes of up to £5000.  This year's judges are Zoë Heller and Michael Lasky.  Deadline: June 30, 2010.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Writing for Feedburner

Aside from writing the manuscript, the hardest thing a writer ever does is build and maintain an audience.  Now, in the Digital Age, your fans can instantly download your latest wisdom automatically.  And this is a great new feature for writers - it allows us to keep our readers coming back for more.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Consolidating Blogger Posts

So I've spent what feels like a week just trying to work out a good way to keep the blog "user-friendly" and "design-friendly."  Not that the blog would ever be entirely easy (have to give some thought to the writing, after all...)

Write to the Finish with Sean Murphy and Tania Casselle

Are you writing a novel?  Would you like to?  The award-winning authors Sean Murphy ( and Tania Casselle (
& will again be hosting their "Write to the Finish" Distance Workshop starting in April. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Write Your Idea Poem

Do you find yourself struggling to convey a thought so critical - so important, in fact - that only a poem will do?  Then go to "Writing the Idea Poem" on our IFP Blog.  There you can read about techniques used by Philip Levine, Robinson Jeffers, and Carol Ann Duffy, paying particular attention to the strengths and challenges inherent in the Idea Poem form.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dialogue Tags

"You're really want to read this Amazing Post About Dialogue Tags," he said.  "It is thoroughly entertaining."

"You said the same thing about paragliding into a swamp bog," she replied.  "Why should I listen to you?"

"Because I speak so prettily," he laughed lovingly, with the tone of one walking on air.

Read more about Dialogue Tags for Squirt Guns

Dialogue Tags for Squirt Guns

It's the sharp voice at the start of the chapter.  It's the old man saying to go west, young man - west.  It's the young woman telling off that scumbag loser who wants to go on a date.  Yes: it's dialogue.

But dialogue can't stand alone.  It requires attribution, so we know who's speaking.  And this is where dialogue tags come in: the "he said/she said" of your story.  Here are some quick tips you need to follow in order to avoid voices that sharply cut with the jagged feel of rusty nails, old men who snort out directions, and young women who shriek out rebuttals...

Organizing 1-2-Writing

It's the ultimate nightmare: Organizing One's Own Website.  Yes, terrifying.  Like trying to sort piles of lizards into matching manila folders.  Only to find that the iguanas not only crawl around between the folders after you've sorted them, but that they change colors, so you have no idea how to color code them.  Yes, it's true: I lose sleep over this.

Tabs, Layouts, and Other Organizational Crud

Have I ever mentioned that I hate paperwork?  In my world, the only rightful place for paper is lounging around in piles across my desk, iguana-like.  Seriously - who needs a paperweight when you have a black hole of paper?  And yet my website is supposed to be organized and user-friendly...So I spent a couple hours last night trying to make it just that.  And it's hard.  Forget the two hours I spent trying to match my homepage color scheme to Blogger (btw: I hate the fact that it now looks better than it ever did before.  Darn you, Google, doing everything better, prettier, and easier than I can...)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Instant Freewriting Prompt

In the Member's Area today: find Immediate Inspiration through The Power of Lists.  Or, if you'd like a more in-depth discussion of getting in the Prompt-Formulation Zone, see our Writing Prompts Blog for Listing Your Way to a Good Prompt.

"Pulse" - A Poem of the Beat of the Soul

Posted today in the Member's Area and on Facebook

It's said
that the whole of a universe

It emerges,
positive and negative, energy and matter,
from this nothing
only known as...Read More in the Member's Area

Wake Your Fictional Characters!

How do you tell your characters to wake up?  When your fiction doesn't feel caffeinated enough, use this simple trick: annoy your characters until they fight back.  Go to our Member's Area to see this technique in action with Waking Up Dagny.

Welcome to 1-2-Writing!

1-2-Writing is building up to be Knowledge Central for Creative Writing Workshops.

Although much of the site is under construction, please check out the cool stuff that's already up-and-running:

1-2-Writing Home
The Creative Writing Blog
Introduction to Fiction and Poetry
Writing Prompts
Our Newsletter

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hiring the Young to Save the Old

I'm thirty years old.  It finally sunk in about a month before my birthday - I'm getting old.  Or at least I'm not getting any younger.  But the entire world around me seems to lose ten years every time I look around.  Kids half my age are getting thousands of hits on YouTube videos, artists who don't remember the fall of the Berlin Wall are old enough that we can see their work beginning to mature.  And my goal is to teach people to use a seven-thousand-year-old communication technology: writing.It's a scary world, constantly changing.  And I simply can't type creative writing articles fast enough to keep up - not if I'm going to go to school full time, build a website, and market said website to all these kids who don't need a search engine in order to find writing workshop.  So I'm taking a new route: I'm hiring students to make things happen.

I feel strange, to a degree, posting this where potential job seekers might find it.  What does this say, after all?  That I'm so desperate for help that I'll write about my struggles online?  Not exactly.  It's more of an admission of the obvious - I am only one man.  I'm a single, solitary creative writer.  And I don't have ten or twenty years to wait before I "make a name" for myself just to "break even" financially.  And it's pretty clear that "making a name" will involve some kind of semi-personal contact with thousands of people.  And by semi-personal, I mean that they'll read my blog posts, they'll watch some of the videos I plan to post, or they'll enjoy some of the feedback I've written for stories they'll submit to my workshop.  But in this world, people are overwhelmed with material to read.  Somehow, as I writer, I have to convince all they people swimming through the deluge of the internet firehouse that my little drop of water is worth a second, third, or tenth look.

Hence, the need for help.  The need for younger help, help from students who grew up with this new world we've entered.  Yes, I have a new-found appreciation for Facebook - that still doesn't make me very savvy.  I'm still struggling to erect my secondary pages.  And Twitter?  I still haven't figured out how to post a Twitter Feed on my site.  I'm sure it's easy - I just haven't made it that far.
It's not necessarily the case that a college student would understand these particular tricks - it's more that the younger minds will better know how to look.  They'll be quicker.  They might not need to wade through quite as many pages of Google Search Results before finding the answer to the question.
And how do I know this will work?  Simple - it's from the way I've seen myself grow older even before I aged.  Even in college, I was ignoring the internet explosion.  Wikipedia didn't quite exist, and neither did Facebook.  Cell phones, to me, were fad, the kind of thing you carried around if you were incompetent enough to let your car break down.  Never mind that my only phone, now, is a cell phone - and I won't mention the time I hit a deer at two a.m. on an empty stretch of road.  I took on the trappings of technology with the grudging air of "I still know how to do this the old fashioned way."  Handwriting a paper, researching books at the library, laying out stacks of index cards with notes - yes, I learned how to organize paperwork in the days before laptops were cheap enough to buy.

Now, not everyone my age was like this in college, but a good number were.  A good number still are.  And then I look at the grad students who are five or ten years older than me, the ones who cannot type fast enough to outrun their own handwriting.  And then there are the faculty I've met who forward e-mails to someone else to have them forwarded to the students.  But I don't mind that much - it's my classmates who constantly forget to add people to e-mail lists who worry me, the folks my age who use "reply-all" as the only means of sending out a mass e-mail.  The faculty members, at least, recognize that they don't have time to build the lists themselves.

The problem now isn't that "the younger ones don't know how to do things the way we did them."  The problem, actually, is that we're doing things now that were simply never possible back "the way we did them."  Posting a video for thousands to watch?  Back in the day, you had to be an independent filmmaker of some means to make that happen.  Either that, or you worked for a news network, and they distributed your footage for you.  Or what about Holiday Greetings for all two hundred of your friends?  Even today I have a secret dread of Christmas cards and envelopes.  I've never sent out more than twelve in a single year - I am still racked with guilt for all the New Year's Greetings I never expressed.  And now?  Switch to BCC in your Reply All, and you've sent out more sets of good wishes in three minutes than you have in the entire rest of your life.

But this brings us around to the irony of my current project.  Back in the day - I mean back before the telephone - people used to write letters.  I mean letters.  The kind of letters that said "you've been wondering for the past month whether or not I died in that flu epidemic, and now you're going to wait and hope I reply again to prove that I still haven't died in the epidemic."  We don't have those now - at least, not often.  I have a couple hundred friends on Facebook - nearly all of them people I've personally known.  Already, in this post, I've probably written more than I've written to all of them in the past month combined.  Why express the deep flames of love when you can send a Flickr at any moment?

And yet I'm here to teach writing.  My goal is to teach others to express themselves with words in a world dominated by sound and images.  My aim is to encourage thoughtful composition in the Buzzed-Up universe of Twitter.  Aren't these goals in conflict?  This idea of using the technology of now to teach a skill of "back then"?

I don't think so.  As a writer, I believe there is a special quality in writing which the internet may never supplant.  Poems and novels - these collections of carefully-assembled words - still convey a level of meaning that can't be directed into a Flash video.  It's the compression here that matters, the presentation of thoughts so refined - so basic - that words alone are enough to convey them.  And the freedom of these words is incomparable.  Through written stories, a single individual can express lifetimes of experience without the conflict of other souls struggled for control of the camera.

But it is still hard, teaching this.  Writing might be an ancient art, but it becomes a new creation with each generation.  And with the internet as it is, we may one day need to fight to reveal just how rewarding a good story can be - not some snippets of IM conversation, but a story.  And when that day comes, we'll want to have as many authors ready as we can find.

So, in the meantime, I'll hire the folks who are most ready to live in both worlds, carrying the ancient torch of writing into the new land of electronic expression: the young.

Creative Writing Blogs Rearranged

One of the toughest parts about building a website is the changing nature of the internet.  And by changing, I mean the kind of progressive churning seen only in boiling water and the subatomic fabric of spacetime.  Hence, a new domain for my creative writing blogs.

Originally, I held to a very strict ideal - I wanted all my blogs to be hosted on my own personal site,  Now, the name is long, I'll admit - it's very search-engine friendly, though.  And there's a certain permanence to paying annual rates for an internet domain which has functional site scripts and free tech support.
So when I first took on the challenge of blogging my way to fame (still waiting for fame...), I insisted that every blog live on my own site.  First, I tried WordPress, but it never worked quite right for me.  Blogger seemed just too ordinary.  I thought a Blogger blog would doom me to a lifetime of free web service, writing blogs that would languish unnoticed on a page as flimsy and ignoble as some GeoCities mock-up (do you remember GeoCities?  So 2009...literally.)

Actually, GeoCities pages were not at all ignoble - they started the internet revolution which makes my own site possible.  The idea of free, unlimited bandwidth for websites is still incredibly new.  We take it for granted now, but that's only because technology changes so quickly that we've adjusted our own sense of time to compensate.  Ten years ago, Yahoo was trying to charge money for "premium" services to allow GeoCities residents to get more than 4 GB of bandwidth.  And now?  GeoCities is gone.

Which leaves us with a host of new online resources, each one tailored to do something that GeoCities never could: provide your domain of choice.  I picked up my first real website in Afghanistan -  It was a nice site to work on, but Yahoo didn't offer much in the way of script support, so the site couldn't expand.  It had no feedback forms, no online course software, no hope of installing a blog platform or, better still, a Member's Forum (and believe me, I tried).  This led to - my specially-chosen Search Engine Optimized creative writing domain.
And then the gods truly smiled upon the project: I discovered FTP publishing on Blogger.  Not only could I type my blogs in this easy, (relatively) hassle-free format, but I could post them on my own domain, reaping the benefits of SEO.

Little did I know how little I knew.  It turns out that blogging with Blogger means you don't have to really worry about SEO - your blog posts go straight to Google anyway, which gives you immediate search ranking.  It might not be great search ranking, but it is immediate.  Second, SEO can't save you unless other sites link to your own.  And this is tricky.  If you want a high ranking in the search engines, you need a good page rank.  And to get that, you need to convince the sites with a real page rank to recognize your piddly start-up.  And if your site isn't big enough for recognition, then your page rank won't go up much, and the vicious cycle of diminishing returns begins to gnaw on your soul.

Blogger, to a certain degree, offers a touch of security when your site is caught in the limbo between "established but not yet established."  It ensures Google recognition, which is something you can't get from WordPress alone.  And I've noticed that my Blogger blogs really do appear in search engines - they usually outperform my static pages (except for my index page - which is of course linked to all my Blogger posts).

Which means that my loyalty to Blogger - and search engine recognition - now trumps my own brand-name loyalty.  I've sold out my SEO-friendly domain in favor of something memorable and Blogger-based:

Is it the right approach?  I don't know yet.  I'm still working on so many aspects of the site that it's impossible to tell what will finally take off.  But this much I do know - the standard assumptions are always changing.  SEO, two years ago, was all the rage.  And it's still important, yes, but are keywords enough to overcome Twitter and Facebook?  What good is a wonderful video if it's not linked to YouTube?

That's right - everything changed again.  All those "dumb little services" I ignored have now become the social centers of the internet world.  Through Facebook, I've rediscovered friends I haven't seen in years.  With YouTube, I'm learning so much more about the internet than I could from just reading and guessing.  It isn't so much that the internet is changing, or even just that it's becoming more complicated - it's become better.  It's growing more sophisticated.  It really is crawling its way into our lives at every level.  And if not for this shameless desire to promote myself, I would have never realized.  I would have been left in the dust of my own "that's just a gimmick" attitude.
Oh well - I'm learning.  And so, with my prior thoughts of Technological Dominion of the Literary World stalled by my own lack of internet savvy, I depart from this post a humbled and recalcitrant man...


March 7, 2010 - Expanding the Site and the Member's Area

It's been too long in coming, but the latest Newsletter is finally here!  Read about the new look of the site, the Introduction to Fiction and Poetry Blog, and our Expanding Member's Area.  And, of course, we have new articles on Setting, Voice, and the Narrative Poem.  Click to Read More...

Happy Writing!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

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Listing Your Way to a Good Writing Prompt

Writing Prompt: Lists (20 minutes)

This exercise provides a way to find out what it is you really need to write about, the subjects and themes that are so important to you that you'd don't even realize their effect on your life.  This exercise is particularly useful for writing memoir, and it can also be adapted for poetry...

Step 1 - Choose Your Subject

To start, first choose a place, a subject, or an event.  Generally, you want to find something which you are intimately familiar with - your childhood bedroom, for example, or a memorable trip you've taken.  I recommend taking the first such idea that comes to mind, regardless of how emotional or dull it might seem - you'll find there's probably a reason it's the first thing you thought of.

Step 2 - Write Your List

Next, begin writing a list of nouns associate with this place, subject, or event.  Write continuously - don't pause to think about the nouns, just write them one-after-the-other.  You might end up repeating words, and that's perfectly all right - the goal is to keep the pen to the page.  For example, I might write about the inside of my refrigerator (it just came to mind):

soy milk
orange juice
sweet potatoes
pancake mix

It seems like a simple list, possibly a little too revealing (Mold shows up three times?  Why am I so obsessed with mold?  I don't see it in my fridge that often...)  Yet this list carries interesting meanings for me.  Normally, I don't have ketchup - I never buy ketchup.  But I have some that a friend gave me when he moved to another city, and my girlfriend loves ketchup.  I could write a story about how she also likes Thai fish sauce, and now I have a bottle of the stuff in my apartment.  Then we have the sweet potatoes, my favorite food.  It's sad when I have to throw them out because of mold.  Especially since I have to cook for myself to save money.  And saving money is part of my larger plan to become a writer - which would take me to larger topics like how I relate with my family, how I chose my apartment, and other areas of my life I wouldn't post online.  Then we come to the ham, eggs, and pancake mix.  No, there's no pancake mix in my fridge - and no eggs, either.  But breakfast is my favorite meal (particularly pancakes), and my mom simply refuses too cook messy food on the stove in the morning.  So no pancakes, and I spent much of my childhood eating eggs from the microwave - again, this leads to interesting ideas for further writing.

Step 3 - Write Like the Wind

The key to the exercise is to write quickly.  Jot down as many nouns as possible over the course of five minutes or so.  And then, once you have a good list (twenty nouns, more or less - sometimes I go with ten, other times I don't hear the muse until I hit fifty), set a timer for ten minutes.  You can go longer, if you like, but use the timer - it pushes you to write faster.

Now the fun part - writing the thoughts that come from your list.  Timer set, write what you're thinking.  Write whatever comes to mind.  Go as fast as you can, never raising the pen from the page (or never pausing your typing).  Don't worry about typos or grammar - these things can be fixed later.  The goal is just to get the thoughts out on the page, wherever they take you.  It may feel chaotic at first, but you'll find that a hidden order emerges as you write.

Step 4 - Repeat

The beauty of this exercise is that you can do it anywhere, anytime, without a specific prompt to start with.  Even if you're just waiting in line with a couple minutes, you can jot down the first five words that come to mind and then scribble away from association.  And a nice variation would be to rearrange the words into a poem.  Or, if you're primary aim is poetry, then simply write out lists of rhyming words - you'll be amazed by the associations you find.

Happy Writing!


Friday, March 5, 2010

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