Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Hallow's Eve (AKA Reformation Day!)

Well, it's Oct. 31, and time for a little pumpkin fun. If I get inspired, maybe a Reformation poem will come later.


Pumpkins, pumpkins, burning bright,
on front porches in the night.

Jagged teeth and gleaming eyes
are your Halloween disguise.

Light the way for little feet,
searching for a trick--or treat!

Pumpkin, pumpkin, burning bright
scare away my Halloween fright!

Julie Stiegemeyer ©All Rights Reserved

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Women's Leadership Institute - Next March

A quick note today. A few months ago I was asked to teach writing at the Women's Leadership Institute at Concordia University, in Mequon, Wisconsin. Two workshops are available: one for speakers and one for writers. The dates for the writers' workshop will be March 12-14 in the Milwaukee area.

I'm planning on using the resource Telling Writing by Ken Macrorie--an excellent book on writing in general. We'll not only be discussing general writing tips and strategies, but also writing for the church. There will be lots of time for critique, networking, and best of all--inspiration! I'm thrilled to lead the workshop, and I hope you'll consider joining me!

Go here for lots of good info. And here for the link to the registration form.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

When a bunny reader just won't do

On Monday night, I met with my writing critique group, and I was reflecting earlier today about all of the benefits of support and insight that a critique group can give to a writer. Not all writers work within a group. They find the input perhaps distracting or unnecessary. However, I feel differently.

What's so great about a critique group? When I first started writing toward publication, I met with a fantastic writing group in Pittsburgh every Monday evening. I still can't believe I managed to get there almost every week. Most weeks I brought something new for critique. Not only did I gain practical insight into my own work, learning how to strengthen and improve it. I also gained editing skills: how to quickly take in a piece of writing, and then with kindness but objectivity give specific ideas for revision.

More recently, I have less time to meet with other writers, but when I do I always feel the benefits. On Monday, I took three short poems for critique. The first two focused on nonfiction topics--one about a moth, and the other about a kind of fish. The other writers probed deeper--what does the fish eat? what is the genus of the moth? Clearly, I needed to do more research, and they called me on it in a kind way.

The last poem was a bit of a mess because it was still in its early stages. I always ask for someone else to read my work because I have the cadence in my mind, but don't know how it translates to another reader. This one totally flopped. What I heard in my mind was not at all what was on the page. So back to the drawing board I went with this poem.

Here's why I love a good critique: I may have an idea about what's missing, what needs more work, or a general sense of something not quite right. But usually someone else is able to pinpoint and verbalize what that is. I am too close to my own work to always be able to identify what's wrong. An objective reader can help.

So thank you to all of my fellow writers I've met with over the years. Your insights and kindness have sustained me and helped my writing to grow and improve!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tools for writing poetry

At my poetry workshop last week, some of the other poets and I were describing our favorite rhyming dictionaries, and it got me to thinking about the poet's toolbox. What helps are most useful to poets? Here are some of my favorite things to use as I write:

1. Rhyming dictionaries - Tons of these exist, but my personal favorite is my pocket-sized Random House dictionary. It's light and portable and gives me lots of options. It's also easy to find phonemes in the book. I bought another one, The Complete Rhyming Dictionary when I thought I'd lost my little one. It's edited by Clement Wood, which is pretty cool, but it's so big and bulky (for a paperback) that I tend not to carry it around much.

2. Speaking of not having to carry extra stuff around, there are, of course, some online options. I have an app called RhymeFree with an orange on the app image--I assume because it's so difficult to rhyme anything with "orange." It's so-so, only giving a handful of words I could already come up with myself.  Of course, if I'm working on my laptop, I use Rhymezone, a decent online dictionary.

3. What I find almost more useful than rhyming dictionaries is a good thesaurus. What I love about this particular one (Roget's 21st Century) is that most entries are linked to a category word in the back, which gives many more synonym options. For example, today I was looking for a synonym for "dash," or "dart," the verb. This thesaurus then pointed me to a category of words in the index for quick movement of a body. So I got lots of other options: bolt, bounce, bustle, flash, hurtle, hustle, and so on.

4. And in a discussion of the poet's toolbox, I should mention walking. "What?" you say, "How is that a tool?" Well--as I was puzzling out a poem this evening, I felt kind of stuck. I forced myself to get out of the house and take a brisk walk. The beat of walking freed my imagination, and I was able to compose the entire poem during my walk.

Update on writing the morning pages: it's really an interesting experience. Julia Cameron said it best when she intimated that writers can get too wrapped up in their own language to successfully write the morning pages. I want what I put--even in my journal that no one else sees--to be perfect, to somehow be great art, to secretly be composing the great American novel even as I write what seems to be innocuous stuff. But what is freeing about the morning pages is that I can get out all the negative, terrible, no good writing, staple it and stick it away in an envelope. The rest of the day, then, is freed to compose something better. I'm still a work in progress, because I only managed 4 out of the last 6 mornings, and mornings and I do not always get along very well. But I can feel the practice making a difference, however slight. I'm sticking with it.

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

So I'm attending a webinar about the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I've loved many of her books, including The Right to Write, The Sound of Paper, and others. This one is her quintessential book on unleashing creativity.

I'm starting again with her two basic strategies:

1. Morning Pages: This is an exercise to put down in longhand three full pages of written text first thing in the morning. After my first webinar, I realize that I've done this wrong for years. I've used my journal to write my pages. But the better strategy is to write on legal paper or some such, fill the pages, and then tuck them away somewhere. After 7-8 months, I could go back and look at them, but not sooner. It gets the "censor" or the "editor" off your shoulder and you can create freely.

2. Artist's Dates: These are weekly, solo activities. A walk in the woods. A trip to a museum. I have in mind a couple of forest preserves that are not too far away that I have been meaning to check out.

I'm also keeping this important principle in mind:

"Difficult as it is to remember, it is our work that creates the market, not the market that creates our work."

So true!

Saturday, October 05, 2013


Had such a wonderful time in The Barn at the poetry conference this past week. If you haven't already been to a Highlights Foundation workshop, it really is worth the effort. Go here to learn more. Feeling thankful to David Harrison for his wonderful instruction, insight, and inspiration. Thank you, David!

For my new poetry buddies

Around the Fire in Honesdale

Marshmallows a-roasting
our cold bums a-toasting,
            The fireplace lit up the night.
Our drums a-thrumming
The tunes a-humming,
            Our rhythm lit up the night.
The ganstas a-snapping
with David a-rapping,
            Our poetry lit up the night.
The coals a-glowing
and poems a-flowing,
            our fun times lit up the night. 

Friday, October 04, 2013

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Returned home last evening from a conference in the beautifully fall-colored hills of eastern Pennsylvania. It was Poetry for the Delight of It, taught by David Harrison, with additional speakers, including J. Patrick Lewis.

Loved getting acquainted with a bunch of great poets, teachers, writers, and all around nice people. Here's the link to one blog and Linda Baie's fun poem describing our great week:

I'm determined to be more diligent with keeping up my blog posts. I'll add random thoughts, poems, info about literacy and children, and the like.

Here are my meandering thoughts from last night's plane ride:

At the Newark airport, in one of the so-called unfriendliest cities in America, I found a kind woman with a calming voice who assured me all was well. I had been sitting with my travel companions at the wrong gate, oblivious to the fact that there were TWO Chicago flights leaving at almost the same exact time, with the same exact airline, and only a two digit difference in flight numbers. When we tried to board the wrong plane to the right city, the agent told us we should be at gate 101, not 113. We rushed away, embarrassed and flustered. When we arrived at the correct gate, the agent calmed us down and eased us onto the plane--the last passengers. She was friendly and helpful.

Not so in Chicago--the "big city with the midwestern heart," where a week earlier I had missed a train. I had "sprinted" (which basically means jogging to everyone else, according to my son who almost daily reminds me how unathletic I am) to the train after a conference session had been cancelled. I hurried into the station, up the escalator, through the revolving door.

My train! I could see it! The conductor stood in the doorway, looking for stragglers--me. My feet pounded the pavement. I neared the last car of the train and as I got closer, the doors whooshed shut. I reached the door and banged on it, made eye contact with the conductor. Just a shake of his head told me all I needed to know: I was 5 seconds too late.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Return to blogging!

Well, after a looonnggg hiatus, I'm back to my blog--which means I'm also re-inspired to fit more writing time into my life. We creative types have to learn to carve out time for the creative process, something I have neglected for awhile. It's difficult to do all of the tasks of writing: publicity, marketing, promotion, networking, conferencing, and much more--all in addition to the actual time-consuming (but fabulous) task of writing and revising itself. Suffice it to say, I'm ready to get back at it.

I'm right now at a writing conference at the Highlights Foundation near Honesdale, Pennsylvania, a lovely setting to write. The fall colors are almost at their peak here. The red-leafed sumac, crawling up the trunk of the maples. The insects buzzing in the golden grass. Clouds drifting lazily in the brilliant blue sky.

For now, I'm pondering a poetry writing challenge of the Word of the Month: May and the theme of the month: comfort food, inspired by David Harrison. Check him out here: