By Ashley Fields
At the start of spring semester 2017 every time I picked up my notebook and pen, or opened my laptop to continue a piece, my hands froze over the same scene:
“The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the man from the night before.”
I couldn’t seem to write past that line. I had a goal in mind; my character would wake up the morning after a one-night-stand and have that awkward moment with her future romantic interest. But I couldn’t seem to manage to write beyond that first sentence. After weeks of pushing the story to the side, I turned to my other pieces only to realize I had the same problem. That’s when I knew that I had writer’s block.
Writer’s Block is one of the most frightening things I have ever gone through, because I felt like I was failing as a writer, the one thing I want to do with my future. However, I wasn’t a quitter. I started researching strategies to get back to my writing. I tried many tactics, but the following eight are what I found the most helpful.
Follow A Prompt: Sometimes following a different prompt can be great practice, or it push your work in a different direction and perhaps change your story for the better. Some helpful books I’ve purchased to play with prompts are “The Writers Block: 786 Ideas To Jump-start Your Imagination” by Jason Rekulak, and “Complete the Story” by Piccadilly.
Through my research, I’ve slowly learned that Writer’s Block is just an illusion. It’s a wall writer’s create subconsciously, due to many reasons-Fear, Perfectionism, and Timing. A writer might have hesitations and doubts in their work, feel like their work is not good enough, or might not have time to write at all.
It’s natural to feel stuck or hesitate in the writing process, but it’s something you must push aside in order to produce good work. We should have faith and trust in our writing abilities and we must make time for it, because we love it.
By: Madeline Bodendorf
My first workshop was held on the last day of finals of the first semester of my freshman year. A mouthful, I know, but the point here is that I had literally the entirety of a semester to prepare for my first creative writing workshop. I should have been emotionally ready by then, right?
Cue the workshop anxiety.
By some miracle, I was chosen to workshop last.
I got to see my classmates get workshopped before me – some being poetry majors and having to muster up an entire short story. At least I had an advantage in that. However, one girl did already have a book published…
. I had always written fantastical stories and here I was in a workshop full of contemporary, non-genre writers, and I felt like an outsider. I was sweating.
Twelve voices spoke about my work for an entire hour, and I remained silent taking notes about what they had to say. I noted the people I knew were just mean, and put hearts next to the comments that made me feel good. I stressed over nothing. I was unsure of my work before workshop, but I left knowing it had potential. The same people who said they loved the entire piece also gave me constructive criticism to make the story better – not make me want to never look at it again. No one laughed at me or told me my writing was bad. If anything, they wanted to read more. Now, I’m reworking that first short story as part of my senior project.
I wondered if my peers also had similar fits of anxiety prior to their first workshop. I spoke with my only creative writing friend at the time, a poet, who said her first workshop in narrative techniques gave her such bad anxiety that she wanted to leave the hot room on the third floor of the crumbling natural sciences building to puke in the bathroom. She made it through, though, and used that piece as a submission to a lit mag.
One of my classmates didn’t even show up for her critique, and we as a class did not talk about her story. It was forgotten. Whether it was anxiety that kept her from attending her workshop or not I am unsure, but she missed out on the best opportunity to get feedback on her work from a class of her peers.
One of my other friends switched her major to creative writing in the middle of her college career. She was absolutely terrified to workshop with writers who have been through the ringer more than once. But as someone who didn’t consider herself a writer prior to joining the major, she came to see her own potential through the workshop. “It gets easier with each one,” she said.
Someone in Fiction II workshop wrote bravely about rough sex and bondage and went in to critique holding her head high. She was proud of her work and eager to hear what her classmates and professor thought about it. Not all of us can have this same confidence, but remember that this is normal. Everyone in creative writing writes to be critiqued – that’s just what the program is about.
The workshop works best when the author is silent and listens to every suggestion for their piece with attentiveness. Many creative writers do not even get to workshop until the graduate level. This is an amazing opportunity for us as undergrad writers to hear what our peers have to say and be noticed for our work.
If you’re going to put your work in the world, people are going to judge it. The workshop model may not be best for everyone emotionally, as they are faced with multiple people telling them what is bad about their writing. I cannot be an advocate for this model working one hundred percent of the time, but I can say that the workshop is the model widely used in creative writing programs. You will experience harsh judgment, but it will be in a safe space.
By: Finola Mc Donald
(An except of an interview with Alumna, Joanna Valente, in our upcoming 2017 issue)
FM: What moves you to create?
JV: The need to be seen, to change the status quo, to change how women and queer people are viewed. For me, being an artist of any kind means you see what others don’t. Being an artist is intensely political to me, and while I don’t necessarily think all artists have to be, I also can’t imagine not being political, not fighting for equality or the betterment of people. I want us to live in a kinder, better world, and that is what writing is for me, to highlight experiences that aren’t seen as “norm” and to normalize them. To highlight the nuances of human interaction, because we live in more grays and shades than extremes.
FM: How and when did you first get into writing?
JV: I was 11 and I had just gotten my period and started listening to music like The Cure and Tori Amos and began reading Emily Dickinson, and I think the combination of all those things led me to it. That being said, I was also intensely shy and introspective and was deeply into visual art (often I could be found painting or drawing), so in some way, it was just another outlet for me to express something, myself.
Rebellion is also a big part of art for me. And I think my English teacher at the time would always give me 89% on essays and I wanted so bad to get a 90, so in some strange way, I think that really prompted me to excel at writing because I knew I could, I knew that I was capable. The same running theme of rebellion has always been the case for me. As I got older, being a femme was something that was a barrier, being assaulted, being silenced. And I’ve rebelled against that.
Even in my MFA program, my writing was often seen as “women’s work”, as if writing about womanhood or queerness was seen as something other that men didn’t have to be interested in. Being non-binary, of course, is doubly erased by people, so right now I’m trying to write to that experience. Perhaps it’s half-rebellion and half just me trying to understand myself better, but finding your real identity is a rebellion in itself.
By Zarira Love
Combining the drama and camp of soap operas with the physicality, athleticism, and violence of combat sports has proven to be a winning formula for the world’s largest and highest grossing wrestling promotion, World Wrestling Entertainment which classifies itself as “sports entertainment.” Here, a team of creative writers—and CEO Vince McMahon—formulate storylines which are translated to “the thousands in attendance and the millions sitting at home” through lengthy promos and backstage interviews and confrontations which culminate in (usually a series of) matches. Most wrestling feuds, in and outside of WWE, are between heels (bad girls/guys) and faces (good girls/guys). If all goes well, the heel gets their comeuppance, or when things go awry (or creative wants to draw heat for the heel) the heel stands tall over the face. Ambulance flipping, illegitimate children, and burning the remains of an evil witch have been part of recent WWE storylines.
New Japan Pro Wrestling classifies itself as the “king of sports,” focusing on in-ring action and long-term booking (a wrestler’s matchups, win, and losses), to tell the story behind the match. Based in Japan, most of the promos and interviews are given in Japanese, making this mode of storytelling vital for wrestlers to convey motives and personalities of their characters. Tetsuya Naito has become New Japan’s most popular talent through his “Tranquilo” character, cultivated while he was in the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre promotion in Mexico where he joined the heel stable Los Igobernables de Japon in 2015. While Naito’s promos and interviews are given in Japanese, his behavior (which includes hocking loogies at opponents and the crowd, his Tranquilo pose, and destroying the IWGP Intercontinental Championship), allows him to convey his ungovernable personality. And while seemingly reactionary, there is a story behind Naito’s current character.
After winning the 2013 G1 Climax tournament, Naito, then a face, was slated to main event Wrestle Kingdom 8 in a match against Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. However, a fan poll placed the IWGP Intercontinental Championship match in the main event (which may also explain why he destroyed this belt after winning it in 2016). A year after losing to Okada in the second to last match at Wrestle Kingdom 8, Naito debuted his “Tranquilo” character whose blatant disregard for authority, his opponents, and fans has given him anti-hero status. With newfound popularity, Naito advanced to the finals of the 2016 G1 Climax tournament, yet lost to Kenny Omega, who became the first gaijin (foreign) wrestler to win the tournament, but ultimately came up short to reigning champion Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11. Naito and Omega crossed paths again in the final of this year’s G1, where Naito was victorious. Before the match began, Omega did his signature finger gun pose in the middle of the ring, representative of the stable he leads, the Bullet Club. True to character, Naito leaned into the gun, showing he was unintimidated and would stop at nothing to secure the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12.
Regardless of promotion, wrestlers tell stories in-ring through wrestling maneuvers, taunts, and trickery among other actions, all in the pursuit of overwhelming and defeating opponents. Whether the drama surrounding the match, or the physical and mental rollercoaster of competition is emphasized, the central story is always the desire to win. Much like in literature, our satisfaction with the end of the story depends on how we get there.
By Rosa Sugarman
When authors come to SUNY Purchase for a reading, one questions always seems to reappear during the Q&A: What advice would you give to young writers? The answer is always different and often contradictory to other writers’ advice. Some say to treat it like a 9-5; work tirelessly to perfect your craft. Some say don’t study it at all, let it be your private joy and keep capitalism out of your artistic pursuits. While it’s difficult to reconcile this mishmash of artistic practices, there is a way to allow your inner artist space to breath while putting in the hours necessary to honing your craft. You need a second art.
I practice two other arts: painting and drumming. I’m no Louise Bourgeois and no Tobi Vail, but I feel no pressure to perfect my secondary artistic pursuits. These arts are strictly for me. When I feel due dates and criticism discouraging my natural urge to write, it can be humbling to return to an untarnished medium to remember why exactly I make any art at all. Then, I can take that same energy over to the page and finish a piece I’m proud of before the deadline.
A second art form should always be low pressure. Novelist Susan Minot told Donald Friedman (creator of book and art exhibition The Writer’s Brush) “Sometimes when I’m feeling a little burnt out with writing, [painting is] a pleasure…It’s never something I feel, ‘Oh, I better go do that,’ which is what writing sometimes has become, because it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.” For Minot (along with the 90 other career writers whose paintings are shown in The Writer’s brush) painting remained a pastime long after she started selling books. One can imagine having too many projects going at once would cause an artistic stalemate, but if treated with levity, juggling projects can bring pleasure back art.
There’s also something to be said about getting into a creative state of mind and staying there. When writing is associated with school or work, it can be tempting to completely shut down after class. Rather than binging netflix or scrolling endlessly through instagram, take out the watercolor set. The same meditative state of mind one gets from consuming media can become productive if it’s channeled towards creation. If the artistic mind is a muscle, there’s no shame in finding low pressure ways to strengthen it.
A writer can also learn about writing from working in other forms. For me, it’s a matter of seeing the same principles passing over. For example, it’s a good idea to sketch an outline before you begin painting. It’s also alright to not stick with it if your vision evolves, simply erase and redraw. An outline for a story can benefit from a similar treatment. In drumming, the pace will stay the same throughout a song except perhaps in key moments. The pacing in a story should follow the same principle.
The best part of adopting an art form you’re not committed to is if you don’t like what you’re doing, or feel you’ll never improve, it doesn’t matter.You can keep a stack of ugly paintings under your bed and never show anyone. You could disassemble your drum kit and sell it on craigslist. Or, you could show off what you’ve done and push criticisms aside with “this is just something I do for fun.” It doesn’t matter. It’s all yours.
By Toni Chianese
I work at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women as a writing tutor. Since coming to college and reading In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Abbott, a repertoire of prison literature, I have wanted to work in a prison environment. While it took some research and persistence on my part to locate an opportunity, not to mention an application process, a TB test, and background check, when I finally started my volunteer position at Bedford, I quickly discovered that it was exactly what I wanted to do.
The women are getting their bachelors degrees in sociology (the only major offered). It takes a great deal of time to get this far. They must already have had their high school diplomas when they were booked, or obtain their GED while in prison. After this, if they stay on good behavior for at least a year, they can apply for the college program. Once enrolled in the program, it typically takes inmates between 10 – 12 years to earn their bachelor’s degree.
I am a teacher’s assistant to Ragnhild Utheim, an anthropology professor here at Purchase. I also work with students one-on-one during my office hours, as well as collectively in class, discussing issues like human rights. Hearing them discuss human rights has grown my understanding. Before teaching in the prison, I thought about human rights as positive entitlements. Now, hearing these women talk, I see human rights as tokens that can be used against you. People in a higher position of power can take your rights away as punishment. This perspective is clearest to me while reading their senior capstones.
The students are all researching projects that focus on a variety of humans’ rights breaches, ranging from issues like health care available for aging prisoners to how post-partum depression is falsely diagnosed as clinical depression, making victims of post-partum depression responsible for their actions in their mentally impaired states. I help them collect empirical articles to support their claims and while doing so, I learn about the absence of human rights that exists in our nation. I talk with them about how they read each article and how it relates to them and to me. I also talk to them about life at Bedford Hills Correctional and how it differs from life outside of the penitentiary. I urge them to tie this into their papers as well. Talking to them gives me the knowledge to think dynamically about every topic posed. Since I began working there, I think about what the inmates would say. While watching the news or even just talking to a friend about a controversial topic, I am always sure to present the issue from my students’ perspective. I’m their tutor, but I’ve learned so much from these women.
These women may be in prison, but in our classroom they are treated like college students. Seeing how the women work collaboratively and teach one another, I’ve realized just how important this program is. Education forges a path that leads to a better life, one of autonomy. Because of everything I have learned and taught, I feel privileged to work at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
By Loisa Fenichell
Gossip Girl, which aired on the CW network from September 19th, 2007 to December 17th, 2012, is a television show based on Cecily Von Ziegasar’s book series of the same name. It follows the lives of Manhattan’s elite: Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively), Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick), Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley), and Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford). The characters argue; they sleep with one another; they abuse their parents’ money. They come off as archetypes: Serena is perfect; Blair is insecure and jealous; Chuck is an asshole; Dan is a poor, aspiring writer; Nate is hot. As the show continues, however, viewers learn that each character is so much more than this: e.g., Serena has also struggled with alcohol and drug addictions; Blair’s relationships with her parents are terrible, so is Chuck’s; Dan actually lives in a tastefully decorated loft in Brooklyn; Nate…well, Nate mostly is the hot one, but that’s besides the point.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this show lately as I do my best to ignite in my boyfriend the zeal I felt for the show when it first aired. My goal is for the two of us to watch all six seasons (a second time for me) together. As my boyfriend so eloquently and accurately put it, “It’s mad basic; the acting is trash; but it’s addictive.” Indeed, the television show has garnered many fans. I was unable to find the Gossip Girl official website, but I was able to find an article titled, “I Based My Entire Life on ‘Gossip Girl’ and I Don’t Regret It,” in which the author, Hannah, writes about having attended NYU simply because Blair did the same. In other words, the show’s acting may be “trash,” but it’s influence is tremendous, going so far as to dictate where one ought to apply to school; it is, again, addictive; there’s something for everybody…including the intellectual.
While there is admittedly little online to back up my following theory, I do feel that I’ve had enough experience with both the show and with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned to confidently say that Gossip Girl is not only based on the book series by Cecily Von Ziegasar, it is also a contemporary rendition of the poetically written Fitzgerald novel first published in 1922. Why?
Perhaps the simplest reason is that, as aforementioned, Gossip Girl revolves around Manhattan’s elite, and so does The Beautiful and Damned. A more specific reason, however, is that in the 22nd episode of the show’s fourth season, it is mentioned that Serena spots a man reading her favorite book: The Beautiful and Damned. Furthermore, in the last episode (major spoiler alert!) it is revealed that the show’s narrator – the Gossip Girl – is none other than Dan Humphrey. Dan Humphrey, as aforementioned, is a young, aspiring writer who decides to pen a novel based on his circle of friends. This may not mean too much, but guess who else was a young, aspiring writer penning novels based upon his circle of elite friends? F. Scott Fitzgerald. Moreover, Humphrey, as with Fitzgerald, always felt like an outsider looking into this psychologically intense world of luxury. The similarities between the real life Fitzgerald and the fictional Humphrey seem, to me, beyond coincidental. Humphrey even says, in the show’s last episode, that the twisted world into which he’d been thrust reminded him of a Fitzgerald novel. Which one? Why, The Beautiful and Damned, of course.
By Lunes Lucien
Twain, Hemingway, Nabokov, Dumas, what do all of these famous writers have in common? Besides being genius writers, they all have one secret to how they work (a secret quirk if you will).. From laying down in bed to write to using a color-coding system or having index cards handy when waiting for that stroke of genius, each author finds creative juice through these processes. Take a look at some of the eccentric habits these authors had that may just help you and your writing process.
1: Lying Down
For some writers, lying down seems to jump start their creative juices while also helping them focus on writing. They find inspiration and the right words to start writing while laying down in their own beds. Mark Twain, Woody Allen, Edith Wharton, are just some of the many famous authors who do indulge in this comfy quirk. It seems that these individuals were known for churning out page after page when a sofa or bed was involved.
2: Standing Up
Writing standing up is also not very common, specifically among critically acclaimed authors: writers like Hemingway, Dickens, Roth find themselves standing over their choice of writing because it channels their ability to imagine new possibilities. These great thinkers have been inspired to create their finest pieces while standing at a desk. This works really well with writers who are health-conscious because it’s proven to have health benefits.
3: Writing with index cards
Nabokov, author of Lolita, Ada, and Pale Fire etc., had a very peculiar way of writing his ideas. He composed all his work on index cards, which he kept in slim boxes; this method let him write scenes so they wouldn’t be in sequence and put the cards in any order he liked. He also stored index cards underneath his pillow. This way if an idea popped up in his head while he was in bed, he could write it down instantly. Using index cards can be a different way to knock some fun ideas loose.
4: Using a color-coded system
French author Alexandre Dumas wrote Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo used a color coding system of writing. This genius was actually very precise on the palettes of colors for his works. For decades, Dumas used different colors to show his type of writing: Blue was for his fiction, pink for his nonfiction, or yellow for his articles and poetry. Maybe colors are the new way to think not only about genre, but to develop an organizing methodology for your novel?
5: Hanging upside down
Hanging upside down is the cure for writer’s block; at least that is what famous writer Dan Brown believes. Apparently, hanging upside down helps him concentrate and relax better for his writing. The more he does this gravity bending quirk, the more he feels inspired and at peace to write. The Da Vinci Code writer also has his fair share of good luck charms as well. The hourglass on his desk gets set every hour so Brown does some stretches, push-ups or sit-ups and allows his brain a break from his manuscript. Why not give it a try?
6: Writing without clothes
Have a deadline? Write naked; at least that’s what author Victor Hugo did when he had a deadline. While writing The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he told his valet to take all of his clothes so he wouldn’t be able to leave his house. Even during the coldest days and nights, the author only wrapped himself in a blanket while he penned his imaginations to story.
No matter how extreme or comfy the quirk, it’s obvious that writers use them to break the monotony of sitting at the desk for hours on end. It seems that writers will do anything to meet their goal. And while some of these methods might sound peculiar, hey, whos’s to judge. Get weird with it, as long as you’re writing.
I’ve had the privilege of following many talented students through years-worth of creative writing classes, and have not only created friendships, but also watched their voices blossom as writers. I’ve read their fiction, but I have never had the opportunity to ask them the big question: “Why are you here at Purchase pursuing the Creative Writing BA?” I applied to this program with the desire to share my personal experiences with others through fiction, adopting my own experimental writing style and unique voice that reflect the way my mind works. I wanted to know what personal circumstances have provoked my fellow students to write, and never stop writing. I interviewed three upperclassmen of different gender and background about why they applied to the Creative Writing Program at Purchase College. Please note that the first two contributors, Kukuwa and Michael, are Creative Writing majors. The third contributor, Aren, is a non-major who has, with instructor approval, designed their own curriculum and was able to take classes in the Creative Writing Program. All of their answers are below.
Kukuwa Ashun, Senior:
“My love for writing stemmed from my love for books. I used to collect so many books at a young age. I found myself immersed in those monthly Scholastic book orders they gave us in elementary school. Having this connection with stories at a young age encouraged me to write my own narratives and share them with other people around me. This kind of mentality was one that my family continuously supported, and with their help, I knew I wanted to pursue my BA here at Purchase. Participating in workshops, taking literature classes, attending readings by visiting authors, and discovering more about myself as a writer, made me not regret my decision to follow this trajectory. I will forever be thankful for my years here.”
Michael Chamak, Senior:
“I’ve always liked the idea of entertaining people, especially through storytelling. I feel like any time I can entertain someone or make them feel good is an accomplishment of which to be proud. Throughout high school and the beginning of college I was focused on TV and film production. As I went on, I was drawn more and more to the writing side of production. I found that I enjoyed writing the stories much more than I enjoyed working on a set, which consists mostly of waiting, and exhausting repetition. I’m drawn to creative writing because I prefer to tell the stories that I want to without the confines of reality. If I wanted to, I could write a story about dragon-riding aliens without having to worry about budgetary restrictions.”
Aren Landau, Senior:
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a storyteller. That is, I’ve always known I had something to say. When I started college, I was a BA in the Art Conservatory because I’d had many mentors who encouraged me to pursue art as a profession. The art program was excellent, but it wasn’t fulfilling my need for storytelling in the way I had hoped. Then I stumbled blindly into an intro creative writing class. From there, creative writing evolved from a pastime, to a passion, to a career trajectory, and I have never been happier. As a young teen fresh out of the closet, I felt there were never enough good books with lesbian protagonists. Malinda Lo was a huge inspiration to me in that regard, because she was the first author I read who combined the genre I wanted to write in(fantasy/sci-fi) with the kind of people I wanted to write about.”