Try 101

Practice — Process — Projects

Month: March, 2013

30 Things Stephen McClurg Loves Right Now

by tjbeitelman

(1) My one-year-old girl’s recent use of consonant clusters that sound part angelic, part Lovecraftian, part monkey chatter. | (2) My one-year-old girl’s recent use of o, currently and exclusively used as the interjection “O!” that sounds to me something like, “O! Sippy! Thou art found!” | (3) That a Shirley Jackson collection was an acceptable birthday gift for my wife. I think so, anyway. There was the zoo and sushi, but I’m still generally bad at gifting. “Gifting.” That’s an awful gerund. And we didn’t eat sushi at the zoo. That would just be weird. Sorry, this is supposed to be about love and life and art and not my usual fear, despair, and anxiety, which leads me to… | (4) Existential Star Wars! | (5) Watching action movies in French, a language as mysterious as Klingon to me. Spawn (1997) is meant to be watched in French or some other language the viewer doesn’t understand. | (6) It’s World Poetry Day! | (7) Dog snores. They soothe me. I wonder if I made tapes of these I could sell them as sleeping or meditation aids. (“Tapes!” Ha! Can you buy tapes anymore? I still use the noun “record,” too.) Sometimes I think I hear transmissions from space when the dog really gets going. | (8) Springish weather. | (9) Talking Heads: “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” | (10) Every other song by Talking Heads. | (11) Coffee | (12) SB13. I’ve wondered if Strunk and White would approve of the concision of speaking in abbreviations/hashtags. In my day, we wasted so much time saying things like, “Spring Break ’92!” | (13) I guess it’s a personal rule to always mention Eraserhead (1977) and Twin Peaks  in any list about things I love.  | (14) Libraries. | (15) Chocolate sent through the mail. In Easter grass. | (16) Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems (“Fork” / “Spoon” / “Knife”!) | (17) “Skye Boat Song” | (18) The Drunken Odyssey! | (19) Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow” and when I am in aforementioned flow. | (20) Diaper rash ointment. | (21) Julius Hemphill: “Dogon A.D.” | (22) This Pat Conroy quote: “Fear is the major cargo that American writers must stow away when the writing life calls them into carefully chosen ranks. I have been mortally afraid of the judgment of other writers and critics since I first lifted my proud but insecure head above the South Carolina marsh grass all those years ago. Some American writers are meaner than serial killers, but far more articulate, and this is always the great surprise awaiting the young men and women who swarm to the universities, their heads buzzing with all the dazzle and freshness and humbuggery of the language itself.” | (23) Hypothetical butter. I woke with these words on my mind. Coleridge got Kubla Khan. Shelley got Frankenstein. I get “hypothetical butter.” | (24) Max Ernst | (25) When my wife cooks for me. | (26)  Anne Carson sorta-interviewed. (One of my few living art crushes! Usually my nostalgia lingers in the tomb. [“Oh, Frida! Paint my face on a monkey!” or “Oh, Emily! You are certainly less mannish than your daguerreotype suggests!”, etc.]) | (27) Sesame Street | (28) Adam Kirsch: The Modern Element: Essays on Contemporary Poetry | (29) Reginald Shepherd: “On Difficulty in Poetry” | (30) Friends who write and teach, think about writing and teaching, and are willing to discuss matters of writing and teaching with me on an almost daily basis.


Stephen McClurg teaches and lives in Birmingham, Alabama. Last spring, after winning the National Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Contest, he spent a week writing haiku for the Washington Post’s blog. In the past he has published articles, essays, reviews, short stories, poems, and comics in newspapers, journals online and otherwise, and in the anthologies You Ain’t No Dancer and Voices from a Safe Harbor. He has written and composed music for award-winning short films, art installations, and dance, and has work forthcoming in Map Literary, The Drunken Odyssey, and the True Home Project.

Five Rules That Matter (in my opinion)

by ajanefountas

The two most popular rules that writing teachers hand out like candy are “Show, don’t tell” and “Write what you know.” Here’s what I say: Throw those rules out the window, and follow these instead.

1. Don’t think.

“You can’t think a story,” “The poem is smarter than the poet,” etc. You may have heard such wisdom before. Listen to it. The creative process is akin to dream: something magical happens in the act of writing. Unless you’re revising, stop thinking and just write.

2. Don’t self-censor.

Writers sometimes stop themselves while they’re writing: “I can’t write that.” The “that” might be a family story. Or something violent or ugly or repulsive. Don’t stop! You can always cut later, after you’ve had some distance. You decide what makes it into print in the end. But whatever you do, don’t stop something from coming out. If you do, you’ll never know which truth it might have led to.

3. Trust your gut.

To cultivate a writer’s gut, you need to grow confident in the ways you construct fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. Consider writing in the dark until your true voice comes through. If you seek feedback too early and listen to what others say, then you may end up writing like someone else, or many “someones,” instead of like yourself. Once you learn to trust your gut, it’ll be easier to revise your work and decide whose feedback to heed.

4. Know the elements.

Study fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. Look closely at the elements in action: point of view, character, language, etc. Know the different ways that a story, poem, or essay can function. Read widely. Then, when it’s time to revise your work, you’ll be better able to see where it’s breaking down or falling short. And by having read widely within your genre, you’ll know that just about anything goes as long as you can make it go.

5. Sit down to write regularly.

Some writers can write when they feel like it, when the so-called muse visits, and make progress. But most writers need a regular routine to get anywhere. Writing regularly is like watering a seed. Water helps the seed grow. An absence of water causes it to dry out. Make a contract with yourself: Write 300 words a day, or write for an hour a day, or whatever works for you.

The main thing is to set a goal and reach it, even on days when your muse seems to be hibernating.

Notes-to-Self: Do-Be-Do-Be-Do

by tjbeitelman


If we can have conflicts in our life and we are courageous enough not to resolve them immediately — because fighting can lead to new possibilities and as soon as new possibilities come in our unconscious, guess who comes to process them? The ego loves the old. Who can process the new? Only God can process the new. So anytime we are creating new possibilities in our consciousness, we are inviting God — and God comes. And God processes. In a creative quantum leap of insight. In this creative way, we become renewed. We become better than before. But now we have the conviction of the “aha” insight. We can use that conviction to make real changes in our life, real changes in the way we relate to others, and those real changes eventually will stick. There is another little trick in this, which is that we have to do our doing — being in the ego mode — and be in our being — being in the God mode — alternatively. It’s neither “do-do-do” nor “be-be-be” but “do-be-do-be-do.” Yes?

Amit Goswami, Theoretical Quantum Physicist

The Company We Keep

by tjbeitelman


So I have occasion to be at a writers’ conference. It’s snowing and frigid. I lost my phone. But then I found it again. And now I am on the bad hotel wi-fi — cost: $12.95 a day — at 12:55 a.m. But what I have to say couldn’t wait until tomorrow today (?).

What I have to say is this:

I was at a reading. I participated in a reading. (Which is to say: I was one of the readers. There. I said it.) I went first and then I was followed by a cavalcade of talented poets from all walks of life. As I was listening to the other poets, it struck me: You’re not the only one doing this, said some voice from somewhere. You’re not the only one doing this well.

It’s magic to be simultaneously humbled and validated. Those two things don’t usually go together. When they do, you’re apt to lose your phone and pay too much for internet access just so you can share the good news with the world:

  • You’re not the only one doing this.
  • You’re not the only one doing this well.