All writers eventually find themselves stuck in a rut, their creative coffers dry. Instead of giving up and taking a break, try some of these tips to reignite your imagination:
The key is to let loose and allow your imagination to run wild. When brainstorming, quantity is initially more important than quality. Generate a hundred bad ideas in order to find the golden one for your next story.
Grub Street Fiction Team Member
I don’t remember when I was diagnosed with autism, but what I do remember is going through my childhood being so shy I would hardly speak and when I would speak, there were times when my words were, I guess I could say, lost in translation. When talking, my brain seems to think of the words I want to say, but my mouth doesn’t work the way I want to causing me to stumble over my words or not explain something as fully in detail as I would like to.
I remember this one time when I young was in Pennsylvania with my family, visiting my grandparents and aunt. My aunt lives close to my grandparents’ house, so my brother and I usually stayed the night at her apartment during our stay in PA. Anyway, I remember that she was telling my brother and me what she had for us for breakfast in the morning. She had bought these mini boxes of Kellogg’s cereal and she was telling us what kind she had: Frosted Flakes, Cheerios, Lucky Charms, etc. Now before I go any further, I must provide some background information. At the time, whenever I would eat Lucky Charms, or any cereal with marshmallows, my stomach would feel queasy afterwards. So, when she offered Lucky Charms, I meant to say, “When I eat marshmallows, they make me feel sick,” or something to that extent, but what I said was, “I’m sick of marshmallows.” Obviously, I was told off for being rude.
Now while the above story isn’t an accurate example of my trouble with speaking today, I still have trouble getting words to come out the way I want them too. Usually, I’m stuck talking…um…like this…especially when…um…um…it’s personal or when I’m trying to explain something, or usually there will be long pauses as I am trying to get my thoughts back on track.
My point is, I doubt I would have been able to tell anyone the above story effectively by speaking, but I did it through writing. As far back as I can remember, I have been writing. When I was a kid I would try to write stories--none of which were any good looking back, but that didn’t seem to stop me--and in High School, writing essays was definitely my strong point. I remember the last day of an English class that I took in Community College; I had an essay to turn in instead of an in-class final, and when I turned it in, the professor mentioned that I didn’t talk much, but I said a lot in my writing. The same is true regarding my time at Towson, a lot of my classes are discussion based which means I don’t fare well at all. Usually, I remain silent unless forced to speak, but when I get a writing assignment, I can finally say on paper what I could never do in class.
I guess that is how a lot of works of literature get started. The writer wants to say something, but lacks a “normal” voice, and yet he or she finds a voice by writing the novel or short story. While I am still currently unsure what type creative writing I will decide to focus on, prose or poetry or both, I am still able to say a lot more than I could ever do with my “normal” voice.
I am grateful that God gave me the ability to write so I can communicate despite my autism, and while it would be nice to be able to able to speak, I think I would prefer the ability to write because normally words from the mouth don’t last very long, but words on a page, they tend to last longer and are able to be revisited without the use of recording devices. Plus, in a way, it’s more fun
Grub Street Nonfiction Team Member
With June being LGBTQIA+ Pride month, and only 2 months away, many will be planning their Pride Parade trips. Whether you head to Baltimore, DC, New York City, or one of the many pride parades coming up this year, you are bound to see a sea of people proudly and boundlessly showcasing the truest versions of themselves. While adult members of the LGBTQIA+ community enjoy this luxury, what about queer identifying (or ally) children? For many children, there is a lack of outlets for them to express how they identify or relate to their allyship with the queer community. LGBTQIA+ positive children’s books have been at the forefront of providing this outlet and pave the way for more accepting and loving children.
Books are a productive way to mirror everyday life. For LGBTQIA+ children, it is a way to see how they identify being reflected back at them in a manner that depicts them in a positive light. Heather Has Two Mommies, written by Leslea Newman is 1989, was one of the first children’s books to talk about a lesbian couple. A few years later in 1991, Daddy’s Roommate, written by Michael Willhoite, depicted a divorced father, who now lives with his new boyfriend. Both introduced queer parenthood to children in a way that was digestible and understandable to them. While these books received an intense amount of backlash, they were pioneers in the queer-positive literary realm.
LGBTQIA+ positive books have the ability to not only shed light on a child’s budding sexuality, but also gives them a window to normalize their own home lives. Reading books that reflect their nontraditional families gives them an optimistic view of their family dynamic, free of judgement or negative critique.
So as June approaches, and your Pride 2017 plans come to fruition, try to remember the little ones in your life who might not have the same outlets available to them. Some LGBTQIA+ children’s books to check out might include:
LGBTQIA+ children need to see that they are loved, respected, and valued, and what better way to show them they are valid then through literature that does just that!
Grub Street Poetry Team Member
With April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, my own trauma is on the forefront of my mind. As a poet, I’ve always been inclined to express the truly inexpressible through my writing, which has in turn become a method of healing for me as well as for countless others whose paths mirror and reflect my own. The sharing of our experiences in navigating our new lives as survivors creates a community of care in which our voices are being heard and valued.
I have used writing as a tool to flesh out my own space in a society that has attempted to rob me of my personhood and condense me to my simplest parts. My words are proof that I am still here and defiant in my drive to remain an active participant in the shaping of my own experience. My writing mimics the power I attempt to reclaim and encourages others to do so as well—in conversation, in validation, and in self-agency.
This April, know this: I am listening.
To explore creative writing as an outlet for emotional healing, I would suggest exploring confessional poetry, as I find it the most therapeutic. Poets.org provides a brief introduction to confessional poetry and its headlining poets here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/brief-guide-confessional-poetry.
For further guidance and sense of community, check out The Voices and Faces Project’s national writing workshop, The Stories We Tell. The Chicago-based organization seeks to create a culture of visibility for survivors of sexual violence in order to “change minds, hearts, and public policy.” The organization also offers a reading list of both fiction and nonfiction, found at this link: http://www.voicesandfaces.org/writingWorkshop.html.
Grub Street Poetry Team Member
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about a new essay I’m working on. I told her how scared I am to have this much of myself on display.
“You’re so brave for putting yourself out there,” she told me. All I could manage to think was, at least you get to hide behind fiction. Then it occurred to me that I had that option too. I just didn’t take it.
Throughout the course of my college career, nonfiction was always referred to as the “other” genre. When talking about my passion for the genre, it was always assumed by others that it wasn’t possible to be as “creative” as you can with fiction or poetry. I hadn’t even heard of creative nonfiction until coming to Towson. I had always assumed that you had to be a celebrity, a prodigy, or an anomaly to write a memoir.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about nonfiction, and one of the reasons why so many shy away from writing it. Many writers assume that they just aren’t interesting enough to write a compelling personal essay.
One of the most common critiques of contemporary creative nonfiction is that it’s self-indulgent. I have a friend who says he never kept a journal because it allows one to “self-romanticize.”
Others assert that all we can really claim to know is the self (something close to solipsism).
I was first drawn to creative nonfiction because I am interested in people—the way they leave messes behind. I wrote about people I knew, only attaching myself as an auxiliary detail. It’s only very recently that I’ve begun to write about myself as a singular entity.
As a child, I floundered during timed, standardized test essays (I bombed my SAT essay too). It was always suggested that if we couldn’t think of anything interesting, it was perfectly acceptable to make something up. For some reason I still have trouble with fiction—I’m wired for nonfiction, for mess.
Nonfiction is less popular with readers because it provides no escape. We are forced to confront ourselves when reading, while simultaneously recognizing that the writer’s lived experiences may be entirely different from our own. If anything, personal essays promote empathy.
After the conversation with my friend, I began to wonder why I had chosen the most revealing, confessional line of writing. I could have easily chosen fiction or poetry. Even writing this blog post was difficult. I had to look myself in the eye, pick out the reasons why I do what I do. But even so, I’m still not entirely sure why (mess).
Good works of creative nonfiction transcend the self. I’ve always thought that the more specific a writer gets, the more relatable. Some specific details:
My most frequent recurring dream is always set in a crowded restaurant.
I make my own vegetable broth out of frozen scraps. I store it in a glass jar. I hope that this will be enough to stop climate change.
After I have bitten my fingernails, I look at them in disgust. Then, I immediately start biting again, in an attempt to fix them.
Specifics are a reassurance that the person behind the book is really there—full of complex problems and tics. To me, this is comforting. A vulnerable detail seems like a signal towards something larger. A collective vulnerability.
In her lyric memoir Nox, Anne Carson examines the death of her estranged brother. My brother is not dead, nor estranged, but I understand.
In Bluets, Maggie Nelson deals with lost love and an obsession with the color blue. Somehow, I manage to understand.
The moment a writer decides to put their work into the world, they have the power to transcend the self—to affect people, to forge understanding. I, like many others, began to write in order to let out something unknown. But as I read more memoirs, and prepare for my work to be made public, I notice a different force pushing me forward—the hope that I can stir empathy in someone. I can’t help but feel that someone who chooses to be so vulnerable is the opposite of self-indulgent. That by throwing their secrets into light, they are becoming a part of something collective, something larger.
Grub Street Nonfiction Team Member
Image source: Photographed by Barbara Fondelheit
In my sixth grade social studies classroom, my teacher hung a poster with a quote from George Santayana that read, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” In every unit, she reiterated that not only knowing history, but truly learning from it was our most powerful tool in protecting ourselves from the tragedies of the past. Like all sixth graders did, I would stare at this poster and ponder its meaning for a minute or two, then my attention would wander back to class or a more compelling distraction.
Also, when I was in sixth grade (and every year until I graduated high school), I attended a Jewish religious school twice a week. By twelve years of age, my classmates and I were deemed mature enough to begin an in-depth and serious discussion about the Holocaust and the history of anti-Semitism in the world. These things are alive and well, our teacher told us. And to keep another genocide from happening, we must learn from our past. But to a sixth grader, the Holocaust felt unfathomably long ago and anti-Semitism seemed unfathomably far from home. I grew up wearing my Jewish star necklace with pride, and attending my after-school program during the year and Jewish overnight camp in the summers. Though the stories we heard and the pictures we saw were no doubt disturbing and upsetting, we had the luxury of, more or less, putting it out of our minds.
While I was doing my usual scrolling through social media last week, an article from The Kenyon Review popped up, “On Sacred Spaces & Community: Jewish Poets Speak Out.” This article reflected on some recent incidents, such as the JCC bomb threats, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and the White House’s decision to not name individuals on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and allowed several contributors to share their cultural and religious experiences in light of recent anti-Semitism. Erika Meitner notes that this should be nothing new to us: “…This is a story we knew—one as the oldest books we have.” Eduardo Gabrieloff claims that, “When groups are dehumanized, we know what comes next.” Rosebud Ben-Oni begs that we need to, “… come together to resist, to persist, in this era of ‘alternative facts.’” The messages among these poets are clear: only from learning from our past can we affect the present. There is nothing more powerful than knowledge, truth, and unity.
This article is not solely focused on anti-Semitism or the value of our history. It recognizes that there are other populations of people--racial minorities, Muslims, and those who are LGBTQIA+--who are the victims of violence and bigotry. If we consider the Jewish notion of tzedakah, of charity and moral obligation to provide to others, then there is no better time like the present. People are afraid, certain that harm will befall them for the color of their skin, their sexual identity, or their religion. But, as Gabrieloff writes, “If we allow an attack on others, we fail ourselves. Solidarity is survival.” It is simple: if we, as Jewish people, are the victims of oppression, then it is our duty to help other victims of the same systemic process. Shamar Hill finishes his contribution to this article with this, “It will serve us, as we fight against anti-Semitism, to remember hate against any group is hate against us all.”
In the last several years, I have taken it upon myself to do several things: to listen to others, so that I may understand. To understand, so that I may help. And when I help, to do so in a careful and intentional way. It goes beyond race and religion. It is the notion that we are all human, that we must do all that we can to protect one another. It is our history and our unity that equips us to move forward, and in the end, understanding that we are all we have.
Grub Street Fiction Team Member
Article link and image source:http://www.kenyonreview.org/2017/03/sacred-spaces-community-jewish-poets-speak/
Image: If Not, Not (R. B. Kitaj, 1975-76)
A lot of people—most, actually—are shocked when I reveal that I am a double major in English and French. It is actually quite frustrating. Most college students—even coworkers and family members—laugh and ask, “What are you going to do with an English major, let alone a useless French major? Are you going to be a teacher? ‘Cause that’s all you can do with that these days.” My favorite questions though are, “Why? Why would you do that to yourself? Are you crazy?” Maybe I am. But these two departments have changed the way I view the world, regard other people, and make connections. These two concentrations, both in language, overlap, build upon each other, and expand my cognitive reach.
Let me start with being an English major. I have learned more about humanity and the human experience, I think, than those who are in the Humanities courses. Literature both reflects and influences the times, and it is literature that captures history. The English track is often scoffed at because it is associated with old croons who sit in dark offices reading novels and romanticizing Great White whales and pioneers crossing distant mountain ranges. It is often forgotten that literature is a study of history, a study of the human mind and evolution. Moreover, those of us pursuing English are forced to learn new modes of communication: different writing styles, writing for various audiences, presenting ideas and connecting them, etc. These skills are mandatory for us—a breakdown in communication is the ultimate failure. We deal in facts, theories, ideas, all of which are weaved within a literary polysystem that makes up everything that the human race relies on—communication.
The study of English is also the study of history; literature records events, ideas, and people. As an English major, I have read extensively on the wars Americans have fought and died in, domestic and foreign works that build on one another, biographies and autobiographies of historic figures, influential texts that have shaped our present, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and so much more. This vast amount of literature enables me to recognize connections between times, movements, continents, and peoples—with the critical thinking skills I have obtained in my pursuit of my education, I am more able to connect my thoughts and make my own conclusions.
This is where my concentration in French comes in. Let me answer some questions before they’re asked: yes, I speak French fluently; yes, I write essays in French; yes, my presentations and conversations are in French. It may seem obvious, but believe me, common sense eludes most people these days. My French concentration, like English, has also pushed vast amounts of literary works. I have read Voltaire, Molière, Balzac, Zola, Proust, Camus, Baudelaire, Verne, Dumas, only to name a few. And yes, I read their works in French. These brilliant authors, like the English-speaking ones, also expand my knowledge on cultural and historic movements, ideas, etc. More interestingly though, French literature and English (and American) literature often overlap and influence one another. Have you ever wondered why, even though English is a Germanic language, French words seem to be the root of so many English words? Two words: The Renaissance. Because of my two majors I have learned about the evolution of language in both English and French, which, in my humble opinion, is amazing.
Being able to connect ideas, events, and cultural revolutions across continents and times may not seem that important in the grand scheme of things. But, it truly is. Critical thinking and logic work hand in hand with both English and French concentrations. To many, it may seem as though I am a sponge overflowing with useless information, but I disagree. We English, and French, majors have become sponges, overflowing with information and ideas that allow us to make connections that others can’t. We are more able to communicate—more so than those of other majors—because we take the histories, lessons, and theories learned throughout literature and apply them to the present.
Grub Street Poetry Team Member
It was my sophomore year of college when I first delved into the world of comics. I had always been a fan of Batman since I was a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons of Batman: The Animated Series or Justice League, but I had never before read a comic book. What made me decide to take a trip to a comic book shop was actually an English class called Detective Fiction. For this class, we had to pick a show or movie with a detective and show how they most relate to the two forms of detective fiction. Some people chose shows such as Bones, NCIS, and Castle as their choices, but when it came time for me to decide I knew I wanted to do it on Batman.
The next day I spent some time looking up local comic book shops with which I could conduct my research on Batman. It took almost no time at all to find a shop called Collector’s Corner off Harford Road. I looked up the address and programmed it into my phone’s map, ready to go on a mini adventure the next day to check it out. I don’t remember what I was expecting when I first walked into the store that day, but I don’t think I ever would have imagined it would entice me as much as it did.
When I walked in, I was nervous because I had no idea what I was looking for in the way of Batman comics; I knew comics had a long history so I was a little overwhelmed with where to start. Luckily, an employee came up to me and asked if I needed any help. I told him my situation and he gladly gave me two different graphic novels to start with, which he thought were good introductions to the character. I bought both and that night I spent some time pouring over the glossy pages. Needless to say, it was not what I expected.
I went in thinking that comics today were just as campy and lame as what I knew Adam West’s Batman to be: cheesy one-liners and brightly clad heroes with their underwear on the outside. Instead what I got was a dark, gritty, and even gory rendition of the hero that I grew up watching. No longer did I see Batman as just the hero who caught the bad guy and sent him off to jail wrapped up in a nice little bow. Now Batman was harsher, there was more at stake for him; you were left with ambiguity as to if he won or if there was more to come. There was tension on each page of whether Batman would make it out of a deadly situation; there were problems within his day-to-day life as Bruce Wayne: politics, secrets, and family issues.
When I read those graphic novels I realized that comics are more than just a flashy form of entertainment. No longer does the story go from point A to B in a straight line, rather, there are twists and turns and failures of the hero along the way. Comics shouldn’t be seen as something that is nerdy or even childish, rather, it should be seen as something that with time could be considered as literary fiction. Batman, in a lot of ways, deals with the same things any character in a literary piece could deal with: the loss of a loved one, coping with trauma, or even not succeeding in a relationship. The only difference between Batman and any other character is that he is a super hero and his problems are more heightened and dramatized than a regular person’s. But who’s to say that his stories still can’t be literary? When I read a literary short story there are things that I look for: a connection or feelings for the main character, and relatability or understanding to their situation, which are things that I also look for when reading comics now. When it comes down to it, Batman/Bruce Wayne is just a man who is living his life dealing with social, political, and personal problems that we too could experience in our own lives—hopefully without any arch enemies plotting our demise.
Grub Street Fiction Team Member
Image source: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.pinterest.com/amp/pin/450922981410804451/
My first action after receiving my diagnosis of dyslexia in the third grade was to go home and hold up a piece of paper in front of the mirror in an attempt to read backwards. To my astonishment, the doctors were right. I could indeed read backwards. As my eight-year-old self felt wonderfully proud of my newfound disability–no, skill–my older sister decided to burst my bubble and show me how she, a sixth grader with no learning disabilities, could read backwards even better than I could. Her victory disappointed me because I was no longer special, but also overwhelmed me with confusion. If being dyslexic does not mean I read backwards any better than a “normal” person, then what does it mean? I have come a long way in my understanding of dyslexia since the third grade, but what baffles me is that many of my peers are no better informed than my eight-year-old self.
During my time in college, the ignorance regarding learning disabilities and the misconceptions of what it means to be dyslexic has become apparent to me. If I had a dime for every time someone has asked me if I read backwards, then I would be sitting on my privately owned island right now. The answer is no; I do not read backwards. Nor do I always switch the letters “b” and “d” or read at an elementary school level. In fact, my reading and writing skills are about to earn me a BA in English,writing track, from Towson University. People are often surprised to learn that I am a dyslexic English major. They praise me and tell me how wonderful it is that I overcame this roadblock. All things considered, dyslexia definitely poses a challenge to my academics, but in no way prevents me from getting an education. Before I can discuss my method to school, I must make sure you have an accurate understanding of dyslexia.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words.” When toddlers are taught the ABC’s, the first step is to identify speech sounds of the individual letters. “A” is for apple because the letter “A” makes the sound “ah.” Once the children are able to accurately identify the sound of each letter, the next step is to arrange the letters to form a word. Take the letters “b”-“a”-“t.” Understand the sounds are “buh”-“ah”-“tuh.” Together, the sounds form the word “bat,” an object used in the game of baseball to hit the ball. A five-year-old must undergo this process every time they attempt to read, but as we age and continue through school, letter recognition becomes instantaneous and develops into immediate word recognition.
The process of recognizing and translating the sequence of letters into a word, aforementioned, is exactly where the life changing difference between a dyslexic mind and a “normal” mind occurs. No matter the age or level of education, a dyslexic mind cannot identify the sounds of letters and form the letters into words as quickly as the average person. For this reason, a dyslexic person reads slower as they must decipher each letter to understand the meaning of every word, sentence, and paragraph. Letter reversal and word confusion occur when the brain unconsciously does not allow for the necessary time it takes to read. A dyslexic brain that sees the word “bat” but reads “rat" results from the delay of communication between the eyes and the brain. In this case, the communication process occurred too quickly, and the person incorrectly assumed the sound associated with the first letter was “rrr.”
So now you see that dyslexia is not reading backwards or a life-sentence of illiteracy. Dyslexia, along with many other learning disabilities, slows the process of perceiving and understanding. Thankfully, Towson has a wonderful Disability Support Services (DSS). I can truly credit my academic success to the help of my accommodations through DSS. My accommodations do not get me special treatment or privileges; they supply me tools to help my studies when dyslexia limits my abilities. I have extra time to take my exams and a computer accommodation for my essays. Towson supplied me with a software on my computer that reads uploaded documents aloud. I have a note taker for my lectures so I do not need to worry about missing something in class. I have found ways to deal with my dyslexia and work around it when it becomes a problem. People wonder if being dyslexic is discouraging. I tell them that if anything, I have used my dyslexia as a source of motivation. My parents used to worry that I would never learn to read and now I write essays on three hundred page novels. I’m pretty sure that I can do whatever I set my mind to.
Grub Street Non-Fiction Team Member
For more information on dyslexia, check out this link: http://therapytoronto.ca/news/tag/dyslexia/
Image source: Google.com
I have always been a lover of books. Reading has been a big part of my life. My parents started reading to me when I was little and my love of books just kept growing. They became a constant, something I could rely on no matter what I was going through. They saved me during my awkward middle school years; expanding my small existence and making me feel less alone and invisible. Books were there for me in high school when my I felt like I would never fit in. They gave me an escape, so when I first starting applying to college I always thought that I would be an English major. I loved books, reading, and writing, therefore, it was the logical choice. Every school I applied to I checked English major, except for Towson. When applying to Towson, I randomly picked Mass Communications with a track in Journalism and New Media. After deciding to attend Towson, I decided to stick with journalism because, even though reading and analyzing books was something I loved, the Journalism major would forced me out of my comfort zone and allow me to grow. I learned different skills and a new fast-paced, factual way of writing.
Once I became an upperclassman and was able to take a class called Literary Journalism, I realized that creative writing could be found in journalism too and it made me crave the English classes I loved in high school. I started seriously thinking about how I could combine my love of English and my new love of journalism for my future. That is when I thought of publishing, a job where I could work with books and use my journalism and marketing skills. I got a summer internship in publishing and enrolled in Grub Street. I never expected Grub Street to be the experience it has become. It has allowed me to get an inside look into what the publishing process is from multiple perspectives: editing, designing, and marketing. Taking this class has allowed me to see the beauty in writing again and expand what I find aesthetically pleasing. I have learned a lot and hope to take these skills when I enter the next phase in my life. Grub Street allowed me to get one last taste of English before I graduate with a degree in Journalism and New Media.
Grub Street Nonfiction Team Member
The image above is "Flight" by Gillian Collins.