October 2015 Inside: ▪ Writing from your life▪ Writing prompt: What's happening in your life right now?▪ Who's behind this newsletter?▪ Gear up f

Kickstart Your Writing Blue

October 2015


Writing from your life
Writing prompt: What's happening in your life right now?
Who's behind this newsletter?
Gear up for NaNoWriMo
Ancestor inspires author to write
Nerdy Words: Interior monologue
Student Showcase: "Running Rivers" by Jamie Caulley


Writing from your life

By Ann Sihler

Where do writing ideas come from? I started thinking about this after reading a draft of a poem by fellow Kickstart writing student Jamie Caulley. In “Running Rivers,” Jamie Caulley drew parallels between rivers, running, and life, based on a personal experience outdoors. The poem seemed to come out of her careful observation of her surroundings, her sense of curiosity about her experience, and her ability to make comparisons. Do all writers find inspiration this way, turning to the material of their own lives and transforming it into poems, essays, and stories? I decided to ask other Kickstarters.

Debbe Borders, whose subjects include childhood, travel, and moving from place to place, finds that about 80 percent of her writing comes from her own life experiences. “I only make changes if [it’s] necessary to make it more interesting or appealing,” she says. Over time, as her understanding of what interests her has grown, she has been better able to select material that moves her. She recommends that writers think about events in their lives that trigger extreme emotions, positive or negative, to generate ideas.

Anika Moje, too, bases most of her writing on her own life, but not necessarily directly. This year, for example, she wrote a short story set in Morocco, which she had recently visited. “The story had nothing to do with me,” she said, “but I borrowed a lot of my experience of the place.” She suggests that writers be observant and carry a notebook to jot down ideas. “There are so many moments in our everyday lives that can spark a story or poem. One just has to be aware of them!” She gives an example of seeing a woman do something unusual at the library not long ago. Now Anike is itching to use that moment in her writing.

Then there’s me. I write mostly essays and poetry. Usually they are sparked by a personal experience I keep turning over in my mind—something that combines a strong image and an emotion. Now that I’m experimenting with short fiction, I’m finding unusual comments I’ve heard to be great story starters.

That is similar to Kickstarter Howard Schneider, who recommends that writers listen carefully to what others are saying—in person, on the radio, or in storytelling. He says that everything he writes must have entered his imagination in some way, “from actual experience or vicariously through reading, conservation or observation.” To feed his imagination Howard reads voraciously, in addition to listening. He also has gotten story ideas from flash fiction he’s written in response to prompts in a writing group.

As Anika says, a writing idea can be right there, close to you, in your everyday life: at home, in your family, at work or the library, with your pet .... And because the idea comes from your own life, you have an emotional connection to it. You can fictionalize it, or you can keep it as nonfiction and explore its broader implications: Why is it important? What does it relate to? What larger meaning does it have? Certainly the idea has some larger meaning, or you wouldn’t have picked it. And you are the one who can say what that larger meaning is. In fact, you are the only one.

P.S. You can read an excerpt of Jamie’s poem, “Running Rivers,” at the end of this newsletter.

Writing Prompt

Writing Prompt

What's happening right now?

One of the best go-to writing prompts is to ask yourself, “What is happening right now in my life, and how am I feeling?” Every moment in life is different, so each time you use this prompt your answers can be both authentic and fresh. Or they might simply get you started writing so that some other topic can pop up. Either way is a win!

Who’s behind this newsletter?

The truth will out

Now that we’re into our fourth issue of the redesigned Kickstart newsletter, it’s time to explain who puts it together. For several years the newsletter was produced by author/writing coach Nancy Woods. Then, earlier this year, she was joined by writer/editor-for-hire Ann Sihler. Nancy, who offers Kickstart writing classes online and from her office in Northeast Portland, Oregon, provides overall newsletter direction, expert knowledge, and wise counsel. Ann writes most of the articles and tries to find people to boss around. You can learn more about Nancy here and about Ann here.

We hope you enjoy the newsletter, but if you do have complaints, we are prepared to address them promptly. Just contact Nancy (says Ann) or Ann (says Nancy).

Nancy and Ann copy
NaNoWriMo logo copy

Gear up for NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month

Always wanted to write a novel? Here’s your chance. Every year the nonprofit organization National Novel Writing Month organizes an online community of writers to support each other in attempting to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.

Last year 325,142 people around the world took part. Through online accounts at NaNoWriMo.org, participants connected with other writers, got tips and encouragement, and tracked their word counts. Almost 59,000 people achieved their goal of writing a 50,000-word draft of a novel by November 30. Over the years more than 250 novels written as part of NaNoWriMo have gone on to be traditionally published. This was the case for the New York Times best sellers Water for Elephants (by Sara Gruen) and The Night Circus (by Erin Morgenstern).

Now is the time to gear up for this year’s NaNoWriMo. Check out NaNoWriMo.org for advice on how to prepare, such as by strategizing about your approach, attending webinars with NaNoWriMo experts, connecting with other writers, and, of course, practicing saying “NaNoWriMo” three times fast. So fun!

Once you’ve finished writing your novel (I know: easy to say, hard to do), you’ll have a month to prepare it as an e-book and submit it to Multnomah County Library’s Library Writers Project. Librarians will review all submissions and add the best ones to the library’s e-book collection, which is visited by more than 1,500 library patrons each day. Learn more.

C.B. Bernard from website - labeled

Ancestor inspires author to write

By Kathy Eaton

On October 6, writer C.B. “Chris” Bernard spoke to the Willamette Writers about his book, Chasing Alaska: A Portrait of the Last Frontier Then and Now (Lyons Press, 2013). In 1999 Bernard dropped out of college on the East Coast and took a month to drive across the country, camping and fishing, before setting sail for Sitka, Alaska. After he arrived, Bernard discovered that a distant relative, Captain Joe Bernard, was buried in a pioneer cemetery just next door to where Chris Bernard lived. Bernard obtained Joe’s unpublished journals written a century ago: 2,000 handwritten pages in broken English, French and Eskimo languages. Bernard then spent the next 14 years researching and documenting his ancestor’s stories about “living off rifles and traps” while experiencing life in a “mythical savage place.”

Logistical issues stalled Bernard’s writing, but on the journey to authorship he discovered himself. A reluctant journalist at age 19, Bernard sold his first story to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in exchange for tickets to a baseball game. Ultimately he graduated with a degree in English but realized he didn’t know how to find work. He returned to Alaska and began writing freelance articles for magazines and newspapers. By his mid-30s he was struggling and still hadn’t written a novel, so he returned to New England. Restless, he moved to Oregon, where he quickly found an agent for his eventual first novel. However, publishers rejected the book for being too dark.

Bernard advised the Willamette Writers audience to let publishers and editors get into your life, but not inside your head. He wrote another novel that remained unpublished. Pushing 40, he decided to move to Maine to relaunch his writing career. Somehow he couldn’t let go of the Joe Bernard story. He worried he wasn’t a good enough writer to write it and struggled to find his voice. Finally he discovered he was telling the wrong story. The solution was to put himself in the book, comparing Joe’s story to his own discovery of Alaska and showing glimpses of Alaska as both knew it. “The story came to me,” Bernard said, “or rather, I drove 7,000 miles to find it.”

Chasing Alaska has received numerous accolades. It was a Publishers Weekly and National Geographic Top Travel Pick and 2014 Oregon Book Award finalist. For more information, see cbbernard.com.

You can find out about the next Willamette Writers meeting here.

Nerdy Words

Voices in my head: Indicating interior monologue

By Ann Sihler

Over the past year almost everyone in my Kickstart writing class has used interior monologue in their short stories, essays, or memoirs. Except me. What’s wrong with me? I sometimes wonder. Does my brain just not think in monologue?

While I’m busy pondering this question, my fellow students are puzzling over how to indicate interior monologue on the page—how to make it clear which words represent their character’s exact inner thoughts. Maybe I should use italics, they think. Or add “she thought.” Or could I just leave the text as it is? It’s obvious enough, isn’t it?

The good news is that you can use any of these techniques (italics, “she thought,” or simply going without any special indicator) to show which words are interior monologue. They all work, depending on the situation. Italics may be the most precise approach, but adding “she thought” or “he thought” could bring welcome variety in sentence rhythm. Sometimes it works best to not use any special indicator because the interior monologue is just plain obvious. (You think?) This last approach might work well if you are experimenting in other ways, like forgoing quotation marks altogether in dialogue, which some writers do.

You even can combine italics and “she thought,” much like I did in the first paragraph of this article.

More interesting than how you indicate interior monologue, though, is what the monologue is, and how it fits in with your story, essay, or memoir. That, writers, is up to you.

Student Showcase

“Running Rivers” (excerpt) by Jamie Caulley

During her five or so years as a Kickstart writing student, Jamie Caulley has mostly written essays—about traveling, beer tasting and running. This poem was sparked by an actual run along the North Fork of the Santiam River. Jamie was tired that day but finds being in nature rejuvenating, so she was running slowly, pausing a lot and trying to soak up the beauty of her surroundings. “I remember wishing I could more easily be like the river,” she says, “going by difficult passages quickly and slowing down when the path widens, rather than trying to push full speed through everything all the time.”

Its clear waters moving quick over shallow rocks
only the smallest ripples show

Deepening to dark blue
shooting between boulders
slowing and spreading on the other side
as the path widens

Swirling in side pools
Lingering, then rejoining with vigor

Smaller side streams join
seemingly without conflict
together carving a stronger path
navigating ahead with grace

Scribbles loops newsletter