KaBooM WritersKaBooM Writers

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!


The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

Writing as a Communal Art

 

I have just finished writing a poem a day during April. Having set that goal and (mostly) met it, it was a relief for the first few days not to have to come up with “something like a poem” in the midst of other obligations and demands.  At the same time, I felt bereft. The lull after the intensity of writing and sharing poems daily felt a bit like grief.

“Writing and sharing” – Yes. I gathered my poet friends via email, and we made the commitment to share a new poem daily no matter what else was going on in our lives. Part of what I miss this week is that conversation in poems, about poems, in support of our mutual (and solitary) work as poets. The surprises in the poems we shared. The way we allowed ourselves to write badly. The daily immersion in craft on some level. The encouragement of working daily. And, maybe most of all, the audience we were for each other. It’s this sense of being heard by astute but generous readers that I miss.

This was the fourth year that I have taken the month of April as a challenge to write a poem daily. This year my friends, poets George Ella Lyon (past Kentucky Poet Laureate), Sherry Chandler, Sue Churchill, and Martha Gehringer were my companions. (George Ella and Martha and I have written together in April for the past couple of years.) The level of writing was amazing some days—and bordered on silly on others (Okay, so we did cross that border!). We wrote for fun, just to see what might happen.  We could write three lines or three pages, revise or not, send something we’d started last year and wanted to rework. We could write something on our phone in a waiting room or spend a whole day wrestling with lines. The only rule was to write “something like a poem” – and even that rule was loosely applied.

As we wrote, I printed out each of our poems and put them into a loose-leaf binder. Another habit I’ve acquired.  I have four binders now, with poems from four Aprils. The binders capture the raw poems as they emerged – in the body of emails, as screen shots, or in documents we shared. Many of the poems where written “on the fly” – the fruit of productive minutes snatched from a day’s flow. A reminder of the power of setting an intention and of the collaborative nature of art. No, we did not collaborate in writing individual poems, but the poems we wrote and shared not only kept us accountable to each other but also sparked new work. What is writing but a kind of “call and response” between our words and all the literature that has ever inspired us?

When I meet with these poet-friends in person next week, we will read back through our “collected poems” of April, 2017. We intend to point out poems we particularly admired and talk about what works in these poems. I know we will laugh and moan about the “bad poems” we each produced and enjoy the freedom of letting them go. But we will each have a few poems we know we want to keep and revise—poems we see more clearly because of our friends’ responses to them.

If you haven’t tried this kind of shared writing challenge or if you didn’t get to write daily in April, start today – or write in June or whenever you choose to begin. Email some of your favorite writing buddies and see who will join you.  Not only is it more fun with friends, writing together deepens and enriches our work.

If you don’t have a local writing community, you might want to check out opportunities at The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning here in Lexington. I have found the classes and groups at the Carnegie Center to be supportive and welcoming. Lifelong writing groups often begin with friendships formed in a class or workshop.

And, of course, the web offers many virtual groups.  The links below may be helpful.

 

National Poetry Writing Month      http://www.napowrimo.net

Websites for writers                          https://thewritelife.com/100-best-websites-for-writers-2017/

The Art of Finishing

 

Blog photoGreat is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When we moved this summer, I found these words tucked into a pile of old clothes.  The yellowed half-page torn from a steno notebook nearly thirty years ago had hung on the back wall of our walk-in closet above the small desk where I wrote.  That walk-in closet was the “room of my own” I claimed in our brand new house in 1984 as I mothered three children aged eight to one.  I knew I was good at starting things; I wanted to remind myself that finishing a piece of writing mattered.

Though I have finished books of poetry, an MFA, and a novel since those days of writing in the closet, I still find finishing a challenge.  Most writers struggle to complete a work and wonder if it is our fault that it takes so long to get it right.  The form we glimpsed as we set out on our poem or novel becomes less clear as we write ourselves into the interior.

Thanks in part to Louise DeSalvo’s book, Writing as a Way of Healing, I have learned the value of reflecting on the writing process for each piece I undertake.  I set down what I have realized and what I plan to do next.  Capturing insights and seeing a way ahead has been so important in my work that I’ve incorporated keeping a process journal into the assignments for the classes I teach.

Here’s an excerpt from one of these:

September 16, 2009

And now for my fifteen minutes on the novel — the assignment I gave the Finishing class.

It’s one thing to write about the novel and have its stacks of pages safely out of sight  . . .  It’s another to read those pages and see what’s there and despair of ever making a coherent book out of them.  . . .  But it was necessary for me to see that my coming to know the story, to see its end and feel a general shape for it, was not the same as . . . having worked it out on the page for myself.  What was needed was for me to accept that I still had a period of wandering in the wilderness ahead of me, and that I had to surrender to that if I were to write the novel I want to write.

 

I wish I had made entries like this more systematically as I drafted my novel.  And that I had not buried them in the pages of my journals where I cannot easily access them.  Louise DeSalvo says in The Art of Slow Writing that she keeps her process journals on the computer where she can search them easily.  She accesses them to remind herself of the stages in finishing a work: “Whenever I’m stuck . . . I turn to an earlier journal and . . . learn that I habitually think about abandoning a project just before I see how the book should be organized; this helps me reengage with my current work more confidently.”

I was wise to post Longfellow’s words in that closet.  Finding a way to the end of a piece is an art in itself.  An art that isn’t only about finding the best ending, but also about having the patience to discern the story I’ve wandered into, to receive its wisdom and work out the techniques I need to tell it well.

Letters From Home

The birth of my first child changed my life in such a myriad of ways, I did the only thing I could think to do as a writer: I wrote about him and the new me I was discovering.  I wrote to document and to understand, because the contradictions of my new life baffled me, both my deep love for the baby and the bewildering grief at leaving my old life behind.  I wrote in my journal, and I wrote letters to friends.  When they responded, I wrote extravagant thank you notes.

Now that child stands taller than I do, those early days sometimes seem like a place from long ago, a home I left behind.  But one friend kept every missive I sent her about my new baby, and recently gifted me back a box full of my letters to her.

I sift through those physical artifacts, and their tactile presence places me back in those early moments as a new mother, when to keep back the tide threatening to overwhelm I scrawled a line or two and stuffed it in an envelope.  The need to post the letter gave me a reason to get out of the house, to pack up the baby I was still learning, so I could send out my latest struggles, and even my celebrations—send them to someone far outside the daily cycle of tending, feeding, caring.

When is the last time you wrote or received a letter—a physical memento of emotions, desires, connections?

This year the National Day on Writing takes place on Wednesday, October 20.  The day is a national celebration of writing sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and officially recognized through a congressional resolution.  Locally, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning is sponsoring “Letters From Home: A Glimpse of the Bluegrass Through Handwritten Words,”  an event designed to encourage the public to write and send longhand letters to friends, family, and U.S. soldiers.

So tomorrow, I’ll be writing new letters from my home in the Bluegrass, at Good Foods Cafe from 11 to 1.  The Cafe is one of 14 locations around Lexington where you can celebrate National Day on Writing by composing a handwritten letter with other writers.  (You can find the full list by clicking the link to the Carnegie Center’s web site, above.)  The day’s events will culminate at the Carnegie Center for a community reading and celebration at 5:30 PM.  Participation in National Day on Writing activities is free and open to everyone.

Come write with other writers.  Make a new artifact or two.  Post your letter and send out your words, from the home you’re in at the moment, into the world.

Finishing a Novel

We’re about six weeks away from the next installment of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Are you trying to decide whether to participate? Perhaps you’ve got a great character in mind. Perhaps you’ve already imagined a breathtaking opening scene.

Your problem, as you often confess to your writing friends, is that your life seems to be full of starts but skimpy on finishes. And truth be told, once that breathtaking opening scene is written, you don’t have any idea where you’re going next.

I just finished a novel. While I didn’t finish it in a month, I did reach the end of a draft in just under three years. Considering this is the first novel I’ve finished, I’ve set a world’s record for me. Now I want to figure out what I’ve learned, with the hope of next time beating my personal best.

Narrative arc. If that phrase makes you nervous, take heart. It was important for me to realize that narrative arc was something I could pay attention to after I had a narrative. Instead of predetermining plot, I relied on those aforementioned great characters to lead the way. I put them in contact with one another and watched the scenes unfold one by one, or “bird by bird” if you will.

Write by hand. It sounds practically pathological to suggest greeting something as intense as NaNoWriMo armed with nothing more than your writer’s notebook and favorite pen. However, I found this process useful. I needed to slow my brain so I could envision the scene, hear characters speak, and set it down on paper. Writing by hand let me overhear the undertones of conversations and envision actions. The eventual typing of scenes got tedious at times, but never so tedious that I switched to composing on the computer. The slow paying of attention yielded too large a payoff.

Attend writing classes, writing group meetings, and writing workshops. All  offered ideas that kept me going. The trick is to manipulate any assignment you receive so it meets your needs. For example, if the workshop leader brings a plastic bag filled with paint chips with exotic names (Fire on the Mountain?), imagine the conversation your character might have about that chip and where and how such a scene might fit into your narrative. Does it reveal character? Advance the action? Provide a much-needed concrete detail? Once you’ve got a project going, make writing workshops work for you. I can’t imagine any workshop leader not applauding such a practical and necessary ownership. Check out the opportunities at the Carnegie Center. Writing Practice is a flexible way to push ahead.

Recently one of my students, a retired police officer who is finishing his own book, reminded me of this E.L. Doctorow quotation: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

And pulling into your final destination is every bit as sweet.

Hungry for Good Writing

Homegrown Authors! KaBooM at the Lexington Farmer's Market: photo by Susan C. Brown

This past Saturday members of KaBooM were at Lexington’s Downtown Farmer’s Market at a booth cosponsored by the Morris Book Shop and the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning called “Homegrown Authors.” The event turned out to be one of the most successful sales days ever for our group; you might want to check out the Morris Book Shop site for details on more selected Saturdays this summer when you can meet area authors and buy signed copies of their books.

But as Jan said in her immediate previous post, these days are not only about selling the book. Continuing her theme, I’d like to reflect on what I learned from our time at the book table on Saturday: many of the folks we met at the Farmer’s Market are hungry not only for fresh, locally grown produce.

They are hungry for good writing.

We set up the sewing frame to let people know that the object we were selling was hand-sewn, and a number stopped to have conversations about book binding and the beauty of hand crafts.

Sewing Frame entices passersby to see hand sewn signatures: photo by Susan C. Brown

But an even larger number of passersby were fascinated by the content of When the Bough Breaks.  One person who read through the table of contents was completely stopped by the title of Lynn’s short story.   “Heartichoke!” she called out: “Oh, isn’t that just perfect, that’s exactly what it’s like!”  She bought three copies.

A retired English teacher stopped to tell us of his frustration that high school students are not guaranteed opportunities to do their own writing in English classes.  We showed him the structure of our book: the brief essays after each entry that reflect on the creative process and the role the group plays in our continually developing craft; followed by individual writing prompts—“Try this”—to encourage written responses.  At that, he was sold, too.

And a number of folks were simply pleased as punch that this joint venture meant they could buy literature with their produce: “that’s fantastic,” they said.

We couldn’t agree more.