My family moves a lot. Beginnings are often stressful, disorienting things, while endings might be joyous, grief-filled, and everything in between. Funny how stories are like that too. It’s often so difficult to know how to begin a story or how to tie it up at the end. Why are beginnings and endings so hard to do well in writing and life?
A little over ten years ago, I had almost a decade of English teaching experience, a couple years paid freelance writing work, several creative writing university courses under my belt, and a few small publications in poetry and nonfiction. A friend’s mom, Mae, had written a query letter for her second novel. She asked me to read it and give her some writing feedback. What could go wrong?
When Mae asked, I had not attempted to write an entire novel or a query letter. I had read thousands of novels and a few letters, but I had not studied the structure and requirements of each. I assumed writing was writing. Surely with a degree in English and a little experience, I was qualified to give good feedback?
Nope. Not even close.
Whether I’ve blown it at work or reacted poorly at home (hypothetically of course), I often need a fresh start. Why? Because I’m human and I have a tendency to get in a rut. Sometimes my ruts are grounded in bad habits or faulty beliefs.
It’s not great for me as a human being, but it’s terrific for fiction. The first step to making a fresh start for me or my characters? Figuring out our default settings.
Your goals fell by the wayside when you got sick in February. You stared at your keyboard for five minutes three mornings in a row before the kids woke up a full hour earlier than usual. In the car, you tap the steering wheel at a red light feeling the world is mocking your lack of progress on your manuscript.
Are you in a slump? Or is this just a season? Can you figure out how to get out of a slump—or are you just stuck?
Happy Poetry Month! My students often scowl when I announce we’ll be reading a poem or covering *heaven forbid* an entire unit on poetry. Poetry often bothers people—it certainly bothers me in the best possible way.
Sometimes poetry feels lofty and pretentious and seems to say, “I know something you don’t know,” which is obnoxious, like an older sister taunting us. Some poetry makes us scratch our heads and say, “What the heck was that all about?”
But if we keep reading, poetry often moves us in ways a paragraph can’t. It requires a compression of language and meaning, tucked inside precise words that create concrete images. Poets, with a wink and a wry smile, trust us to read well. (Writers of all genres: we can learn so much from the poets!)