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Snow, Snow, Snow

If you live in the US, there’s been a lot of snow lately. A lot of snow. Here are borrowed solace all of us editors live in areas where there’s typically snow this time of year, so we are used to it in some ways (our hearts and prayers are with those in the south and in Texas who aren’t used to these frigid temperatures and are dealing with awful problems from this weather), and in other ways, we’re still a bit…over it, just like many of you.

While we’re dealing with cold and snow, snow, and more snow, it definitely allows for lots of time to think about and work on creative endeavors. The nice thing about writing is that you don’t even have to have electricity to do it (though we sincerely hope all of you have electricity right now!) a pen and paper will do. You can create worlds with just some ink and paper, or a keyboard and a monitor.

So whether you are battling the flakes that have already fallen to the ground or are bracing for another round of the white, fluffy stuff to fall from the sky, don’t fight it–use it to inspire you and spend that extra time bundled up indoors to write. Start a new story about a futuristic universe where snow is as valuable as gold. Think about how settlers during the great westward expansion battled blizzards on the Oregon Trail and create the characters who would have been there. Take your first-hand experiences and write about them creatively, scribbling pages that one day might end up in your memoir.

There’s inspiration all around us, and this snowy weather we’re experiencing is no exception. Even if you simply take advantage of the extra time you might be facing stuck indoors right now to write more words in that novel you’ve been working on, or polish up a poetry collection you’re preparing to send to publishers, snow can serve all of us as writers.

If all you’re thinking about and all you’re dealing with right now is snow, snow, snow, don’t let it go to waste. Find inspiration where you’re at–even if that’s buried under inches (or feet) of powdery white stuff.

Spring 2021 Update

Hello folks!

We have selected the finalists for the Spring 2021 journal. For everyone who submitted, you will receive a decision soon in the submissions manager or via email. Congratulations on those who were selected. Keep an eye out for those acceptance emails as the editors move into phase 2: the editing process.

We challenged ourselves with this journal as we are going to try and do all of the background art ourselves. We are headed to Wyoming in a few weeks for some outside adventure, and to safely embrace the cold, maybe snow, and beautiful sites Wyoming has to offer (we may also dabble in what South Dakota has to offer, too). We are also staying in a supposedly haunted hotel, maybe some ghost blogs/stories to come!

Are You a Prose or Poetry Writer?

How do you choose?

Many people can argue that a writer is better fit to write either prose or poetry? Are they right? Others will argue that if you master writing poetry, than you can master writing prose, and you have the ability to write both. Are they right? If you are a beginner, how do you know where to start: poetry or prose? If you are a more experienced writer: how do you know if you really are meant to be a prose or poetry writer? In my own opinion, people can write both, but slant to writing one better.

Think of it this way, writing prose is like writing or being more suited to writing script. Prose is really any form of writing by putting words into a specific order for others to read like nonfiction and fiction genre writing. Poetry is really using figurative language to convey a message through verse, meter, rhythm and/or rhyme.

So ask yourself:

Are you more attracted to films/movies than stills/moments?

Do enjoy storytelling? Telling people stories from your life? Or stories you created?

Do you prefer to read stories over poems?

If you said yes to these questions, then you are more suited to writing prose over poetry. If you said no, you might slant more towards writing poetry. Prose writing are like films, we have before the action, the action, and then what happens after the action. In most poetry, we just have a slice of the moment, snapshot taken of the moment the poet has chosen to written.

Finding the right one…

Here is an exercise you can do: write down a creative thought, it could be a topic, a writing prompt, a moment of inspiration, something you want to write about whether it be poetry or prose. Now take that thought and list 20 words that communicate or describe the writing idea. Once you have those words, create and write! Use them in a poem less than 20 lines and in a short story less than 500 words.

Re-read each, which one was easier to write? Which one was harder to write? Which one is written better? Which form, poetry or prose, have you best communicated the creative thought?

Whichever is best is what you are more suited to or have more experience in writing. I have written fiction since I was nine. Stories about aliens coming from out of the sky to god-like beings raging war on earth with magic (I like fantasy) to also going to college to become a grim reaper in society as a job (please don’t steal my ideas). In college, (just a few years ago) I learned I was way better at poetry, even though I hated it since I was a child. Though some self-discovery with my writing self, I learned I am naturally more suited for writing poetry than what I was for fiction. My only struggle on writing prose is the structure and I write like I talk. From some reason on writing critics that is what confused people. When I write poetry, I found though there are rules, it is more my engaging to my brain and I have more independence for my creative mind to express what it wants more freely and spontaneously. Reading critics on my poetry come back more positive, I have even had poetry published in literary journals.

So how can you really tell if you are meant for poetry or prose?

Poetry is art, so are you more direct and straightforward with your writing? Do you like figurative language and the aesthetic properties of words and how to use them? Is your writing more moved by the beauty of language?

Prose is communication: is the form of writing longer than poetry? Does it consist of characters, narration, a plot, and is the reader moved by the message rather than the language?

It really boils down to your artistic sense, do you craft language to be read as art or do you craft a story to be unfold in a series of crafted letters and words? Who do you want as your audience, and how do you want to communicate to them? With musical language where meaning is conveyed through sounds or is the message more important than the language, which is prose.

Another exercise you can do, is to take the same exercise you did earlier and give it to a friend, family member, co-worker, even a stranger and have them read both the poem and story. What are their critics or takes on your writing? What does this tell you as a writer?

The beauty about writing is that it is not picky, you can marry it or divorce it, put it on the side and forget about it, or plant it and watch your words grow every day. So have fun with self-discovery on what kind of writer you were meant to be!

Previously published on HubPages.

How to Find Your Voice

What is it that separates good writers from mediocre ones? How does one make themself stand out in the midst of so many other writers in the world? Voice. Voice is sometimes elusive and sometimes hard to explain, but it is important to every great writer. Diction and voice go hand in hand, so do point of view and voice, but it’s not defined by any one thing. Voice is unique to each individual writer — you have a voice too — and it can make you stand out from the metaphorical crowd.


So if it’s so hard to explain, then what is voice? How do we, as writers, work on establishing our individual voices? Jennifer Sinor in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction explains voice as being defined by what is lacking. She says “Voice…is one of the most vital yet ephemeral qualities of writing. We can’t point to it on the page, pin it down, say that here, right here, in the way this sentence runs or in this choice of words or in this use of detail, we have a voice. Rather, we note its absence by the distance we feel from the writer, from the subject, or from the words on the page.” If you’ve done your fair share of reading (which you should have, if you are at all interested in becoming a writer), then you’ve likely identified an author’s voice in writers you‘ve come to love. Most often in my own examination of a work of literature, I notice voice when I see clever turns of phrases and ways of using words that just make sense. Voice makes a story flow on the page in a way that works and that gives insight into a character, narrator, or world perfectly.


Janet Burroway compares a writer’s voice with their audible voice in Imaginative Writing. Often, you can tell who is speaking — celebrity, family member, or friend — just by hearing the sound of their voice. We all have ways of speaking that differentiate us from each other. It may be that we say “uh” too often, have a southern twang to each syllable, or pronounce words uniquely so that they stick out when you hear them said. We lack the ability to hear words being said when we read, as writers, we have only the words on the page to develop our voice, and Burroway says, that this is done primarily through diction, which conveys “not only the facts but what we are to make of them, not only the situation but its emotional coloration, not only the identity but also the attitude of the person who speaks from the page.”


But how do we, as writers, write in such a way that makes our voice clear?
The most important step is to simply practice writing. As I recently heard from my boss (who is not a writer, I might add), writers write. So start writing! Experiment. Write from a third-person point of view and make your narrator a character in the story. Write the same scene a million different ways with a different tone each time. Make a character come across as snobby without describing them that way, make a character seem shy without describing them as quiet, figure out how to describe a character by only explaining their physical actions, and then try it all over again.


Developing your voice is hard work, and, as Burroway also says, “an author’s voice has a quality developed over time.” Your voice won’t become distinct overnight, you have to get to writing! So pull out your pen and notebook, or your laptop and your trusty fingertips, and get going. The best advice, for now, comes once again from Burroway (go read her book if you’re new to writing — there is much to learn from her skilled essays and prompts) — “seek to voice, and your voice will follow.”


We live in a world where there are a million voices coming at us every day — a mile a minute — so cultivate your own garden of words and your voice will grow. One day, and one word, at a time.

Previously published in The Creative Cafe

8 Books to Read This Year to Improve Writing

John Steinbeck—A Russian’s Journal—1948

Norman Mailer—The Armies of the Night—1968

Joan Didion—Play it as it Lays—1970

Brian Turner—Here Bullet—2005

Mohsin Hamid—The Reluctant Fundamentalist—2007

Flannery O’ Connor—The Violent Bear it Away—1955

William Gibson—Neuromancer—1984

James Baldwin—Notes of a Native Son—1955

Why? Here is what you can learn from these authors and their writing:

Steinbeck

If you break his sentences down, record his syntax, find his diction, and watch for his descriptions, you’ll learn a lot from this author. Steinbeck is famous for simple syntax and diction that contrasts his complex descriptions. There are six keys things to his writing: 

1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.

5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

For more check out the article here: 

Also a great insight is The Paris Review. They interview authors, and get the in-depth reasoning of how they view their own writing.

Mailer

Mailer can teach you many journalistic techniques in this book. He also refers to himself in the third person. He uses very complex syntax and imagery filled with lots and lots of thoughts and beliefs and values. 

Here is another interview with The Paris Review for more reading!

Didion

Didion can teach you how to write in a masculine syntax, the same syntax and descriptions as Steinbeck. Didion even admits she broke Steinbeck’s sentences down to understand them and learn how to write like him. She writes fiction like nonfiction, and can be intimate as well as distant with her characters. She also often omits commas and has very short chapters within this novel. 

Here is more reading on Joan Didion’s fiction on The Paris Review and here is an article about her nonfiction.

11 Writing Tips From Joan Didion, Because She Knows A Thing Or Two About It (from Bustle.com

1. “Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.”

2.  “Yes, and the last sentence in a piece is another adventure. It should open the piece up. It should make you go back and start reading from page one.”

3. “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

4. “The impulse to write things down is a particularly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”

5. “It’s hostile in that you’re trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture. It’s hostile to try to wrench around someone else’s mind that way. Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else’s dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.”

6. “Let me tell you one thing about why writers write: had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel.”

7. “All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed.”

8. 8. “As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs… The way I write is who I am, or have become…”

9. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

10. “What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.”

11. “I think of writing anything at all as a kind of high-wire act. The minute you start putting words on paper you’re eliminating possibilities.”

Turner

He is a poet. Turner can teach you how to observe from the outside and describe the details from the inside. He uses strong images and strong metaphors to explain the world. 

You can check him out here.

Hamid

In this book, Hamid can teach you how to place the setting and how to position the gender of the narrator; how to use archetypes to exchange with the story, and how to set the tone of a story. 

See more about his writing style and thoughts here.

O’Connor

If you want to write a confusing and complex story that confuses the hell out of your reader, then read this book to learn how twisted your readers can get over what you write. Also, if you want to learn how to write a story set in the 1950s, this is a great book to learn the diction of the time. She uses repetitive images throughout to carry the theme of the book as well. 

Check out her thoughts on style here at The Paris Review, and here.

Or take a look at eight writing tips from Flannery O’Conner.

Gibson

If you want to learn how to write Cyberpunk, here you go. Gibson is kind of the forefather to this genre even though he refuses the title. The great thing about Cyberpunk is it can teach a writer how to create complex descriptions about a single thing using several figurative language techniques. These quotes are both from his book:

“His eyes were eggs of unstable crystal, vibrating with a frequency whose name was rain and the sound of trains, suddenly sprouting a humming forest of hair-fine glass spines.” 

“A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he cut in Night City, and he’d still see the matrix in his dreams, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colourless void… The Sprawl was a long, strange way home now over the Pacific, and he was no Console Man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, hands clawed into the bedslab, temper foam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.” 

His book and writing style is very dense. Here is his interview with The Paris Review.

Lastly, Baldwin

What’s makes his writing so unique is the eloquence of his syntax and his rhetorical attack of any topic. Baldwin really lets readers view the world the way he views the world. His sentences may be short, but they are packed with dynamite syntax. He likes to write a sentence that has heart–making the reader feel. Despite this, his style was criticized for being over-bearing, too moral, and too direct with any moral statements. Most of the topics he writes about are morally complex, so if you want a character who can be complex with morals, learn from the nonfiction of Baldwin.

His history and upbringing also make him an interesting writer. Check out his interview with The Paris Review here.

Merry Christmas

Hello to all,

Happy Holidays! To all and any holiday you may celebrate, the editors here at borrowed solace wish that your celebrations be blessed and as happy as they can be in the middle of COVID-19.

For a quick update, submissions for our Spring 2021 journal will close January 31, 2021. If you want to submit, we would love to see what you have in store. Head over our website and click the submissions tab!

For those who want a list or something to read on this day of merry cheers, check out the link for some of the most highly recommended Christmas books.

Thanks for sticking with us this year! May your Christmas be very merry, and very bright!

Love,

The borrowed solace editors

The Argument for White Space in Poetry—Why do we need it?

I admit it. I was a white/blank space dissenter. A true non-believer. Why must there be blankness in poetry? Isn’t that artificial? SOOOO—overdone and an artsy cliché. As I’ve read and dived into craft, however, I am beginning to become a white/blank space advocate. Now, I admit there is purpose and necessity.

White space or blank space is when the poet or author uses blankness or emptiness to visually create an aesthetic. It is purposeful. Poetry is both seen and heard/spoken. That blankness also creates lack of sound or changes the sound. This makes writing dynamic—visually, orally, and audibly. The term white space comes from the idiom “the blank white page.” This is also true of the term blank space. Both are correct and can be used interchangeably. There are many types and variations of white/blank space. Examples are endless. I suggest trying some in your verse or prose—slide in an extra tap of the return key or an extra indent.

I am going to explain only a few of the reasons to use white/blank space—I believe them to be the most important and the most used, and more importantly, the most relevant. I will explain the reasons for indentation and collapsing the frame, putting space between words in the same line, and creating stanzas (both why a new stanza and what it does it do when adding that space).

Collapsing the frame sounds like taking a photo and crushing it to pieces—and in a sense that is what will happen to the poem or flash fiction that is being condensed spatially. I usually use a 1-inch margin, many lit mags provide guidelines as well, but by condensing the frame a square or box becomes apparent. Lines bleed together. When read, the pacing is fast, breathless even, and individual words pop out, but do not linger. There is no hesitation. Visually, this creates a capsule. It shows potency and density. Prose poems and flash fiction benefit particularly from this method. 

Timothy Liu is an excellent example of collapsing the frame. “What the Magdalene Saw,” in Typo he writes:

on thread-bare sheets to shroud a beat-up
mattress scarred with tiny cigarette burns
as towel-wrapped lunchtime gents line up
outside the door–peccadilloes that turn

The imagery is dynamic in of itself, but the white/blank space creates a cramped look on the page and a jarring pace while being read. If you want poetry or prose to a have power, collapsing the frame is a valuable and sometimes necessary tool.

Indentation is a variable of collapsing the frame. I mention it more for prose writers, but the technique can be just as formidable in poetry. An indent creates or signals a new line or sentence, and arguably a new thought. This is completely true, but visually, the indent allows the reader to blink and for the prose to appear less daunting and dense. This is the opposite of the collapsing of margins. Indenting gives space and pause and lets both the last word from above and the first word starting the line/sentence to be highlighted. In poetry, the same is true of the visual. However, by indenting the line, the pause is highlighted more than the words leading up to it and the word that follows.

Placing white/blank space in the line allows for pause and reflection on each individual word. In poetry, each space represents a pause to the reader. This means that the pause will be accented as well. e.e. Cummings is well-known for unconventional craftmanship, but “Crepuscule” is a brief example of what white/blank space does to the line. He writes:

I will wade out
                                 till my thighs are steeped in burn-
ing flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth

The poem continues on, allowing images to settle on page and words reverberate on the tongue. If a word or phrase needs to resonate, this tool is effective. While it is used in poetry, it can powerfully create drama and builds intrigue in prose work. Speculative fiction and genre bending writing would greatly benefit from this technique, but as with all creating, imagination is limitless and so are the possibilities.

Finally, stanzas create dynamic and jarring pauses both on the physical page and when read aloud. This is important because emphasis and readability need to be remembered when writing. If there are many short stanzas, the pace is broken up repeatedly. This is good if you want thoughts to linger, bad if you want to have more movement down the page. If there are no stanzas, the pace is usually less broken and a box shape is created. This means the poem will read fast and that the end word of lines will be heightened. Stanzas can be viewed as small scenes, the white/blank space encapsulating and separating images.

There are no wrong choices. But, every poet/writer/author should know why they are choosing a particular method and what the effect of the tool is. There are happy accidents, but nothing beats creating with authority and knowledge.