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.

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.

Write Forevermore

If you’re like me, you’ve probably already listened to Taylor Swift’s new album, evermore, multiple times this morning. Or maybe you’re a normal person who didn’t wake up and immediately play the new album and lay in bed reading the lyrics as you listened. Either way, I would encourage you to use evermore (or your favorite album from your favorite artist that came out recently) as writing inspiration!

I find that I get my inspiration from the oddest places at times, but something that almost always can serve as inspiration is music. Music is essentially poetry put to instruments. Lyricists rely on words to tell a story through their music just like writers use words to create other worlds. Words are the foundation upon which we stand, so why not take inspiration from the words of others?

evermore is an album made up of stories. Taylor Swift created people–some imaginary, some based on real-life–to write these songs about. Some of them are characters from her folklore album released earlier this year, some have tragic storylines, some wind up with their true love at the end. But they are all stories.

So today, if you are looking for inspiration or somewhere to start with your writing, I’d encourage you to pick a song from evermore (or another story-driven album) and write the backstory, what happens next, or the other character’s perspective. Turn your writing into a response song, or a poem, or a short story. I’m sure you could even find enough inspiration to write a novel if you tried!

As always, we are eager to see what you come up with. Share in the comments below or, if you are so inclined, submit it to the journal for consideration!

Writing Your Way Out of a Slump

Have you ever run into a writing wall?  Have you felt inspired and written non-stop for months on end only to burn out?  I know I have, and it’s hard!  I find that writing tends to come in waves for me.  I shuffle between times where I can’t turn off the faucet of writing ideas in my brain and times where I’m in a creative drought.  It’s especially hard to keep going when I’m in one of those times of writing struggle periods—writing is the thing I love to do and the thing that inspires me, but when I’m searching for inspiration and coming up empty-handed, it’s really hard to keep going!

So if you are like me and cycle in and out of writing periods in your life, and could use some inspiration, here are some ideas to get your creative gears turning again:

1. Write in a different genre than you usually do.

Writing in a different genre for fiction writers can be an amazing tool to get you excited about writing again.  Every writing genre has its own quirks and stereotypes.  Maybe lean into those as you go along—write a romance that follows all the tropes.  Come up with the best meet-cute story you can think of and write an outlandishly by the book romance worthy of Harlequin.  While you may not end up finishing the story or writing anything actually worthy of publication, it can get you excited about writing your usual genre again and give inspiration.

2. Write in a completely different format than you usually do.

Try writing a journalistic piece, or some experimental poetry.  Write about real life rather than the fantasy world you usually write in.  Try a more formulaic concept like writing a villanelle or even a simple haiku.

3. Try journaling.

I’ve mentioned this before, but journaling is the only form of writing that I consistently do—it usually doesn’t end up in a creative landslide of ideas for me, but it can definitely help with weeding through the overgrowth that clogs my brain and stops me from wanting to write.  I find that even stream-of-consciousness journaling can lead to some unexpected places and new writing ideas!

4. Keep a list of things you want to write about in the droughts and the downpours.

This is my most useful tip—any time you have an idea or a thought that inspires you to write, take a few minutes to actually write them down!  This is the same concept as a writer’s notebook that you keep stashed in your back pocket wherever you go, but for me, it’s a Google doc (many pages long) that has ideas for articles, poems, or stories.  Keep a list so that when you get stuck and don’t know where to go next, you have a roadmap, of sorts, to get you back on track with writing something.

5. Take your inspiration from pop culture.

One of the easiest ways to get writing inspiration that can help write you out of a funk is to take it from elsewhere!  One of my favorite things to do is to take the headlines from a newspaper or the titles of the shows in your Netflix queue/Spotify playlist and use them to write something new.  Take the first three titles you see and roll with it.  Or take the longest headline you can find and create a story using every word in it.  Make a game for yourself to get going, and pretty soon you’ll be back to writing non-stop.

I hope this list helps you if you are going through a writing drought.  Remember that it’s okay and normal to have periods of no writing, but that you don’t have to stay there forever.  Write yourself out of that slump and get back to doing what you were meant to do.

Ship of the Sky

This week on the blog we are bringing back the exquisite corpse! A little morbid sounding, this is just a writing exercise where you work collaboratively with another person (or more than one person) to add bits and pieces of language together to make a complete poem (or story, or song, or whatever you’d like!) This week, I was joined by Addey to create a poem over text message. So here it is:

Ship of the Sky

By Nicole McConnell and Addey Vaters

The raindrops fall like heavy boulders onto my shoulders.

No matter how hard I tried to harden myself, they soaked me, not rolling off or crumbling.

All the while I stood still in this eye of the storm you created, not moving, not waiving…

Instead waiting for an outcome I knew wasn’t coming.

But I wasn’t alone, the ocean surrounded me.

The crashing waves matched the crushing doubt consuming my soul,

And from that a ship rose out of the water next to me, the moon its sails, the muted sun its hull, the stars it’s deck

It sprung to life out of the nothingness of the sea as if beckoning me aboard…

A string of stars pulled me up onto the deck,

And the churning wind blew into the sails, propelling me into destiny.