Monday, December 14, 2009

Healing power of writing

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, a program at Iowa State University pairs people who have a chronic illness, or a mental illness, with a graduate student for six weeks of free writing classes. (Click here to read more).

The article includes the story of a woman with cystic fibrosis who was able to come to terms with the progression of her illness through her writing.

This article brought up some beliefs about writing that I hold to very strongly.

Firstly, writing is healing. It helps us explore wounds, figure out what was real, write about them, and move on. It takes pain that is jumbled and sharp when it's in our heads, and lays it out on paper, clean and neat and precise. It is not going to fix everything, but the process of writing definitely has the ability to help the healing process along.

Secondly, writing is important and has that power because it forces us to be honest with ourselves. If we write about an experience we are going through now, we have to think, what if someone read this? How would it sound to them? Would they see a side to it that I'm missing? The process of writing, esp. when it is nonfiction writing such as personal essays, is that it gives us a framework that is more objective than our own point of view, from which we can explore conflicts and tensions.

I'm glad people realize the power and potential writing and other creative pursuits have to help people heal.

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Year's Resolution: Writing more?

I ran across this column by Ann Patchett, in which she discusses the New Year's resolution she made to make a be more consistent and focused in her effort to write.

The main idea of her column is that writing is, well, work.

Anyone who studies writing or writes for a living, journalists and poets alike, are well aware of this.

Yet, it's a fact we as writers often shove into the backs of our brains. While we know that writing is work, something difficult that requires time, how much effort and how many hours do we actually put into doing what we live for?

Patchett discusses how influential this idea was for her, saying: "The more time I committed to working, the more pages I stacked up." It is interesting how, once you get the ball rolling, the ratio of work produced to the amount of time spent goes up.

She also cited being very consistent in the behavior you want to change for the first 32 days of the year as another reason for her success.

As 2010 approaches, maybe all writers should be thinking about what they will resolve to do in the new year to improve their writing.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

National Undergraduate Literature Conference

The English Department at BYU-Idaho has issued a call for submissions to the National Undergraduate Literature Conference (NULC). Acceptance of submissions will begin Dec. 15, and will be due by Jan. 25, 2010.

The NULC accepts both critical and creative writings. The two main categories for submissions are research (American literature, British literature and world literature), and creative works (essays, fiction, poetry and even creative works in Spanish).

The NULC will be held from May 31 to April 3, 2010 at Weber State University. Featured authors will include Alan Cheuse (The Bohemians), Campbell McGrath (American Noise), Ana Menendez (The Last War) and Lawson Fusao Inada (Legends from Camp).

This will be NULC's 25th year running. It will feature workshops, discussions and presentations on writing and literature, as well as provide a venue for undergraduate students to present their works.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Article on Descriptive Writing in NY Times

I came across this article in the New York Times in the Education section, written by Dinah Mack and Holly Epstein Ojalvo. They discuss descriptive writing, based on using sports reporting as a model.

I thought it was neat that the NY Times would run this sort of "how-to" article. To get tips on writing from those who do it professionally is, I think, pretty cool. I'm glad the Times wrote and ran this.

The article outlines a discussion of descriptive writing, almost as a lesson plan. It includes a warm-up, questions to ask and have discussions about, and an activity that includes creating a "Mad Libs" style fill-in worksheet from a sports article.

Students and teachers alike who are interested in journalism, or writing in general, should take a look at the article.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Jane Austen Yule Ball

The EAS, spearheaded by English professor Zan Cammack, will be putting on a Yule Ball on Saturday, Dec. 5.

The ball will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at the church across from the Kirkham. It is regency themed, and attendees will be encouraged to dress in regency costume. The dance is lady's choice. Tickets are free and can be obtained at the ticket office in the Kimball.

A workshop will be held on Thursday, Dec. 3, in which participants will be able to learn and practice regency dances.

Robert Downey Jr.: Why good writing is so important

The ability to write well is a skill that is almost taken for granted nowadays. That's why it is always surprising to me to hear peers (usually ones who don't share my major) talking about how much they hate writing, how pointless they think it is, etc.

Which is why I'm going to put this blog post on the back burner and pull it out the next time I hear someone complaining like that.

Apparently, Robert Downey Jr. did a lot o collaborating on the screenplay for Iron Man 2, and even some for a few scenes in the first Iron Man. In the blog post, director Jon Favreau is quoted: "Even in the first film, where he [Downey Jr.] was originally a hired gun playing the role, he really stepped up to rewrite scenes - he's a great writer, too. So we are really sharing the responsibilities, too."

I mean, if a multi-millionaire actor like Robert Downey Jr. finds ways to use good writing at his job, it follows that most anyone will be able to find a way to put those skills to use in their field. Even fancy brain surgeons and rocket scientists still have to write articles and research proposals and evaluations, right?

The power and importance of good writing should not be underestimated.

Especially when it comes to getting and keeping a job.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Young Writers: Why our generation is so proficient at writing.

A new anthology for American teen writers was released this month, The Best Teen Writing of 2009. It was compiled from writers aged 12-18 who received the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards in 2009.

It is great to see new venues come about, especially venues that allow young and emerging writers to get published. They have particular need for encouragement.

And how great is it that we have a nation of teenagers that are growing up writers? While some might point to social media, blogs, etc. as the downfall of teen grammar and an obstacle to honing writing skills, I think it's the opposite.

The generation that is growing up right now has more opportunity than any previous generation to practice writing, getting the writing out there, and getting immediate feedback. As a result, a greater portion of this generation is proficient in writing.

With the playing field being elevated all over in such a way, I think it will spark a lot of innovation and a higher standard for writing. I'm to see what my generation, and the ones just after it, do with writing and all the new media that is coming about. And I'm even more excited to be able to be a part of it all.

For more information, see CNN's article on it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

English Emphasis 4: Professional Writing

This emphasis will enable students to “Experience practical writing in the classroom and the ‘real world’” ( Students who wish to write in a professional setting, drafting business and other technically intensive documents, would benefit most from this emphasis. Writing classes will focus on business writing, editing and proofreading; there is also marketing, communication and other business classes as choices for this emphasis. It requires three semesters of a practicum, which will provide the opportunity for students to write in a professional style within a student-run business organization for real-world clients.

Professional writing emphasis majors will have the opportunity to read, edit, and create professional manuscripts (such as white papers, manuals, etc.). They are also required to complete an internship, which will provide the skills and know-how necessary to succeed in the business world.

Each of the emphases has a uniquely beneficial experience to offer students. Students are bound to grow and learn a lot, no matter what their emphasis. When it comes down to it, the choice is about knowing what you want to get our of your education—and then making those decisions that will get you where you want to go.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Zadie Smith's "Changing My Mind"

Famous British author Zadie Smith (White Teeth and On Beauty) released a book recently, Changing my mind, which is a collection of essays and reviews she has written over the years.

Smith cites in her essays the feeling of having her writing "grow up" in front of in audience; she was first published fairly young, in her late twenties, when her writing style was still developing, and that development has taken place with a lot of people watching.

I have often wondered, if I were to be published one day, what would I do with the things I am writing right now? Would they be good enough to be published? Would people even care to read them?

I purchased a complete collection of Sylvia Plath's poems over the summer, which includes a number of poems Plath wrote in college. I enjoyed them, but the maturation of her style and skill as she went on was apparent.

Being a student still, I know that most of what I'm writing right now is still "practice", and that it will not be perfect. Better ideas and a more mature style will come with time. It's comforting, in a way, to see that even Plath and Smith had to go through a similar process.

It really comes down to being willing to push through the blocks and the flaws to just keep writing.

A review of the book can be found here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lance Larsen reads at BYU-I

Lance Larsen held a reading on the BYU-Idaho campus on Wednesday, Nov. 11. Lance Larsen is a published poet and a professor of English as Brigham Young University.

The reading was held in Smith 240 at 7 p.m.

A meet and greet was held the following day, Thursday, Nov. 12 from 10:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Rigby Hall Lounge. He spoke about creative writing. Students were given the opportunity to interact with Larsen and ask him questions.

Larsen has had poems published in several literary magazines, including Paris Review and The New York Review of Books. His collection, "Erasable Walls," is available on for purchase.

For an interesting interview with Larsen done by Meridian magazine, go here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals"

Jonathan Safran Foer is a popular post-modernist, famous for his popular novels Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The latter happens to be one of my favorite books, and focuses on the story of Oscar, a ten-year-old boy who lost his father in the Sept. 11th attacks on the World Trade towers.

Foer's newest book, Eating Animals, is causing quite a stir. It is something of a vegetarian manifesto, written in Foer's smart and entertaining prose. In it, Foer explores the ethics of eating meat, using the process through which he decided to become a vegetarian as a kind of sprongboard for this discussion.

Actress Natalie Portman wrote a response to Foer's book (which can be read here).

I think the overall concept is very intriguing. I love seeing famous authors, writers and even journalists taking the time to write something that is both true and good.

What's more, I think that Foer's discussion is one that is important for us to consider, as a society. I think it is less about eating meat or choosing not to, and more about being aware of how the small, everyday choices we make weave the ethical fabric of our lives. It is the choices made out of habit that we should be most aware and intentional in making.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Poetry Slam!

The English Department will be hosting a poetry slam this upcoming Wednesday, the 18th. It will be held in the Crossroads at 7 p.m.

It is a free event, and prizes will be given out to "slammers." Students who wish to participate can sign up at the information desk in the Manwaring Center. All, however, are invited to come and enjoy the show.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

English Emphasis 3: Creative Writing

The creative writing emphasis is made available to students who wish to study the creative process and products of writing, as well as learn how to get their works published. It will greatly benefit students who wish to pursue a career as a published creative writer or author.

Students will have the opportunity, through 200- to 400-level creative writing classes that focus on developing the craft of writing. Genres available for focus include poetry, screenwriting, fiction, creative nonfiction, and drama. Students will have the opportunity to participate in workshops, to revise and edit their own works, and to assist their peers in doing the same. They will be encouraged to submit works for publication in the university’s literary magazine, Outlet.

I chose a creative writing emphasis because it seemed to fit why I liked English,” said Skyler Meeks, a sophomore who chose creative writing as his emphasis. “I didn't like English because I liked structure, or because I liked reading. I liked English because I liked writing--and that's what you do with a creative writing emphasis.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How should writing be taught in schools?

Apparently, according to an article in The Observer, the Brits are a bit concerned about the future of writing in their dear old language. As such, they are giving out an award for good writing, in an attempt to motivate students and teachers to improve.

First off, I don't like systems of incentives, but that's another topic for another day.

But, secondly, this article points out that reading skills are stressed in schools, but writing skills aren't. As such, students are often much further along with their reading than their writing.

I don't believe that standards in my generation and younger are declining; in fact, I believe it to be quite the opposits.
But it is true that schools have been failing students for a while, when it comes to teaching and honing writing skills. I remember being told how important reading was; not so much was writing emphasized. Writing for young people should definitely be encouraged and helped.

Theories on teaching composition and writing are pretty weird, and need some revision. English teachers set up how they want essays to go, laying out everything it should include, even what order sentences should go in (concrete detail, commentary, commentary, anyone?). As a student, this was really frustrating to me. For me, and I'm sure many other students, this approach was much more of a hindrance than a help.

Writing is a craft and a skill that is largely self-taught. A lot of what we learn about good writing is through reading good writing, and attempting to emulate it. Good writing is the result of practice.

Writing and practice should be emphasized, but it should be more exploratory and less compulsory.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Creative Writing Opportunity

Arcadia is a new literary journal founded by the MFA program at the University of Central Oklahoma. Its first issue will be out in the Spring of 2010, and will focus on writing that demonstrates a strong use of voice and place.

The journal stated that it is "particularly interested in helping young writers establish their voices within the literary community." They are accepting fiction, poetry and drama; submissions are due by March 1, 2010.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pre-Professional Conference: a Review

The Pre-Professional Conference, which took place on Oct. 8, featured workshops and presentations on writing and literature for students in the English Department at BYU-Idaho.

One of the presentations was given by James Richardson, head of the Creative Writing Departments at Princeton University. He discussed writing, and how students who wish to become successful creative writers can improve their skills. Richardson emphasized how difficult and important it is to strike a balance between being too accepting and too critical of one's own work.

Some tips Richardson gave included:
"Read a lot."
"You have to read your own work, un-self-protected."
"Space, openness, and freedom ... that's what writing is about."
"If you can't revise it, the best revision is the next poem."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

English Emphasis 2: Literary Studies

The Literary Studies emphasis offers students the opportunity to “Experience and appreciate literature as a reflection and an enrichment of the human condition,” according to the English department’s Web site. It may be most beneficial to students who wish to continue their studies in graduate school, and those who wish to pursue a career as a professor, literary critic, or scholar of literature.

“I love good literature and I enjoy what it can teach you about society and people,” said Matt Montoya, a junior with an emphasis in literary studies. “I want to go to grad school to continue studying English, and eventually become a professor.”

Literary studies focuses on the development of literary analysis, research and library skills, and knowledge of critical theories and major movements within literature, courses required for this emphasis include upper-level studies of critical theories and culture of literature and language. English majors emphasizing in literary studies will also be required to take an additional six credits beyond the literary classes required for all English majors. With this emphasis, students can expect to graduate with a collection of their own analytical papers focused on literature.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The EAS Pre-Professional Conference

The Pre-Professional Conference took place Thursday, Oct. 8 in the Gordon B. Hinckley building. The English Academic Society put the annual conference together, which their Web site described as “the biggest event for English majors and minors …”

English majors and minors were excused from regular classes to attend the conference, which featured workshops, panel discussions and readings. The keynote speakers were successful writers Nicole Mazzarella, author of “This Heavy Silence”, and James Richardson, chair of the creative writing deparement at Princeton, who both gave readings that evening at 7 p.m. Mazarella also held a Q-and-A from 2 to 4 p.m.

Jason F. Wright, author of “Christams Jars,” was also attending at the conference.

Students were encouraged to submit works to the English department. The categories of submissions included: poetry, literary analysis of British and American literature, creative nonfiction and fiction. Students with winning submissions were given the opportunity to give a reading of their work from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.

Panel discussions and workshops were offered to each of the English emphases (literary studies, professional writing, creative writing and education). Some topics discussed included how to prepare for graduate school, writing poetry and novels, writing professionally and preparing to teach.

In addition, Wright attended a few English classes outside of the conference. In one advanced creative writing class, he talked about how he gets ideas for stories. Wright outlined the process of getting a manuscript published and gave some advice to students who wished to write and get published.

"The 'nos' are going to come," Wright said. "Just keep writing."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

English Emphasis 1: Education

The education emphasis focuses on “classroom management skills and a theory of language arts instruction,” according to BYU-Idaho’s English Department Web site. It is ideal for students who wish to pursue a career in teaching or instruction within the language arts.

The education emphasis includes classes that focus on teaching methods, particularly with regards to theories on instruction in literature and composition. This will provide students with the confidence and capacity to lead classroom discussions, manage a classroom, and create curriculum that will interest, involve and instruct.

“I’m learning what it takes to be a good teacher, how to relate to students, to work effectively with coworkers,” Adams said. “I get to go to the middle school once a week and practice what I’m learning.”

Students will graduate with a portfolio of sample curriculum, units and lesson plans appropriate for language arts class.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

English Emphasis: I've got your back

College: it’s a time to grow, to learn, to prepare oneself to enter the workforce. A vital part of college is deciding upon a major. This decision alone can be exhausting.

But the decisions don’t end simply because a student has decided upon a major. One still has to choose which electives to take, what minor to choose. And as part of choosing a major, one must decide upon an emphasis, or area of focus within their major.

For those who have chosen the noble language of English as their area of study, there are three emphases available. These include: education, literary studies, creative writing, and professional writing. Each emphasis provides a unique learning experience and set of skills within the academic world of the English language.

Primarily, an emphasis decides some of the required classes of an English major’s educational career, but there are other considerations. What kinds of classroom experience can that emphasis offer? Will it increase the odds of landing that dream job? Will it really help a student acquire the skills they feel are most important to their success?

The answers to these questions depends largely on the individual student and their future plans. One student may wish to teach high school, for instance, while another will be focused on using the skills learned within their English major to work for a publishing company. The skill sets needed to succeed in each profession are related, but still quite distinct.

As such, I will be breaking the major down and discussing each emphasis individually. Look for the first entry next week.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lois Lowry reads in Rexburg

Famous author Lois Lowry visited BYU-Idaho as the keynote speaker at the Children’s Literary Conference, which took place on Saturday, Sept. 19.

Lowis Lowry is the author of several well-known children’s books, which include The Giver and Number the Stars.

The night before the Conference, Friday, Sept. 18, she gave a reading at 8 p.m. in the Hinckley chapel. With frameless glasses atop the bridge of her nose and a water bottle in hand, she spoke about her works and the experiences that led her to become an author.

Afterwards, students were given the opportunity to approach and speak with her, or have book copies signed.

One of the earliest experiences that inspired her, she recalled, was reading The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rowlings. The story inspired her to read and to write, and began her love of stories, Lowry said.

Lowry also read from her book, Gossamer. She also talked about the experience of turning this novel into a stage play, which she said was different than she had expected.

“Writing a book is a very solitary sort of thing,” Lowry said. “I set about adapting Gossamer for the stage without really knowing how. I found that on the stage, you have the problem of showing different things.

Lowry discussed her writing style and process, describing how the ideas for her books develop. As an example, she said that the idea for The Giver came from her experience of seeing her father lose his memory.

Lowry also talked about her most recently published book, Crow Call, which is her first picture book. It is an autobiographical story about a day she spent with her father after he returned from fighting in World War II.

Lois Lowry lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has five children and four grandchildren.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What this blog's about.

As an English major, I am very passionate about reading and writing. I love the written word. As such, when I was asked to start a blog, I thought about things that I really care about enough to write about every week, and writing was at the top of the list.

So, as a matter of explanation, that is what my blog is about: writing. I will be posting updates about writing and literature, with a focus on what is going on in Rexburg, and, as an extension, BYU-Idaho.

So please read and let me know what you think!