Monthly Archives: February 2008

Eileen Spinelli–On worry, risks and loving the work

 I can’t tell you how many students of mine have said, “I want to write this novel, short story, poem,” but I don’t know if I’ll ever get it published.  And I can’t say enough, don’t worry about that while you’re writing.

Worry.  Robert Frost once said that once it’s written, a draft of a poem can be worked over but the poem itself cannot be worried into being.

Here are some wise words from Eileen Spinelli about this very subject.  Spinelli is one of my favorite children’s authors, her book Sophie’s Masterpiece really is a masterpiece.  She’s also married to YA author Jerry (Stargirl, Maniac Magee) Spinelli.  Take a listen:

“Here’s a beautiful quote that I love. Natalie Goldberg said, “If you love the work, it will love you back.” How can you love the work if you’re already a mile down the road worrying about whether it’s going to be published? The publication will take care of itself. I hate to see writers just cringing and skipping ahead, and worrying about publication. I think it interferes with what you do. It makes you afraid to take risks, for one thing, because you are too afraid. “Is the publisher going to want this?” or “Is the editor going to like this?”—that’s the adult in you.”

So, quit worrying–but keep writing!

Bye y’all,

SV

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In Praise of Mistakes

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Because I’ve been deeply involved in reading Eric Maisel’s wonderful book, Fearless Creating, I’ve been thinking a lot about mistakes.  Failure.  Blowing it.

 In order to succeed as artists, and in order for our students to succeed, we must feel the freedom to take risks.  Taking risks often results in failure.  Just creating can be taking a risk, because it inevitably involves these mistakes. 

We must give our students and ourselves the freedom to fail.

Working writers already know this.  Witness Anne Lamott’s famous “Shitty First Drafts” chapter in Bird by Bird (if you haven’t read this book yet and you’re interested in writing, you simply must).  Eric Maisel writes that we must view creating as “a mistake making adventure.”  For this reason John Irving says half of his life is revision.  Philip Roth offers to hold up his own bad drafts beside anyone else’s just for sheer badness.

What does this mean in our test-driven, product-driven, results-driven society?  We simply must make room for teaching our students that mistakes, and failure are the only route to success.  The first step may well be freely sharing our own mistakes with them, sharing our own drafts, our own bad writing.  Not just the good stuff.

In my own introductory creative writing classes, I do this by not grading my student’s creative work.  Yes, I respond to it thoughtfully, carefully, and in writing, talking specifically about strengths and weaknesses.  But I don’t grade it.  Lots of other work in this class does receive a grade, peer reviews, book reviews, cover critiques, reflective work.  Just not the creative stuff.  My students love this.  It gives them the freedom to try new things.  It gives them the freedom to fail.

 How do you give your students the freedom to fail?

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Reading Grants, Writing Grants: What I Know

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I spent the weekend at one of the tables above, reading Continued Funding Applications (hereafter known as CFA’s) for the National Writing Project, a thirty plus year old federally funded program to enhance the teaching of writing in American schools and offer teachers a professional network in the process.  It was an intense, exhausting, amazing experience.  Those who submit need to know that their CFA’s are in the respectful, nurturing hands of those who are devoting themselves to getting to know their Writing Project site (there are 190! currently in the US), to celebrating what is working and to offering suggestions on addressing what’s not working.  Like most writing project efforts, it’s a “big picture,” kind of process. 

In the course of three days, I only read and wrote review letters for three sites and that was fine!  In fact, that was about average.  If I had gone faster than that, it probably would have been cause for concern.  This is not a read ’em, rate ’em, ship ’em out kind of thing.  In fact, “rating” rarely comes into play at all.  All in all a powerful experience in which I got as many ideas to bring back to our site as I proffered for the sites I reviewed. 

Now let me say a few words about grant writing, since I’ve done it for awhile, with some success, and since my friend Tim is entering the foray for the first time.  Successful grant writing really comes down to 1. writing well, incisively, cogently, etc., 2. following the directions, and 3. giving them what they are asking for.  And really, the most important are # 2 and 3.  In fact, nothing trumps #2 (but you’d be surprised how many people blow this one).  If they tell you, In this section, describe your: assessment plan, leadership team, philosophy of radical vegetable canning whatever , you’d better do exactly that or you will lose serious points.  This is not unlike an essay test, except you have time to revise.  If they tell you your budget request must equal $50,000, then asking for $49,500 will not make you look thrifty, it will make it look as if you didn’t understand the directions.

A word about budgets:  they used to scare me.  And while, there is still a lot to be scared of when it comes to money, budgets are not one of them.  Just make sure you’ve accounted monetarily for your needs and what you plan to do. 

And about deadlines.  They mean it about deadlines.  It’s very similar to publication submission context.  The Radical Canning Association is looking  for ways to winnow the six foot pile of manila envelopes threatening to trap their program assistant in her cubicle.  Envelopes that don’t meet the deadline are the first to go. Period. No exceptions.

Finally, if you’re applying for a grant from an organization that has a website, read through it carefully.  Get a sense of what this organization wants to do, what their mission is.  Google key members. If you discover the President of the Radical Canning Association has had a lifelong interest in  the rutabaga as an underutilized vegetable and you can think of a way to mention that in your canning philosophy or give a subtle nod to rutabagas in your demographics analysis, believe me, you’ll attract attention.  Mostly the good kind.

Anyway, that’s what I know and it’s worked for me.  Happy grant writing and,

Bye y’all!

SV
PS–A shopping heads up if you’re ever in Berkeley. We only had one afternoon, but the Fourth Street Shopping District was fantastic. Lots of high end fun stores (i.e. my fave, Anthropologie, Bare Escentuals, etc.), two GREAT bookstores, including one devoted entirely to books about architecture and design, and my personal favorite, Castle In the Air, an emporium for writers and artists where I picked up a bone folder and a vial of German glass glitter (not the kind of thing you can get at Hobby Lobby) for my crafty side.  Check out their website here and see for yourself. It’ll draw you in!

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A Visual History of Creative Writing or, Why I love my students

In my Teaching Creative Writing course, a senior seminar, we spend the first few weeks talking and reading about the history of higher education and the history of writing and creative writing with that landscape.  It’s a lot of history, a lot of names, dates and places to remember so before we move on, I have them get into groups to create a poster that provides a visual representation of that history.  I borrowed the idea from a grad school teacher of mine (thank you, Dr. Ann Dobie) and find that the mental leaps required to put something in visual form really helps cement that learning.

It is also great fun to see what they come up with. They are incredibly creative.  In years past, I’ve had creative writing history portrayed as the “evolution of man,” as the solar system, you name it.  I’m sharing with you some of my favorites from this year.  First, the Creative Writing History World Tour T-Shirt:
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Next, some of the text from the “comic book history of Creative Writing in Education.”

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I’d say they get it, wouldn’t you?

Coming soon, a look inside a grant review session and San Francisco sunsets.

Bye y’all.
SV

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Valentine’s Greetings

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That’s all.  Just Happy Valentine’s Day.  Which I view more as “tell your friends and family you love them day,” rather than the romantic stuff –not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂

Anyway, I’m working up some interesting writing and teaching writing posts from all my various activities in the last week or so.  Coming soon:  1.) a visual history of creative writing in higher education (courtesy of my brilliant students) and 2.) snapshots (literally and figuratively) from the National Writing Project annual review in Berkeley, CA.

Till then, don’t eat too many candy hearts–

Bye, y’all.

SV

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This one goes out to all the junk drawer people. . .

You know who you are.  Got a junk drawer? Or two? Or three? Or four?

 Bella Dia can tell you how to organize them here.

 Wish I could write more but I’ve been reading National Writing Project Continued Funding Applications all day the last two days and writing response letters.  As fascinating as that is; and it really is, my brain is completely fried.  I’m sure sometime the middle of next week I’ll get back to my normal blogging self.

Till then,

Bye y’all

SV

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Winners announced, Tornadoes devastate

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We had four sets of prizes from the AWP Bookfair to giveaway.   And the winners are:

 Tim Sisk

Monda Fason

Cindi Hoppes

Cindi Hoppes

Congratulations to the winners!  I’ll try to come up with another giveaway whenever I can. 

Cindi, please email me with your address.  I have everyone else covered.

You may have heard that my home state, as well as Tennessee (see Tim’s Bookspaz blog for more info) and Kentucky were devastated by tornadoes last night.  Our town of Conway was lucky but one of the worst tornadoes hit about twenty miles of north of us, in Atkins, as well as Clinton.

If you would like to contribute to relief efforts, click here.

In other news, WIOTD Resurfaces!
I just received a call from my youngest’s teacher. Apparently, the zipper has been stuck on his coat all day and they cannot get him out of his coat. They have tried everything but they can’t get it over his head (he’s always had a big head). Since he was beginning to really sweat, they were asking permission to cut the coat, just enough to get his head out.

Sigh. We’re going to hear about this when we get home I’m sure. But it was certainly good for a chuckle!

I’m going out of town tomorrow (again!) and may not be as able to blog for a few days.  I’m reading annual reports for the National Writing Project and I have a feeling they may not want me to blog about the process.  I’ll be taking notes of ideas for our own site, though. Can’t wait.

I’m home again Monday for a long time and thrilled!

Here’s to seasonable weather!

Bye y’all,
SV

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