Go deep

Your generation needs your voice, but swimming in the shallows of written expression will get you nothing but a handful of rocks.


                       Sugar Pine Point, Lake Tahoe                                                      Photo Credit: Catherine Keefe

According to a recent article posted on Flavorwire, titled “2013’s Worst Writing About Millennials”:

The past 12 months saw more ill-founded, hysterical, condescending, and generally awful writing than ever about what so-called “millennials” are up to and why it’s ruining the country.

Writer Alison Herman collected examples of what she calls “the lowlights of this year’s coverage.” Included in her list are the “Me Me Me Generation” story from Time magazine and a New York Times piece titled “Sex On Campus: She Can Play That Game Too.” One of Herman’s biggest complaints about the articles?  “Reducing an entire generation to a series of lazy stereotypes,” and a “lack of actual statistics.”

Read the entire Flavorwire story here.

Then be inspired to set the record straight with your own truths about your own selves.  Insert your  voice into the unending conversation.  For goodness sake, go beyond stereotypes and include facts, statistics, and primary research in your work this semester.

Maybe next year’s list of “2014’s Best Writing By Millennials” will have your name on it.

Do you want a job?


Then you’d better learn to write because it turns out there’s more hanging on the line than just words. You’re very livelihood might be at stake.

In an article titled, “Why Johnny can’t write, and why employers are mad,” posted today on NBCNews.com, writer Kelly Holland says,  “In survey after survey, employers are complaining about job candidates’ inability to speak and to write clearly.”

Turns out effective communication is a skill needed in school and the real business world.

So what can you do to increase your effective communication skills?

1: Consider adding a Minor in Writing and Rhetoric to your degree program. Here’s a description of the minor from the ChapmanUniversity 2012-2013 course catalog:

In the writing and rhetoric minor, students explore why and how people create texts. The required courses provide students with a foundational understanding of the field of rhetorical studies. Electives enable students to study a variety of methodological approaches to the study of language and writing and to gain expertise in rhetorical analysis and the production of complex texts. The minor requires a total of 21 credits, 15 of which must be upper-division.

2: Continually look for ways that the writing techniques we focus on in our class translate to writing assignments in other courses.

3: Practice effective writing techniques even in your casual communication.  For example, which text is more effective?
Just saw a partially eaten deer on the trail. It’s about 100 yards past the first gate.
Be careful of mountain lions today.

These are real life examples of the trail chatter my fellow hikers and I use to update each other.   Is it too dramatic to say that effective writing may be a matter of life or death?


Summer officially cedes to autumn.

Tans fade. Half squeezed sunscreen bottles coagulate with dried lotion and California sun dips on the horizon just enough to cast long shadows during my early evening hike.


Yesterday a coyote shadow crossed the trail. Chester growled and I stooped to grab a fist-sized rock. At home this morning, slight breeze rustled the wind chime.

Fall feels simultaneously busy and cozy. In class we’re deep in thought and edit. We face shadows which hide real and imagined self truths. We dance between the comfort of staying on the trail of the first draft, the smooth story, the path that leads us to a destination we imagined when we began.  We’re alternately sleepy and thrilled with new knowledge. We’re more tired here in Week 6 than we were in late August, fresh with our newly set goals, boosted by the adrenaline of a new endeavor.

At this point in the semester we begin to glance off road, to wonder what might happen – to us, to our stories – if we leave the trail of comfort and expectation. What if we bump along in the unknown for a while? We face our past patterns with new eyes. We squint into the light of new knowledge and try to capture some essence of this craft of writing we said we wanted to learn more about.

We face the projects, formed by the syllabus, individually shaped by our very own human natures. Some of us are steady. Some of us are more like a tide.

Some writers insist the only discipline is a daily practice. I cannot doubt the value of this. And then I come across an interview with Terry Tempest Williams in the Progressive that opens my mind to a different possibility.

I live in a very, very quiet place. I have a sequence to my creative life. In spring and fall, I am above ground and commit to community. In the summer, I’m outside. It is a time for family. And in the winter, I am underground. Home. This is when I do my work as a writer–in hibernation. I write with the bears.

This is a mirror to my own practice, this “sequence to my creative life.” It looks different than the writers who insist you must write every day, you must produce, you must train the brain to perform on demand.

I write with the sea. I write with moon and coyotes and silence.  I write with students. I write in all seasons but there are weeks when I don’t write at all. And I don’t worry about this anymore as long as I meet my deadlines. I love deadline work as much as I hate deadline work because it means I can’t live forever wordless.

Dear students, you tell me the same thing.

So, if you’re stuck, live in the desert for a day or two without panic.

I fully trust you’ll continue. I fully believe in your process.

Every day a beginning –

Every day an end.

rightside up

Photo Credit: Catherine Keefe

If I tell you this is Laguna Beach, California you see sunset. If you imagine this as Surfside Beach, South Carolina, you see dawn.

Writers frame with perspective and vantage point, but readers always bring their own unique experience to each literary work.

Readers suspend what they believe they know and journey with the written word, or they fight authorial evidence to maintain equilibrium against the slowing shifting sand of new realities. Sometimes readers don’t pay enough attention to consciously know what happens within. But trust me. Something happens when you read.

What will you read this summer?

What will you write?

The only incorrect answer is nothing.

What is poetry?

Japan 149

ENG 204 students explain that poetry is…

The extraction of concrete thoughts and ideas into an abstract meaning beyond that of the written words.

A portrait of one’s own inner thoughts unfiltered by outer forces.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious like Mary Poppins would say, poetry is like rap but more eloquent
with more complex ideas
hidden within
short and crisp lines filled with rhyme and rhythm —

A form that allows for the reader to have multiple interpretations based on current thoughts.

Poetry is writing dressed in a dinner jacket and tie.
It purposefully strides across the page to its own rhythm, reservedly exposing its intentions to the watching crowd.

Poetry is speckled wisdom transcended to us and transcribed into the written word.

— is kind of annoying
a bunch of yellow clowns huddled together inside an upside-down dumpster
trees blowing in the wind
a familiar/favorite song on the radio
a creative release of anguish pleasure despair and creating something out of feelings; letting go or holding on —

Star gazing when there’s no moon

Narcissistic catharsis.

Poetry is a little piece of the poet’s soul, expressed through words that can strike if that bit of their soul is similar enough to a piece of our own.

The manipulation of words and short phrases to convey a thought, idea, or feeling
eloquent and sounds pretty but makes my head hurt.

Poetry is artistry with words
Interpretive writing
Lyrical, rhythmical, and expressive writing

like when someone makes a basket to beat the buzzer and win the national championship only to find out the basket didn’t count because he released the ball a split second too late.

Poetry is an organized mess
Of thoughts, feelings, dreams, visions –
Poured out into puzzle pieces.
Poetry is using language to produce a feeling rather than a thought.

Poetry is –
Left for the reader to make sense of.

Poetry just is.

Release the butterfly within

How do I let my project become its most beautiful embodiment of the idea I’ve been developing throughout the writing process?


Photo Credit: Catherine Keefe

How do I effectively revise?

Students ask this, and it’s also a question I frequently ask myself.

It seems as if each writing project demands its own unique revision strategies.

I put what I’m working on away for several days or weeks, or months, if possible. I invite a few trusted readers to offer feedback.I read each line aloud, often in a British or Southern accent, to Chester my ever-patient Labrador retriever. It’s amazing how I will skip bad lines to spare his ears.

Leslie Pietrzyk, one of my favorite writing bloggers, dedicates her post today to “Strategies for Revision.” It offers something for everyone.

Some ideas are new to me.

Print out your manuscript in a different font.

Others are oft-heard which doesn’t mean the ideas are stale, but rather so effective they bear oft-repeating.

I go somewhere else to do my paper revising. Away from my writing desk, with my red pen in hand, my mind snaps into a different focus…

You can read the entire post here, “Strategies for Revision,” on Leslie’s blog, Work-in-Progress.

If you have any other effective revision methods, I’d love to hear about them.