Unlock the Muse – September 17, 2019

As I’ve mentioned before, a writer’s education should be ongoing and never-ending. There is always something more to learn. This learning might take any number of forms. One such form is the MFA in Creative Writing. Last week I looked at some of the top reasons why someone might want to pursue such a degree.

But the MFA isn’t the right choice for everyone. Here are some reasons why it might not be:

  • Cost: The typical MFA degree is a 2-3 year program, and the cost starts around $30,000. Even a low-residence program is likely to cost more than $10,000.
  • No guarantee of publication: Even with all the work to improve craft and the potential connections made during a degree program, the competition for publication is still intense.
  • Focus on literary vs. genre fiction: Despite the proliferation of MFA programs, the focus of nearly all of them remains on literary fiction. If you want to pursue genre or commercial fiction, the MFA might not be the best place.

If you’re looking for more on the subject, here are a few websites I found:

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Catcher in the Rye, Peyton Place, Blubber – sound familiar? They should, because at some point in their history, all these books were banned. Write about your favorite banned book, and explain why it never should have been censored.

Think about why a book gets banned in the first place. All sorts of books have ended up on banned book lists, including the American classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the hugely popular Harry Potter series. Right or wrong, they get banned for various reasons. But if you think about it, theses books have touched a nerve, exposed something raw and real, and made someone uncomfortable. How does this relate to your own writing? Just this, don’t worry about what others might think of what you have to say. Write the story you need to write. Let it be real and raw. Because that’s where it will reach out and potentially change someone’s life.

Encourage
ed·u·ca·tion
noun

1. The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.
2. An enlightening experience.

The word educate comes from the early 15c Latin, educare meaning “to bring up, rear, educate.” It’s also related to educere which means “to bring out, to lead forth,” from ex- “out” + ducere “to lead.”
(from etymonline.com)

Happy writing!

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Unlock the Muse – September 10, 2019

As summer officially gives way to fall, our attention moves from recreation to education. Kids are back in school. Universities are back in session. One season gives way to the next. The sun retreats behind the rain clouds. Baseball yields the field to football.

For the writer, what does it mean to turn our minds to education? For some, it might mean pursing an MFA in creative writing. This is a huge, ongoing debate – to MFA or not to MFA? This week, I’d like to look at some of the reasons why you might want to pursue a higher degree in writing. Here are a few of the top reasons I found in my own research this week:

  • Learn about and improve your craft
  • Make connections with other writers – both at your level as well as professionals
  • Dedicated focus on your writing
  • Increased exposure to other writing styles
  • Gain valuable skills in critiquing the work of others

If you want to read more about the pros and cons of and MFA degree, here are a few of the articles I found interesting:

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Write a letter or journal entry as the start of a novel. Some of the best stories in the world (Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, Dangerous Liaisons) are related to their audiences through letters and journal entries.

Write this exercise as your protagonist. Go back again and do it as your antagonist. To whom does your villain write a letter? What weaknesses are revealed as your hero pours out his heart in his journal?

Encourage
I’ll leave you this week with this thought from Nelson Mandela on the value of education:

Education Quote 1

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – September 3, 2019

Where I live, children are returning to school – my own, included. Hallelujah! But what does that mean for the writer? Writers who are also parents are no doubt rejoicing along with me, even if (also like me) they work full-time, and school time makes little difference to their schedule. Returning the kids to the routine of learning is helpful anyway, as it requires structure and discipline for the parent as well. For the non-parenting writer, maybe there is little difference as school resumes. Other than slowing down through the school zones, stopping for buses and giddily skipping through the aisles of fun art and office – oh, I mean school – supplies.

One thing the return to school routine always makes me think about is my own, ongoing education. So that is what I will focus on for the month of September.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Copy one of your favorite short stories word-for-word by hand. Before you groan, realize you’ll learn effective mechanics, imagery, conflict and action.

A writer’s training is ongoing. We are, in effect, apprenticed to those who have come before us. This exercise is intended to help you recognize the elements of a successful story. Repeat it as often as you like. But don’t stop with just your favorites. Copy a classic. Copy one you hate. You can learn something from all of these stories.

Encourage
A writer – or any artist, for that matter – should be forever curious, ever learning new things. A writer’s education, whether formal or informal, is important and shouldn’t ever really end. I’m not here to insist that anyone professing to be a writer should pursue a degree in creative writing. Nor am I going to say it isn’t necessary. Both paths are legitimate.

What I am trying to say is that there is always something more to learn – about the craft of writing as well as the subject matter. For myself, each new project brings with it a need to know something new. I have considered the idea of pursuing an MFA in creative writing, and I just might sign up for an art class at the local community college. In the interest of learning, of course.

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – August 27, 2019

I took my boys shopping for school supplies this past weekend. It’s finally happening. They will return to school in a matter of days. Vacation time must come to an end.

With writing, sometimes you need to take a break, and that’s okay. But it’s equally important to return to writing. If your vacation is coming to an end, make the most of it. Revel in your last moments of freedom and relaxation. Then prepare yourself to return to your routine. Go to bed on time. Set your alarm clock. Wake up, and write.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Imagine you see a coworker in his car, pulling out of your work parking lot. He’s crying. Why?

Can’t imagine your coworker in tears? How about that girl at the coffee shop drive-thru? Or your neighbor’s groundskeeper? What scenario has this person so upset? Create a back story for this person and drop them into a conflict that ends in tears.

Encourage
Vacation time might be over, but there’s always room for play time. Here’s a roll of the Rory’s Story Cubes to help inspire some fun!

StoryCubes15

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – August 20, 2019

Summer vacations are coming to an end across the U.S. Soon, children will be returning to school, to routine. Before you settle back into your usual writing routine, give yourself one last hoorah. Do something unusual with your writing.

Also, take some time out to go shopping! Back to school sales are a great time to stock up on all kinds of writing supplies. Pens, binders, printer paper, a new desk chair! Give yourself permission to splurge a little, on something. Even if it’s only those super adorable Star Wars push pins. It is, after all, still vacation!

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Take the last bad story you wrote and attempt to edit it into something worth reading.

That story you wrote yesterday, or last year, or whenever, that just didn’t come out the way you wanted it to, take another look at it. Rewrite, edit, reshape the story into what you want it to be.

Encourage
va·ca·tion
/vāˈkāSH(ə)n,vəˈkāSH(ə)n/

noun
1. An extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.

From the late 14c, the word vacation – meaning “freedom from obligations, leisure, release (from some activity or obligation)” – comes from the Old French vacacion “vacancy, vacant position” and directly from the Latin vacationem (nominative vacatio) “leisure, freedom, exemption, a being free from duty, immunity earned by service.”

The use of the word in English meaning a “state of being unoccupied” or “formal suspension of activity, time in which there is an intermission of usual employment,” dates back to the early 15c. As the U.S. equivalent of the British holiday has been in use since approximately 1878.
(from etymonline.com)

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – August 13, 2019

My week of vacation flew by way too fast, and I am back at the day job. I did a lot of reading, but not much else. Still, I visited a lot of amazing places. Such as Brandon Sanderson’s re-imagined Atlanta made out of salt, Rick Riordan’s Sea of Monsters, the bizarrely funny world of Shel Silverstein’s poetry and most recently, I’ve been swept off to Gita Trelease’s magical Paris of 1789.

Whether your vacation takes you to real life locales, or you wander off into the realms of the imagination, make the most of it. Let it drive your own spirit of adventure so that you can return to your own projects with renewed creativity and enthusiasm.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Have a cup of coffee when you write another 100 words.

Don’t drink coffee? Substitute tea, or hot chocolate. Have a glass of wine, if that’s your thing. The point is, write first. Reach that small goal. Then relax and reward yourself. It’s your own private mini-vacation in a cup.

Encourage
And so, today, let me leave you with this thought about vacations:

vacation quote 2

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – August 6, 2019

I’m on vacation this week. From the day job. Other things, like parenting and writing, don’t offer vacation time. As in all things, taking a break can be beneficial. Especially after reaching a milestone, or completing a large task – such as Camp NaNoWriMo. A short break can recharge and rejuvenate your creative energies. Just don’t forget to bring that renewed energy back to the writing project.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Switch writing tools: Can’t come up with anything while sitting in front of the computer? Grab a pen and paper. Use a tape recorder (do they still make those?). Scribble random phrases on Post-it notes or napkins. Use anything that makes writing easier.

In other words, take a vacation from your writing routine. Break it up and try something fresh.

Encourage
It’s a new month, and Unlock the Muse is going on vacation. So to speak. Vacation is a break. It means relaxation and fun. And so, for the month of August, we’re going to the beach, we’re going to play, relax, read a book.

Take some time out this month to play and daydream. Take a mini-vacation, if you will, from the writing project. For myself, this means I’m planning to do a lot of reading. I’m behind on my reading challenge, so I plan to read a lot of books. But it also means I’ll be reading through my growing collection of notes on the novel in progress and attempting to bring some semblance of order to all of it.

What will you do to change things up this month?

Happy writing!