Creative Biting, or How Meeting with Some College Students Sparked Something

REGULAR READERS of these missives — all three of you — will recall an almost 15-year history of on-again, off-again blogging. There have been fertile periods, the occasional collaboration, new focuses and themes, and — no small point — friendships made. Blogging has been a rewarding endeavor.

When I mentioned this history to the director of the writing center at the university where I work, he asked if I would meet with some of the student staff who were interested in relaunching its blog as an additional way of helping their peers. I dropped by the other day and had a delightful conversation with eight or so students and the director, a faculty member in the English department. We talked about editorial calendars and engaging content, about guest posters and tips of the week, about posting regularly and tags and categories, about writing with a genuine voice and encouraging the kind of back and forth that made the whole thing so much fun once upon a time.

When I left there were the expected thanks for my time and thoughts. The gratitude, though, went both ways.

My efforts here have been admittedly spotty. I could make all kinds of excuses about being busy, but as has been pointed out, we all get the same 168 hours a week. It’s up to us to determine how we spend them. The ones who create make the choice to spend it creating, just as I make the choice to spend it dicking around on Twitter.

In sharing my experiences and perspective, I could feel the urge returning. The urge to create and share. The urge to make the world better — YES, I KNOW THAT’S CORNY AND I DON’T REALLY CARE BECAUSE IT’S TRUE DON’T @ ME — through the creative work I believe myself capable of.

That urge was fueled by the curiosity of those students, and by the counsel I offered in return. It was if there were a giant neon sign blazing in front of my eyes: “TAKE YOUR OWN ADVICE, BOYO.”

So that’s what I’m going to try to do. Thanks to a group of interesting, funny, smart students who — and this part is important — want to use their talents to help their peers. To make the world better. | DL

Burnet Up, Or How Just a Few Kind Words Can Inspire the Writer in Me

 

WITNESS STATEMENTS. Memoir. Medical reports. Journal article. Trial record.

There’s an awful lot going on in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s novel His Bloody Project, not least of which is that the crime referred to in the title is established in its opening pages. A triple homicide in a poor village in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1860s — that’s what happened, and the reader knows it straight away.

It is in the how and the why where Burnet’s tale lies. Using a variety of storytelling techniques and devices — those listed up there in the first line — he crafts a strikingly original work of vivid details, meticulous characterization, and compelling plot. As a writer, I have found myself returning to Burnet’s adroit handling to figure out how to make my own work better without throwing up my hands in despair because nothing I produce will ever be that good.

I tweeted as much to him and Matthew Klam — whose deeply felt Who Is Rich? I hope to discuss in a future post — and was reassured that all of us who struggle to make magic with words are wrestling with the same demons.

“If it’s any consolation,” Graeme Macrae Burnet tweeted back at me, “I often have the same thought!”

Yes, indeed, Mr. Burnet. It is of enormous consolation. I’ll be back at the keyboard tonight. | DL

Severance Hackage, or Why Kenny Cosgrove Has No One But Himself to Blame

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AMONG THE MANY entertainments of Mad Men is the train-wreck thrill of watching its talented, pretty characters self-destruct in spectacular fashion. They smoke too much, drink too much, work too much, and sleep with the wrong people over and over and over again. But what secondary character Ken Cosgrove did in Sunday’s episode makes Don’s, Peggy’s, Roger’s, Pete’s, and Joan’s transgressions look like harmless, impish fun.

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Creative Righting, or How an Irreverent Marketing Campaign May Inspire Me to Reorient the Ship

kkaprod2_largeWHIT HILER WAS not the presenter I expected to be the one to deliver my annual March jolt of “Get off your ass and create.” That shock of inspiration inevitably happens at CUPRAP’s spring conference, typically courtesy a gifted writer or determined peer. Hiler, though, is not only an agency guy but also a partner in a side project called Kentucky for Kentucky, whose goals include rebranding the Bluegrass State with the tagline “Kentucky Kicks Ass.”

Yeah.

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Hershey Bliss, or How a Work Conference Is About So Much More Than Work

IN A FEW weeks I’ll head to Hershey, Pennsylvania, for the annual meeting of a professional organization on whose board I serve. As I’ve written about previously (and previously), this meeting never fails to inspire me. The attendees are talented, creative people not only applying their skills in the field in which I work, but also chipping away at their own personal callings. Talking with writers, artists, photographers and designers between sessions and during the social events has inevitably refilled my creative cup and compelled a vow to renew my own artistic efforts. I don’t imagine this year will be any different.

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A Smack in the Face About the Need to Be Creative

THE THREE gifted storytellers spoke with passion, eloquence, good humor, and conviction about how they do what they do, and why it matters, and when they were done–no, even before they were done–I was reminded of why it’s so damned important for me to find the time to tell my own stories.

I’m in Hershey for the annual conference of a professional organization I’m fortunate to be part of, and the same thing happened at last year’s gathering. I had encountered a couple of folks who work in my field and chatted with them about the struggle of creative work outside the office. The conversation had turned to blogging, and one of my new friends confessed a desire to return to it:

Like me, she wants to write beyond her job; like me, she’s had it fall by the wayside of late. And so we exchanged contact info and pledged together to get back on the horse.

I can’t say it happened for me. Too many other things have gotten in the way–the job, the commute, the house, the family–but the truth is that one needs to make the time for these things if they are that important.

And they are, at least to me.

Yesterday, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a college communications director and freelance writer, and an alumni magazine editor addressed more than a hundred people rapt with attention in a crowded meeting room. Their topic was “Telling Your Story: Good Writing Is Still Good Writing in Any Media” and was meant to inspire us to be as creative as possible whether in a tweet, a 2,000-word feature, or anything in between.

Inspire it did. (Search for “#CUPRAP14” on Twitter and bask in the accolades.) For me, though, it did more than that.

Hearing this diverse trio talk of telling your story, no matter who’s listening, no matter who’s telling you not to bother; hearing them exhort us to write with honesty and fearlessness; hearing them urge us to find truth in the universal as well as the minute; hearing all of this and so much more was a smack in the face that got me thinking about my own calling. Not my job, but what I consider my calling.

My gift is the ability to tell stories–I have no doubt of this. Stories can be told in many ways, to many audiences, across many platforms, and I am doing it to a small degree, but not nearly enough. I have no doubt of that, either. I have more stories to tell–my own stories, in my own way.

I need to start telling them. Not want. Need. | DL