Thursday, June 17, 2010

Owning Your Own Writing

One of the first workshop environments that I experienced was in a poetry writing course I took in college. What a refreshing change it was to have people invest time and thought into my writing. I recall in high school having to trade papers and edit for each other, but the focus was mainly on grammar and spelling. We would simply mark the corrections in red ink and add generic comments of “Good work!” and “Nice job!” To avoid any social mishaps as a result of hurting someone’s feelings, we avoided commenting on the quality of the content. Then, that one college poetry class introduced me to a whole new element of workshopping, a more grown-up, sincere way of working with other writers who (hopefully) had visions similar to my own, which would be to make our writing better. No longer writing for a grade, we were encouraged to write for ourselves in such a way that we could express our feeling and thoughts and engage our readers to make a connection. I suddenly wanted to hear what aspects of my writing the reader was confused about, or what really resonated with them. While you try to take everyone’s responses into consideration, it’s not always possible or practical to do so. This is where taking ownership of your own writing comes into play. It’s your creation. Someone can give you parenting advice, but ultimately, you know what’s best for you and your baby. If a peer reviews your work and offers not only criticism but suggestions, it is worthwhile to take that into account considering they are making an effort to explain what will clarify the piece for them. That is much easier than dealing with someone who is asking you to change the content of your piece for their own personal taste-or worse, because they feel it is a course requirement to hack your baby into tiny pieces, leaving you to put it all back together again. In some cases, instead of changing the work itself, you may need to change the audience.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


One of the hardest experiences I had with writing turned out to be the most rewarding. As a final for the Poetry Writing Workshop course I took, I had to write a poem that fit a number of elements into it, including:

• Four beats (8 syllables) to the line (can vary slightly)
• Six lines to the stanza
• Three stanzas
• Use run-on lines between stanzas one & two, and two & three
• Use at least one foreign word somewhere in your poem (besides “faux”)
• Use clear English grammatical sentences (no tricks), although fragments are okay. All sentences must make sense within themselves
• Insert yourself somewhere in the poem (“I...”)
• Use at least one simile (comparison using “like” or “as”) and at least one metaphor in the poem
• Use at least one phrase of dialogue (in quotes)
• Use 5 nouns, 5 verbs, 5 adjectives or adverbs from a given list

I struggled for a bit with the restrictions but then it came to me-I would write a poem about a lazy day of fishing-something I don't get to do often, but would like to. Once I got the image in my mind, the words flowed out. Though it wasn’t completed without numerous revisions, it felt like a puzzle that I was putting together and once the outside edge was done, the rest of the pieces just kind of fell into place. I felt excited that I could follow the given form that the whole class was assigned but still create this piece that was unique to me. Based upon the reception I got from the class and instructor, it was the kind of piece that was a lot of hard work to write but the final product made it seem like it was effortless.

La Muerte De Los Pescados

Yawning, I watch as lazy drains
into the mosquito chewing
above my elbow. The slack line
on my pole sways like old lady
Simpson’s Buick, tires swapping
tar for soft shoulder. Dents reveal

that more than mosquitoes have kissed
her bumper. Land dwellers at risk,
the fish are safe for now. The faux
lure confirms my belief that there
is a conspiracy between
fish and bait, exposing the hook

to give me away. The dense heat
exhausts. “Time for a siesta.”
Nodding off, the pole tugs, the reel
spins like a turnstile, line careens
through the residue of pollen.
As it zips, music to my ears.

-Steph Milligan 04-23-08

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Week 6 Blog Assignment ENG 330

The Zinsser reading this week focused on the interview and pointed out that finding the human element in a story was most important. If you let people who have a passion for or genuine comments on the issue you are writing about tell the story, it will be sincere and all the more interesting. The article was useful because it reminds you that everyone has something to say and for the most part is willing to share when asked. I think that even though it may be intimidating to do an interview, once you do it, you’ll find that it isn’t as hard as you thought because people like to be heard and if they are approached for their expertise or opinion on something, they will likely share.

The Graham reading focused on the use of anecdotes to illustrate a point in your writing. It gives the reader a short story to recall that exemplifies the thesis. The use of the anecdote ties in with what Zinsser was discussing because it adds a human element to “articles even when writing primarily about things or concepts” (Graham 121).

My anecdote:

As she pulls the large glass Pyrex measuring cup out of the microwave, the liquid inside sloshes around, almost spilling over the edge. Setting it on the countertop, she takes a sip of Sambuca from her glass. Things are starting to get a little sloppy at this point and the large knife that she uses to cut the chunks of solid glycerin is hovering near the edge of the counter. “What color and scent do I want to go with this time?” she muses as she scans the several glass bottles lined up in front of her. “Almond fragrance with yellow color!” she exclaims as though this is a new combination. On occasion you will find Pat making soap on Friday evenings. It is her calming ritual after a particularly long work week. “My grandchildren won’t use any other soap you know,” she relays with a beaming smile. She pours in a hint of yellow coloring and some of the almond scent. As she stirs, the liquid takes on an iridescent appearance and the delicious scent wafts up and spreads throughout the kitchen. She slowly pours the liquid into the mold and as she sprays the surface with a squirt bottle, the scent of almond disappears and is replaced with the biting odor of rubbing alcohol. “It takes out the bubbles,” she comments and moves the mold to the side. Bringing one over that has already solidified, she bangs it on the counter to get it to release. When this happens, the knife falls on the floor just inches away from her foot. Exhaling from the struggle of bending over to pick it up, she rinses it off and gets out the silicone ruler she uses to measure the bars of soap, though none of them ever really end up the same size. The first cut reveals the swirls and scent of the blue and white “ocean breeze” scented bars she prepared in a mold earlier in the evening. “I love that smell,” she says as she sticks out her arm for me to take a whiff. I amuse her with the “oohs” and “aahs” I know she expects and she seems satisfied. Cutting the rest of the bars from the mold, she piles them in front of the shrink-wrap machine. “I think I’ll do that tomorrow,” she says as she picks up her glass and takes another sip. Placing the measuring cup, knife and cutting board in the sink, she offers me a bar to take with me as proof of her accomplishment. She hands me a bar that is already wrapped and labeled, red with a “Summer Rose” sticker on it. Now that she is relaxed, she leaves the last mold to harden and sees me to the door before she goes to rest her worn-out feet.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Week 5 Blog Assignment

Objective: While most of your writing this week will deal with larger spaces, I'd like to suggest that you use this opportunity to warm up by working with a small space. Place yourself wherever you usually do your writing. Now show that place to your reader without using the words "cozy," "small," "open," "professional," "noisy," or "quiet."

The intermittent buzz of the DVR recorder (at least I think it’s the DVR recorder) lures my attention away from the computer monitor and over to the muted television set. The silent picture promises an amusing episode of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New Jersey but that is if, and only if, I get my homework done and can still keep my eyelids propped open. Otherwise, that tantalizing episode will join the rest of the archived shows I never really get around to seeing, but feel comforted in having nonetheless.

Trying to train my attention back onto schoolwork, I catch a glimpse of what is behind me in the large standing mirror leaning against the wall that happens to be in my direct path of vision leading back to the monitor. The walls enclose a space no bigger than what I imagine Martha Stewart’s cell to have been in jail, but they are sufficient for what needs to happen within them. A computer desk, black, but adorned with gouges resulting from careless moving, an armoire, also black, but with scratches from the clumsy handler of the computer desk, and a large queen-sized bed layered with numerous blankets and pillows all surround me as I work. The pile of books on my nightstand never really diminishes, and with each course I take, the promise of a growing library presents itself to me daily. The wheels on my desk chair never have the opportunity to squeak as the floor space is confined to a “turn-around” area only. I can spin my chair around, but not without catching my knee on the corner of my bed. In the other direction, a pyramid of shoes that doesn’t fit in my closet is spilling out into the only area that could come close to being designated a walkway.

It’s tough having to move back in with your parents to finish college, especially when you work full time to try to support yourself but the paycheck awarded to you by the local school district doesn’t cut it. I am thankful for the intimate setting in which I get to focus on my academics, but the setting is the only thing I would describe as “intimate” in the bedroom that I inhabit at my father’s house.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

On Drafting the Personal Essay: ENG 330

A point that Zinsser made about the narrowness of the memoir versus the autobiography is what summed up the differences for me.
Autobiography: Narrow
Memoir: Narrower
Personal Essay: Narrowest
Even after writing my piece, I kept saying “Is this a memoir? Yes. No. Wait-it’s a personal essay. It’s more of a snapshot of one event. But it has affected me my whole life! It’s a memoir. No-it’s a personal essay.” Truthfully, I still have questions as to how the class will perceive it in our workshop. I tried to take into consideration that a personal essay is informal, intimate, and honest- all elements that are present in my piece. I also made it clear that I was not an expert in my area and suffered because of it-but also learned because of it, satisfying the aspect of interrogation.

The issues that had arisen for me when planning my personal essay were in regards to giving myself permission to write about something that I might otherwise prefer to keep private and being able to narrow in on a specific time in my life that I wanted to highlight. I found myself asking “How much do I want to reveal?”, “Who would be offended if I made a connection between alcoholism and eating disorders?”, and “If someone else wrote about this, would I want to read it?”

My weight is a HUGE issue and it’s hard for me to discuss it without injecting some humor to make light of it. I do, however, realize the value in sharing such a story as I am not the only person in the world to deal with this-or any other type of bodily insecurities for that matter. You don’t have to be overweight to relate to my essay. Maybe you have a desire to get a boob job because you think your boobs are too small. Maybe you think your nose is too big. Maybe you have a third nipple you want removed. Whatever the issue, I think that most people would find some common ground with the event I chose to discuss, and therefore the answer to the question of wanting to read such an article myself would be yes.

My family history of alcoholism, which I highlighted as a comparison to my addiction to food, was an element that made me cringe when I actually put it down on paper. Thinking about how the elders of the family like to sweep such family secrets under the rug and pretend that there is nothing wrong made me nervous that that issue would overshadow the real significance of my experience. But because I am writing for the purpose of this course, I am protected by the fact that they most likely will not read it, and therefore, will not have the opportunity to be as critical as I suspect they may be. On the contrary, if they were to read it I have a certain amount of loathing reserved for their denial of the issue of alcoholism present in our family and would likely muster up the courage to say “Well, what part of that is a lie?” to which they would have to reply “No part of that is a lie.”

Works Cited

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. New York: Collins, 2006. Print.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nonfiction as Literature-ENG 330 Week 1

As a class we were asked to discuss what creative nonfiction is for a discussion board prompt-and everyone did the “Uhhhh…I think” insecure response deal because none of us could really define it. It’s sort of like defining the word “the”. We use it all the time, but I don’t think I could define it very easily. Upon reading ch.11 in On Writing Well (Nonfiction as Literature), I had a little more insight with the help of Zinsser’s account of the “new literature of nonfiction” which to him includes “all the writers who come bearing information and who present it with vigor, clarity, and humanity” (99). Turning nonfiction into a form of literature (which I usually associate mostly with fiction-such as Jane Eyre, etc.) would seem to be a difficult thing to do. However, when Zinsser cited Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, I was able to comprehend what he was referring to. Of course he listed a multitude of other authors that I had never heard of, but luckily I had taken a course on Nature Writers so I had been introduced to Carson’s work briefly before.

By taking an issue that concerns humans in a very real way and turning it into a piece of writing that is full of color and passion and lacking in snooze-ability, Carson was able to reach out to her audience and make an impact. Her use of terms such as “evil” and “sinister” in the following passage are not typical of what one would expect from a piece of nonfiction, but she
marries those terms with human action that is real and documented, and not made-up in some sci-fi story:

This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of
evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but in living
tissues is for the most part irreversible. In this now universal contamination
of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of
radiation in changing the very nature of the world—the very nature of its life.
(Carson par.2)
As a reader, I am drawn to her strong language; I want to know more about what she is referring to. Whether or not you agree with what Carson is saying (think the debate on global warming), you want to read on because it seems as though she makes a compelling argument. That should be the goal of the nonfiction writers…wanting their reader to want to read on, to listen to their argument (based on responsible research and reporting) and develop an intelligent opinion based upon tangible information.
No matter how the specifics are delivered, the sphere of nonfiction includes information that should be considered truthful to those who take it in, not misleading or misrepresented. I would speculate that most people do not enjoy being lectured at or feeling like they are reading an encyclopedia article when they want to take in information, so if an author can succeed in presenting the material in a creative and appealing manner, it is likely that the reader will not only better remember the information, but also appreciate it.
Works Cited
Carlson, Rachel. “Excerpts from Silent Spring.” 1962. PDF file on Web. 2 May 2010.
Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. New York: Collins, 2006. Print.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Here it is, my very first blog. Created for my ENG 330 (Nonfiction Writing Workshop) course, I suspect that this will serve a multitude of other purposes as well. Note: I myself am not a deer eater, and hope that my readers aren't either, but I will not judge.