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.