May Novel Writing Plan Prt. 2

It’s almost May! Time for things to grow. Time for me to start another writing plan!

This past semester’s been a heck of a ride. Some good things: I did several poetry readings at LIterati, at University of Illinois Chicago, at AWP, and the Hannan House in Detroit. I also put together a panel at AWP entitled “Who Are We in the Creative Writing Classroom?: Interventions in the Craft vs. Context Fight,” and was really inspired by the discussion. I hope to have the panel grow into a longer project soon. My first poetry book, Autoplay, got some good reviews. Here at American Microreviews, at Best American Poetry (yay!), and coming out in the next print issue of Zone 3.

I went to NIA once a week at the fabulous Ann Arbor Yoga Studio. I’m trying to get at least 30 minutes of yoga or meditation/day (I often screw this up, but life is a daily practice, right?) thanks to this amazing yoga streaming website I found.

My son continually amazes me. He’s now a brown belt in taekwondo, has mad math skills that he certainly didn’t inherit from me,  wants to be a video game designer, and just performed in an aftercare musical play as Jack in the Beanstalk. He’s been taking electric guitar lessons through the Ann Arbor Music Center, which is a pretty brilliant place to learn music. Rather than starting kids off with drills and scales, they taught him how to play a simple version of Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring the first night! Something I love about life and teaching writing is how much we already understand and can do if we are given the right opportunities and guidance.

The bad news, mostly, is that though many students enjoy my courses and often tell me they’re transformational, that despite the fact that I have many students now who have begun to graduate and do great things and come back and want to visit with me, talk, and share their significant work, the administration doesn’t agree with my teaching practice. It’s disappointing, really, given that I am teaching my students the same skills they want me to teach, but in a much more holistic way that privileges the real writing moment and genre over transferrable skill sets. Critical analysis–yes. Academic argumentation–yes. But I embed these skills into a larger writing practice based on scientific method. My teaching is a recursive practice where students have opportunities to carefully observe, to ask questions, and to do genuine research and analysis to answer those questions. I have seen this practice help students in their other courses and in their life. It profoundly disappoints me when boxes, grids, and boundaries unnecessarily limit what a student may learn at a given time. I’m thinking back to an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that talks about how profound the teaching of writing would be if we approached it like yoga teachers. Rather than stopping the student from doing, for instance, a vinyasa flow, the teacher outlines the practice, allows the student to move through it, and makes a few carefully selected corrections that best help the student move to a new level. At that new level, the student still moves through vinyasa, and the teacher makes more carefully selected corrections to deepen the process.

I guess the purpose of this blog entry is to take stock, to hold things in acknowledgement so I can also figure out how to put them down. Sometimes I fantasize what it would be like if I didn’t have to carry sole responsibility for parenting, teaching, writing, and fulfillment. Then I remind myself that my son, my students, my writing ideas, and my magnolia tree have lives of their own.

To May. To holding. To putting down. To 25,000 words over the twenty days Ambrose is in school. That works out to 1,250/working day. This is my first time going back to the novel since August. I’m at  35,800 words, so roughly the halfway point. For the past few days I have been drawing on the scientific method to try and figure out what it is I want to observe as I come back to this novel, what larger question it poses, and what needs to happen for me to explore that question. I don’t have it quite yet, but just a few days ago, one of my writing partners, Jennifer Solheim, sent me this as madcap inspiration:






Badass Cover for My Forthcoming Poetry Book, 31 More Days of Summer, and Going Back to School

It’s almost time for school to begin again. The anxiety knot in my stomach is even bigger than usual. What if I’m not prepared as I want to be? (likely). What if my students don’t want to learn? What if I have to stop writing completely until next May because I can’t fit in the time?

What if I stop eating healthy, stop exercising, get a million colds, and sometimes forget to see my son, I mean really SEE him, every day in the beautiful moment?

What if the pipes in my house completely stop working and the 3 bats that have already found their way into my house this summer are really part of a giant bat cave in my upstairs office?

What if I can’t let go of fears and distractions and be present for whatever is?

It helps to write these things out. I have a lot of unacknowledged conversations in my head–it comes with the territory of being a writer and an only parent.

BUT, before I move into whatever this semester brings, I want to take a moment to celebrate too.

  1. My poetry book, Autoplay, is forthcoming this November! You can even preorder it now! The editors Robert James Russell and Jeff Pfaller talked with me about themes/ideas for the cover and then came up with something stunning. I can’t wait! Here’s a link to the cover art and more info:  Autoplay
  2. My panel was accepted for AWP ’15, which means the Dept. will fund my lodging and transportation there, which means I can go and talk with my friends and amazing writers. Minneapolis. Home to Prince. Let’s go crazy.
  3. I didn’t get a draft of my novel done (that’s not the celebratory thing). I am really excited about what I have, though (yay! Balloons and silly string). It’s working. It will be there for me when I have the time to come back to it.

There’s still 31 more days of summer. What if amazing, unanticipated wonders unfold?



Four Things to Know About Making Chapbooks at College

Chapbooks are opportunities for writing students to locate obsessions and curiosities in their writing and to give themselves permission to take these obsessions and curiosities seriously. In yesterday’s post, I talked about the pedagogical value of making chapbooks. Today, I’ve listed the top 4 things I wish I had known last month.

  1. Word options on PC and Mac are not the same! I have Word 2010 on a PC. On that platform, it’s really easy to format a chapbook through the printing settings by choosing “Print” →”Page Setup” → Set “Gutter” to about .3 (the inside crease of the book where you’ll staple) → Choose “Landscape Orientation” → Choose “Book Fold” under pages. That’s it! Unfortunately, it won’t work on a Mac.
  2. There are two other easy formatting options. If students have free access to InDesign, encourage them to use that! There are some really easy and clean looking design templates. If they don’t have access to InDesign, they can make a PDF of their document, go to “Print” → and then choose “Book Fold.” This is as easy as it gets, though after the students see what it looks like, they’ll have to go back in and change the margins and the font to something that looks better and doesn’t just look like they shrunk their book with a magic shrinking gun.
  3. Printers all operate differently, which means one person might be able to print double sided in the way it would work in the book, and one person might have to be manually flipping pages in the correct way so that things aren’t upside down or out of order. Even worse, there are very few students who have access to a printer where they can load the paper themselves or even get someone to do it. After making a bunch of calls at University of Michigan, I found this amazing Media Center resource on North Campus in the Art and Architecture building where students can choose from a great collection of book weight paper and cardstock and have their book printed right there. If you don’t have a facility like this, it might be easiest for students to just go to a local printing shop to get there book done.
  4. Use a long reach stapler to staple the books. Not even the Media Center had one of these. I bought one at Staple’s for $31. It’s pretty cool, though I ended up stapling my finger in front of the class because I didn’t know the top of the stapler has to be reset after every staple. A little blood on one student’s chapbook adds to the whole chapbook-as-a-unique-artifact thing.

Swingline® 12in. Long Reach™ Full Strip Stapler, 20 Sheet Capacity, Black

Hope passing on this information helps someone down the line. If you have any chapbook- making information to add, I’d love to hear it! I started the semester thinking we were going to make these small, handsewn beautiful chapbooks from a Poets and Writers link this January, but I couldn’t get past step 3 (I tell myself that maybe it would have worked if I had a Mac?) We did fine without it. The students got wonderfully creative with what they added to the inside of the chapbook and their cover art. There were maps and songs. There were ribbons and invisible ink. There were photographs, quotes, fragments, and erasures along with the poetry and fiction they wanted to showcase. I’m looking forward to reading their creations more closely this coming week.

Why Creative Writing Students Should Make Chapbooks!

Hello after yet another long blog hiatus! This is a two-part piece. Today, I’m writing about the pedagogical value of having creative writing students make their own chapbooks at the end of the semester, and tomorrow I’m writing about a few technical things I learned that might be helpful to other people wanting to incorporate chapbook making into their own teaching.

I just finished the last teaching day of an intro. creative writing class. It’s been too many years since I had the chance to teach creative writing, and I was really interested in how my years of teaching other courses would affect the way I approached this one.

For several years now, I’ve been interested in helping students form their own authentic questions and explorations in assignments. Engaged reflection is an important part of this. When I say “engaged reflection” I mean reflection that’s done to make something new rather than something that’s done to merely summarize a past experience. For instance, my creative writing students wrote writing reflections after both their poetry and fiction workshops that asked them to articulate their experience of the workshop in two ways:

  1. How did the writing and workshop experience influence their ideas about revising the particular piece
  2. What techniques, topics, questions surfaced during their writing and workshop experience they’d like to explore in the future?

My teaching is very invested in process-based instruction, and so the second question was posed to help students locate genuine moments of interest to keep them writing. I wasn’t interested in having the students circling over a couple pieces until they were “polished.” Rather, I was interested in helping them locate where their writing is coming from.

The most sustained, engaged reflection students did was to make chapbooks of their own work at the end of the semester. I wanted them to make something where they had the responsibility of locating a recurring theme, sensibility or style in their own writing that moved across the poetry and fiction they’d written over the semester and to design and arrange a book accordingly. In preparation, they wrote chapbook proposals and met with me for individual conferences. During this time I saw the same things that I see from students in my other courses:

  1. Students are typically skeptical at the beginning of any assignment that asks them to synthesize concepts relevant to their writing.
  2. After confronting and getting over this skepticism, students make incredibly exciting and surprising things that draw not only on the work from my course, but also from other parts of their life that they begin to see in relationship to their current work.

Here’s a photo of what happened:

Creative Writing Student Chapbooks

A New Semester of Creative Arts and Community

Hello! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted an entry, and it somehow seems fitting that this entry is born out of a mistake.

I’m getting ready to teach a course at University of Michigan that I set up last year entitled “Creative Arts and Community.” We started a wordpress site there: which features short documentaries the students did in small groups near the end of the semester to highlight important things they learned about local creative arts organizations. They’re a great group of people. Here’s a photo of them, the one I accidentally posted to this blog and then couldn’t bear to delete:

MCSP photo '12

This photo, along with their documentaries, will be moving to the archive and tomorrow I’ll meet a new class and look forward to what they create and add to this site.

I also hope to be posting more regularly here–posts that intermingle among writing, teaching, and life topics, which are topics I firmly believe should be in conversation with each other.

To new beginnings,