Guest Blog Post, Robert Krut: Wherever, Whenever

Robert KrutWith the school year just starting up, I have new students asking about creating good writing schedules, patterns, and habits.  As always, I recommend having a solid daily (or at least “near daily”) routine to get work done, whether that work means starting something new, tinkering with an existing piece, or revising to a final draft.  That schedule is different for different people–when I was younger, it was always late at night.  Now, I do this sort of work first thing in the morning.  Of course, it all starts with a cup of coffee (importantly, though, I don’t allow myself a second cup until I’ve gotten some work done–I still hear Ron Carlson’s voice from graduate school saying that morning coffee can be a crutch to take you away from writing, so that second cup is reserved until after some work is done).  Having a schedule like this, even if you don’t always follow it exactly, is incredibly helpful.  I can always tell when I’ve been good about keeping to it, as opposed to slacking, based on the amount of pieces I’ve got done.

In addition to having that sort of daily schedule, though, I encourage them to write wherever the possibility arises, and (forgive me for using this phrase) whenever inspiration strikes.  I’m not talking about setting a laptop up in a coffee shop to write while spacing out to the pastries case–I mean taking a second, wherever you are, to jot down images, ideas, phrases, words that jump out–this may be because you’ve actually seen something worth remembering, or it may just be that a particular turn of phrase is stuck in your head for some unknown reason.  Get it down.  After many times of thinking to myself, “oh, I’ll remember that later”–and then, of course, not–I’ve tried to be much better about that.

This is an approach I’ve always known to be helpful, but really stepped up my use of it over the past few years.  At least half of the poems in my new book started “on the scene,” so to speak, and then were finished during my regular, home-based writing schedule.  Looking through the table of contents, I can easily point to the places where each started, even if it was just a one-line image: the corner of 6th and Broadway in Downtown LA, the shoreline in La Conchita, a gas station in Tarzana, awaiting jury duty in a municipal building, outside any number of music venues (Largo, El Cid, Silverlake Lounge all come to mind)–the list goes on.  One of my favorite of these memories, though, had me piecing together cryptic text messages on a very bright California morning.

The previous evening, I had gone with a group of friends to a glittery, velvet-rope-having, line-down-the-block dance club in Hollywood–not the sort of place I frequent, admittedly.  The Los Angeles I love and live in is much more Big Lebowski than TMZ, but I also enjoy trying just about anything, so I went along, strolling into a club bordered by a perimeter of paparazzi.  Needless to say, I felt a little out of place walking past the line of people dressed as if they were auditioning for a reboot of Club MTV (a reference that shows my age, but makes sense considering that, a week later, an MTV personality was DJing in this very club).  Thanks to some good planning, and what I suspect was string pulling, by my friends, though, we walked past the crowds and right to our table on the edge of the dance floor.

I am, to be honest, not exactly one to walk into a dance club and immediately break out killer moves (although, I do always fantasize about reenacting the classic dance scene from Airplane in this sort of setting), so after getting a drink and swaying tastefully around my friends for a while, I removed myself from the actual dance floor. Walking up to the rise, near the DJ, I watched the crowd for a while.  Then, moved back down and out to the smoking deck to get away from the crowd for a bit.  Then, back to our table to get another drink, then back to the rise, and so on and so forth.  As the night went on–and it went on a while–I got over myself and wound up back in the mass of people on the dance floor, and everything just moved on from there.  Importantly, during all of this, I sent myself two text messages.

In the midst of the evening, I had two of those “write this now” moments, and didn’t want to forget them.  They weren’t grand reveals of entire poems, but were just images/ideas that jumped out: one from standing on the second level looking at the crowd, and one from leaning on the outdoor patio and seeing people come in and out.  As unromantic as texting yourself poem ideas sounds, I didn’t want to lose the ideas.

The next morning, I turned on my phone to find the two texts.  The first simply said “medusa head dead snakes.”  The second, which read “stones sparking above,” was accompanied by a video.  I had tried to subtly get a picture–subtly because I didn’t want to seem like the creep staring down at the crowd taking photos of strangers, but did want to capture the scene.  I accidentally hit the video button, though, and wound up with an 8-second clip.  Here’s the video, for reference:

Sitting at my desk with these two clues, I started my regular writing routine.  The “stones sparking above” quickly gave way to an entire poem, with Medusa appearing with a “ghost snake halo” near the end.  It was the first time I’ve ever invoked Greek mythology in a poem, and after revision and revision and revision, it became “The Gods Take Your Secrets, and the Gods Take You Down,” which appears in the new book.

I haven’t shared this story with those same students who asked about writing habits, as I don’t relish the thought of them picturing me dancing around in a strobe-light twitching Hollywood club (years ago, two students saw me dancing at an Outkast show in Atlanta, and they later admitted it was hard to look at me the same way in class after that).  All the same, it reminds me of the importance of writing wherever writing wants to arrive, whether it is at a desk with morning coffee, or in a club, hearing your friends call you back into a crowd of dancing bodies.

Robert Krut’s new book, This is the Ocean, will be released on October 11, but can be pre-ordered at

Guest Post: Elizabeth Frankie Rollins: Writing: A Devotional – Plus Devotional Prompts!

Elizabeth Frankie RollinsI saw an uprooted tree on the bank of the Tappahanock River in Virginia once.  It was enormous.  The underside of its body was a mass of knobs, big as newborns.  It was dense with tubers fizzling out into great hairy clumps.  There were nodules and sinuous roots re-entering the body of the tree at every juncture from which they did not originate. All of it dripped with mud and sand, an obscenity of growth.

When I saw it, I thought, this is what writing looks like in me.

Writing is, I confess, at the root of everything.  It enters at every juncture, and leaves in every exhalation.  It is connected to my meals, my health, my intelligence, my sex, my spirit.  This is, of course, vaguely dangerous and out of balance.  But it is also true.

When I was a child I read. Books were not about comfort or forgetting. They were about going everywhere, with everyone, seeing everything, feeling everything. Some nights I faked an upset stomach so that I could lie on the carpet of the bathroom and finish a library book for the third time before it had to be returned the next day.  Other nights I hung halfway off my bed, book at the end of my outstretched arms, catching the triangle of hall light for just one more sentence, just one more paragraph, just one more hour.  I was ravenous.  I grew to understand the way stories unfolded, and when they did so, an essential flesh and bone piece of me was satisfied.  Through reading, I learned my earliest method of sorting out existence. I learned how it was in the world with loss, success, curiosity, beauty, grief, love, sorrow.  I learned what it was to be human, and what that meant in connection with the larger human world.

If reading led me to my first understanding of humanity, writing broadened this education.  Where once I merely imagined the hearts and bones of other people, the act of writing allows me to inhabit them entirely.  I eat and drink them, birth them and kill them.  Evidence of humanity’s brilliance and degradation is what I seek when I write. I never cease in my desire to know more intimately the ways of women and men, and I never cease to be nourished by them.  Through writing I make sense of their history and hope.

I do this because I believe that literature represents a collective human sigh, an exhalation of existence.  Stories, all stories of the world, the ones we live by and the ones we write, repeat themselves in infinite variations, both seamless and eternally interrupted by change. I crave this exchange of stories, the infinite variety of them.  It is in their expression that I find myself most deeply alive and interested.  The infinity of what it is to be human and what it is to be a writer never ceases to beckon me.

Writing has made me complicated, like that knobbed mass of roots I saw on the riverbank.  What drives me to live is buried under the soil of the known world.  Like those huge roots, I am pulling for something far deeper, something unmapped.  I am pressing the fingers of my yearning into the mysterious regions of existence which are unknown.  Where the source of our divinity, our essence, waits to be recognized again and again.


Devotional Prompts

Since writing is clearly my religion, I created some devotionals for daily attention to this reverent act.

Transfiguration Devotional:

Turn yourself into an archetypal character of the kind you feel most aligned with today: witch, queen, prince, monster, god, mythical figure, etc.  Write a line that this character always repeats. (for example: Monsters never eat hair!) Now write an internal monologue for this character where they name what is bothering them right now.

Response Devotional:

Answer the following for you or a character you have created: Where does truth reside?  In your brain?  Heart?  Describe where you hold truth.  To whom do you lie?  To whom do you always speak the truth? Is truth possible in memory? Is the opposite of a lie always a truth? Are there absolute truths?

Devotional for Others:

Write a set of instructions for how a reader should read your work.  Have a variety of suggestions.  Perhaps hint at the content they’ll find, or what they might learn. 

Invitatory Devotional:

Write an etiological tale that explains the existence of rain, fire, ocean, human murder, redemption, the color of the sky, psychology, domesticated pets, or sin.

Research Devotional:

Write a paragraph of text.  Now add at least five footnotes that give additional information or add to the plot, character development, or theme of the story.

Confession Devotional:

Name four things you want to write about, but believe that you shouldn’t.  Name the “editors” who block this writing or any reasons why you will not write of these particular things.

Guest Blog Post, Joy Lanzendorfer: Stuck

joy lanzendorferLately, I’ve been getting stuck while writing short stories. I’ll be working on a promising idea with a good set-up and characters, and suddenly I’ll hit a wall. I simply won’t know how to make the story work. What do I do with this thing? I’ll think. What happens next?

This is a lonely feeling. After all, if I, the writer, don’t know what happens next in the story, who does?

The Internet is not helpful. Do a search on this topic, and you’ll get advice like, “Try a prompt. Where does your character like to go on vacation?” But this problem I’m having is more than just plotting. It’s about figuring out meaning.

I write first drafts quickly and then take forever editing them. The first draft is a movie in my head, the interplay between the conscious and unconscious mind, and the joy of rampant imagination and wordplay. These drafts, as you might expect, are messy. They may or may not have an ending. They may have gaps with brackets that say [fill in details]. They may start one way, shift point-of-view or tense, and then go in the opposite direction. Editing is a process of finding meaning through untangling the first draft—who are these characters, what are they doing, why did I write that, and what is the point of this story, anyway?

Meaning is tricky. You’ve got to be careful with it. You don’t want to choke the life out of your story by imposing what you think you’re trying to say onto it. That’s a shifting landscape anyway, what you are trying to say. You may not know what you think or what you believe until the fiction shows you. Every time I have tried to write a story about a preconceived moral or the Truth About Life, the story hasn’t cooperated.

George Saunders recently told The New Yorker:

Early on, a story’s meaning and rationale seem pretty obvious, but then, as I write it, I realize that I know the meaning/rationale too well, which means that the reader will also know it—and so things have to be ramped up. Einstein said (or, at least, I am always quoting him as having said), “No worthy problem is ever solved within the plane of its original conception.” … These sorts of thematic challenges are, for me, anyway, only answerable via the line-by-line progress through the story. Trying to figure out what happens next, and in what language.

This seems to be the answer to my problem: not prompts, not tricks, not the addition of new characters, but “line-by-line progress through the story.” Some writers love the careful examination that comes with the editing process. For me, editing takes patience and time, and I’m usually short on patience and time. It also faith. You have to hope that something shadowy and mysterious—that part of your brain that knows why you wrote what you wrote—will come to the rescue and redeem this gobbledygook in the form of a worthwhile story.

And of course, sometimes it doesn’t. Stories fail. There’s always risk with writing.

In a recent interview with The Paris Review, EL Doctorow said that writing is “like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” This is true, but man, isn’t that kind of a terrifying drive? No wonder writers get so anxious and despairing. But I, for one, am becoming more comfortable with this particular brand of discomfort. You can get used to almost anything in life, I guess. You just have to put your butt in the driver’s seat and hope that the headlights won’t burn out and that the road will continue to emerge. In fact, don’t think about all the things that can go wrong. Even though you know that sometimes you will drive into a cow pasture and have to turn around and go back to the beginning, and sometimes you will have to turn around multiple times before you’re through, you just have to keep going until you reach the end of your journey and pull into a full, satisfying parking job.

And then, of course, you start down a new road altogether.

AFFINITY: An LGBTQ Writer’s Workshop for the Greater Phoenix Community

AFFINITY: An LGBTQ Writer’s Workshop for the Greater Phoenix Community

When: Every Sunday in April, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Where: ASU Tempe Campus Memorial Union (café near Starbucks) 

Who: LGBTQIA identified writers of Arizona

Hosted by: Avery Radclyffe (Cat) Klotsche

Affinity is a four week writer’s workshop that intends to document and share the experience of LGBTQIA writers. All readings and writing prompts will be specific to personal LGBTQIA issues and experiences.

Weeks One and Three (April 8th &April 22nd)

  • A 45 minute long group discussion on selections of literature by LGBTQIA writers (chosen and provided by the facilitator).
  • Writing prompts for poems or creative non-fiction based on writer’s experience as an LGBTQIA identified person.  We will have time to share our drafts and initial creative feedback.

Weeks Two & Four (April 15th & April 29th)

  • Sharing of revised drafts, further discussion of creative feedback for final drafts.

Friday, May 4th

  • Participants from both workshop sequences will showcase their final work at the First Friday reading in Heritage Square.

What to Bring: something to write with (pen, paper, laptop, etc.), creative enthusiasm, and their LGBTQIA wit and colorful nature! There is no cost to attend, and previous workshop or publishing experience is not required.

About the Facilitator: Avery (Cat) Radclyffe Klotsche is a transgendered writer who has resided in Arizona for ten years.  His recent publications include Merge Magazine and TransAnthology, but he was once a member of the Mesa National Slam team.  Over the years, he’s facilitated many writing workshops for high risk individuals including LGBTQIA youth.  While Affinity is the product of Klotsche’s personal interests, it’s also part of his capstone project for his Bachelor’s Degree in English (Creative Writing) and Certificate in LGBT Studies at Arizona State University.

RSVP: If you’re interested in participating, you must RSVP via email to  In the email, please include a brief bio.

Lit-ercise: Starters

As many writers will tell you, one of the hardest parts about being a writer is writing every day. If you don’t force yourself to write every day, even for a couple of minutes, then you may find that weeks have gone by without you having written a word. But sometimes the hardest part about sitting down to write every day is coming up with something to write. Trust us, we know. So, here are some prompts to help you put pen to paper. Happy writing.

What do you do when you procrastinate?

Describe what happens when a pacifist and a passive aggressive get into an argument.

Describe the first place you lived when you moved out of your parents’ house. What was the first thing you did after moving in? What did it smell like? Was there traffic outside your window or chirping birds?

Complete: He stood in front of the mirror for a moment. He adjusted his tie. A long thread was poking out from the end of his cuff and he carefully pulled it loose. He stood in front of the mirror and smoothed the front of his jacket. He frowned into the mirror and began taking off his jacket. He was halfway in to a new pair of pants when there was a knock on the door. They were early.

Lit-ercise: Two Writing Exercises

Give yourself a word count.

1. Give yourself a word count, the smaller the better. Steve Moss, editor of The New York Times and flash fiction pioneer, recommends a word count of 55 words. No more and no less. Try to tell a complete story, a story with a protagonist, a conflict and a resolution. The idea is that once you start to get close to that word limit you’ll find that there are certain parts of your story that you can tell in a more efficient way, or even some parts that you don’t need.  As you write more and more of these you’ll find that you’re writing will become tighter and cleaner.

2. Pull out some stories from your favorite authors. Read their opening paragraphs and then try and imitate their style in an opening paragraph of your own. Authors tend to spend a lot of time on their opening paragraphs and as a result it is usually some of their best work. The goal here is to step a bit out of your style comfort zone, and see what it’s like to write like a published author. You may find that your own writing becomes stronger and more engaging.