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Archive for the tag “How I Write”

How I Write: Cedric Powell

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.

Cedric Merlin Powell is a Professor of Law in the Brandeis School of Law, a member of the Ohio and New York state bars, and is admitted to practice before the SupremeCedric+Powell5854 Court of the United States, and the federal courts of the Second and Sixth Circuits, and the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. He has written over a broad range of topics including affirmative action and Critical Race Theory, the First Amendment and hate speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment and structural inequality. All of his scholarship critiques neutrality as a means of preserving structural inequality, and advances theories of substantive equality which reject colorblindness and post-racialism as normative principles in constitutional analysis. Professor Powell has also been named the Dean for Research for 2016.

Location:  University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law

Current project: Race Displaced: Buchanan v. Warley and the Neutral Rhetoric of Liberty

Currently reading: David E. Bernstein, Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform (Chicago 2011)

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

My writing consists primarily of law review articles, essays, book reviews, magazine articles, and op-eds in the press.  I plan on writing a book in the near future.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I usually write late at night when everything is peaceful in my home. I like to write for extended periods of time, so I feel that I am truly productive when I have a significant period of uninterrupted time to compose my ideas and get them out in draft form.  I have an office at home where I write, it is a comfortable space, and it is a functioning office away from my more formal office space at the law school.  I write by doing extensive research (I want to know what everyone in the field has said about the topic that I am contemplating writing about), and then I take notes from the readings to ensure that I fully understand the topic and its underlying doctrines and nuances, and I draft an outline to write from.  Before I start writing, I take my research notes and plug them into specific sections of the outline so that my discussion will have continuity; and, hopefully, to avoid repetition.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

I don’t need any special tools to write. However, I do need long legal pads because I write everything out in longhand (it takes me a while to draft an article).  After I come to the end of the writing process, I am confident that I have covered everything, so the only question is how the piece should be revised and edited.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

My best tip is to just get started; writing is a process, so that means your first attempt will not be perfect.  This is precisely why revision and editing a draft is essential to the writing process.  I must admit that this is my least favorite part of the process; but I realize that it is necessary, and it always makes the work much better than it was before.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

The best writing advice that I have ever received was to write as much as you can as often as you can.  Everyone’s writing process is different, so it is important to trust your process. I hope that I will heed my own advice on future projects.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations! 

How I Write: Nancy Gall-Clayton

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.

Nancy Gall-Clayton is a local playwright. She has written over 75 plays, and her work has been performed on stages in Louisville and around the world. To see more about her work and interests visit http://www.nancygallclayton.net/    gall-clayton-at-work

Location:
 Just across the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Indiana (after 40 years in Old Louisville!).

Current project: A full-length play about Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919), commissioned by Looking for Lilith Women’s Theatre Company to be produced in July 2017 at the Clifton Center.

Currently reading: The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter, first novel by playwright Kia Corthron; Gilgamesh, A Verse Play by Yusef Komunyakaa, and The Dramatist, bimonthly magazine of the Dramatists Guild.

What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

I write full-length plays as well as 10-minute plays, the latter a form popularized by Jon Jory, former Producing Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville. I write history plays, plays on social justice issues, comedies, and plays that feature complex women.

When/where/how do you write? 


Anywhere and everywhere: on my laptop in my home office, at coffee shops, at the public library, in motels, and on airplanes. I also write on napkins at restaurants, on a pad kept on by bedside table to record thoughts that wake me up, and on a pad in my car (at red lights only!).

What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces? 


Quietness. Either a computer or a pen and pad of any kind.

What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

Just write! Writing itself – even if you start with drivel – generates more writing and better writing. Don’t revise until you have a complete rough draft. You can’t make much progress if you keep revising the first page! Don’t censor yourself; just write!

What is the best writing advice you’ve received? 


Kate Aspengren at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival shared this with me long ago: Imagine your protagonist walking across a field toward you through fog and mist. As she comes closer, you hear your character begin “There’s something I really want you to know about me….” What the character says may not make it into your play or story, but it will inform your writing.

Also, here’s an idea from The Playwright’s Process, a book by Buzz McLaughlin: Fill out an imaginary but very detailed job description for your characters. Again, you’ll learn a lot. What you discover (who should we contact in case of emergency, for example) probably won’t be in your final product, but you’ll know your characters so much better than you would have otherwise.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations!

 

 

How I Write: Dr. Jose M. Fernandez

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.

jose-fernandez-pic

Dr. Jose M. Fernandez is an Associate Professor of Economics in the College of Business. His research is in the areas of crime, health, and industrial organization.

Current project: “Less Alcohol, Less Service: Do local alcohol bans affect the number and mixture of full and limited service restaurants?”

Currently reading: Dollars and Sex, Naked Money, and Harry Potter & the Cursed Child.

 

What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

I primarily write for scholarly journals in economics and health policy. These articles tend to be technically dense filled with economics jargon, tables, and equations.

When/where/how do you write?

I need a fairly quiet place to write with few interruptions. The few interruptions is key for me. This usually means I am writing in my office after hours when my colleagues and students have gone home or at my house while my wife is at work and my children are at school.

The interesting part to being an academic researcher is to find the answer to a research question. You do all this work with data collection and analysis just to be the first person to better understand this little corner of our world. It is a thrilling high that comes with the job, but all this effort goes to waste if we do not share it with everyone else. Therefore, we write afterwards. When I write my papers I actual start in the center. Since I am a data head, I first write the data description and analysis sections of the paper first.

Next, I write the literature review. There is an old saying that goes, “if it is good it isn’t new and if it is new it probably isn’t good.” This quote always reminds me to look into the scholarly literature for the works of others that inspired or contributed to the question and answer that I am presenting.

Lastly, I write the introduction and the conclusion. I write these pieces last because they are the most important. We live in a world with information overload, you need to grip the reader’s attention in that opening paragraph. You need to convince them that their time is worth reading the next 30 pages. If you can’t achieve that, then you want to at least explain the question and tell them the punchline by the time they have reached the end of the introduction even if they skimp on the details.

What are your writing necessities—tools, accessory, music, spaces?

I mainly need my computer with a word processor or Latex editor, my statistical program, and google scholar. I do not really play music unless I am cleaning data.

What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

My best advice for revisions is to read your paper out loud. Your brain tends to fill in missing words for you when you read silently, but out loud it is easier to catch. Secondly, I recommend printout your paper or using MS Words track changes, get some coffee, and a red pen. Much of my revisions are taking sentences and first making them into the active voice. In the second pass my goal is to make the sentences shorter and remove grammatical/spelling errors.

For writing scholarly papers in general I like these two resources: Economical Writing by Deirdre McCloskey and, for students, an Economics sample paper.

What is the best writing advice you ever received?

I received two pieces of advice that have helped me with my writing. First, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT PAPER. This phrase will help you get over the anxiety of writing in the first place. Your first draft should be rough. It should be a brain dump where you get everything you wanted to say about the topic down on paper. This will get you started and revisions will take care of the rest.  The second piece of advice is for when you are stuck. I tend to write in bulk, but if I am not feeling creative or inspired that day I force myself to write at least one page. This single page serves several purposes. I have something concrete to show I have worked today. Next, it has started me to think more about the topic. The best part is that even if you do this every day for a month you will have a paper done by the end of the month.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations! 

 

How I Write: Dr. Kristi King

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers

Dr. Kristi King is an associate professor in the Exercise Physiology (MS) and Community Health (MEd) programs in the Department of Health and Sport Sciences at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Dr. King is the principal investigator on multi-year research studies that focus on the improvement of health, specifically through community-basedkristi-king2012 physical activity and nutrition interventions and policies.

Dr. King serves on local, state, and national health advocacy committees. She also collaborates with communities to educate their decision-makers on local, state, and national policies related to public health. Dr. King earned her PhD from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, completed post-doctorate training in Physical Activity and Public Health Research with the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is a Certified Health Education Specialist.

Location: Department of Health and Sport Sciences, Student Activity Center (SAC) East 105G

Current project: I usually juggle between a few articles from different research studies.

Currently reading: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering American on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson, The Namesake by Jumphi Lahri, and Rolling Stone magazine

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

Since I’m an associate professor hoping to apply for full professor some day, I primarily write articles for peer-reviewed, health-related journals. My articles are based on my research with community-based health interventions and advocacy. I also get to write a Clinical Applications column for the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal.

2. When/where/how do you write?

Usually 1 day per week I get to stay home to write. My day always starts with a short workout and yoga video. Then the dogs and I go to my sunroom office for about 4-5 hours. We take lots of 10-minute study breaks to go outside get fresh air (rain or shine). If I’m lucky I get to write at work 1-2 days a week for about 1-2 hours each if I don’t have too many meetings. Again, I’ll take a few 10-minute study breaks to stroll around campus. I must get outside often to walk – it clears my mind so I can be more productive when I return to my computer.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

The late mornings or early afternoons are usually when my mind works best. If necessary I’ll make a cup of tea for an extra boost. I am very careful to protect my writing time by keeping my phone, email, and other techy-distractions off when I write. I always write on my computer – never paper and pencil.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

I usually start with a general outline of the headings I think I’ll use in a paper. Typically the mandatory headings are introduction, literature review, methods, results, and discussion. From there I add other headings that may be specific to my project such as theory, interventions, and specifics about the communities, policies, participants, etc. When I save each version I title it with the date so I know which date is the latest version – then I email it to myself so I can work on it from home or work. Even if I just get a few sentences written per session, I feel like I’ve accomplished something big – very motivating.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Get words on paper. Until I see my thoughts in print, I don’t have anything tangible to edit or review or motivate me. Even if the words are messy and just thrown onto the page, at least it’s a start and will give me something to come back to later when I begin my revisions.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations! 

How I Write: Amy M. Miller

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insights into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.

Amy M. Miller is a writer and Administrative Coordinator for the nonprofit organization, Louisville Literary Arts. Amy’s essays have appeared in Salon, Hippocampus Magazine, [PANK], The Louisville Review, MOTIF, and Under The Gum Tree. She is a graduate of the Amy MillerSpalding University MFA in Writing program and holds an M.A. in English from University of Louisville. Currently, Amy is working on her first collection of essays as well as several children’s picture books. Amy lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and two children.

Location: Louisville, KY

Current project:

I am drafting and revising two essays and one picture book, while simultaneously seeking representation for two other picture books. Lots of plates, constantly spinning.

Currently reading:

I’m finishing a guilty summer read, Sue Perkin’s Spectacles, a memoir from the host of The Great British Bake Off (I’m addicted). I also have a toe in Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy, by Dinty Moore, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo, and Small Fires, by Julie Marie Wade. I’m a nonfiction writer and reader. All of the nonfiction I read informs what and how I write. That said, I love a good, engrossing novel and next up for me is Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies and a kids’ middle grade novel my son is reading for school, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio.

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

Well, I’m a multi-tasker (which is a kind way to say I’m distracted). I love many different genres of literature and that is true for my writing, too. I began my MFA work in creative nonfiction, which is still my first love; however, after four years of writing personal and introspective essays, I needed to explore topics that were not about ME. I have always enjoyed the whimsical and hilarious prose of children’s picture books and have collected picture books even before I had kids of my own, so I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and have been writing books for 3-7 year-olds. It’s very freeing to write outside of my first genre, and loads of fun, too. Aside from creative writing, I work on public relations work (web content, press releases, social media campaigns), as well as contract grant writing.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I don’t have a specific time when I write because I have kids who constantly require feeding, chauffeuring, and all manner of attention, plus I work part-time. I write when I can — when my kids are in school, my workload is light, and the house is quiet. My writing spot has moved around the house. I used to make a home at the dining room table, but grew tired of moving my papers and iPad on and off the placemat. Most days, I’m parked at my desk in front of a giant screen in my hard swivel chair. When I’m brainstorming or revising, I might take the iPad or a notebook to the couch, where I sit next to my dogs. Invariably, all of my writing happens in the morning or afternoon. If I write at night, I’ll have too many ideas buzzing around my head to sleep.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

I love accessorizing — at least for writing. You cannot beat a good spiral bound notebook for notes — something that can lie flat or be folded over. For writing implements, I prefer a roller ball pen because the fluidity of ink allows me to continue writing without pause and doesn’t leave imprints in the paper. We writers are weird about our instruments. I also like odd colors of pens: purples, oranges, greens. But to be perfectly honest, I spend most of my writing time perched in front of the desktop computer, mostly because it is the most reliable device I own and I can save my work on the cloud and desktop. I also use Google Drive to share writing with critique partners. Over the years, I have moved away from listening to music while I write and prefer silence, but I always have a hot cuppa coffee and a bottle of water next to me.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

I begin a piece in a variety of ways. Sometimes I have an idea while walking the dogs or sitting in carpool or taking a shower. I try to keep a small notebook in my purse or in the car, or at the least, a scrap of paper and pen nearby. Other times, I just sit at the computer and start free writing. I almost never write the full draft in one sitting. On complicated essays, in which I play with structure, I often need to break away from the writing and map out the essay as an outline. I highly recommend reverse outlining for revision. Start with your draft and outline what is on the page. Does it flow from one idea to the next? If not, move the pieces around and use the outline to direct how and where you will make changes. It feels less scary to cut and paste an outline and it’s a great way to look at the piece more objectively and holistically. Another invaluable word of advice: Always find an impartial reader who you trust to give you constructive feedback! My critique partners always see connections and glitches that I am unable to because I am too close to the piece. Lastly, read your work aloud. This is a foolproof way to find where a piece needs work.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Be concise, cut your modifiers, and don’t hold your readers at arm’s length — invite your readers to see all of the ugly, messy truth. Readers respond to flawed narrators and non-fiction writers have a responsibility to the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that truth might be.

How I Write: Brian Buford

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.

Our featured writer this week is Brian Buford. Brian is Assistant Provost for Diversity and Director of the LGBT Center. With nearly 30 years of service to the University of Louisville, Brian has dedicated his career to building a campus community where all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, safe, and included. Key achievements under his leadership include: opening a staffed LGBT Center in 2007, the first of its kind in Kentucky; earning a five-star rating on the Campus Pride index; launching the Bayard Rustin themed housing community for LGBT students and allies, the first of its kind in the south; opening a satellite LGBT Center on the Health Sciences Center campus; partnering with community leaders on Feast on Equality, a signature fundraising event; and being hailed by LEO Weekly as “the most LGBT friendly public university in the south.”

Brian_BufordLocation: Louisville, Kentucky

Currently reading: I’m always looking for good articles and social media to use in my Multicultural Issues class.

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

For my own personal growth, I keep a journal and, in fact, have stacks of them hidden away that I wrote years ago. I think I still have the journal I kept when I was 15. It’s sort of sweet to read what my 15-year old self was thinking. For work, I often write to communicate with people about LGBT identity. Sometimes people feel more comfortable interacting with me through email or social media, so I write to answer their questions and to help them move along in their journey.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I have a hectic life, so I carry my journal with me wherever I go. I was writing in it at the dentist’s office the other day because that was my only break.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

On the one hand, I’m old school. I like a hardbound notebook, with no lines, for writing and journaling. But when it comes to reading, I’ve completely embraced the e-book. I love the idea that I can travel light but still have plenty of good reading at my fingertips.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

If I’m writing a sensitive email message to someone who’s coming out or struggling with their identity, I read it over and over to make sure the words convey just the right message. I know from first-hand experience that leaving out one word can change everything. I think my comfort zone is writing conversationally. So I also try to ask myself if this is how I would say it if we were having a chat.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

If you’re submitting something to be published, or even if you are just sending in a cover letter for a job application, ask the best writer you know to proofread it for you. You’ll be amazed at the little things we all miss. That being said, I’ve been on the run today and I’m sending this in without following my own advice.

How I Write: David Bell

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. Thanks to writing center consultant Jenny Kiefer for this week’s post.

Our featured writer this week is Dr. David Bell. Dr. Bell is the fiction professor at Western Kentucky University, where he has helped lead a new MFA program. An award-winning author of several horror/suspense novels, his most recent work is titled Somebody I Used to Know. Dr. Bell received his MA from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and his PhD from the University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Bell will be hosting a discussion and book signing for Somebody I Used to Know this Saturday, September 12, at Barnes and Noble, located at 801 S. Hurstbourne Parkway. The discussion will begin at 1 P.M. and the book signing will begin at 2 P.M.

Location: Bowling Green, KYDavidBellphoto-2

Current projectSomebody I Used to Know

Currently reading: Cabal by Clive Barker

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in? I pretty much only write fiction. Novels and novellas. Unless you count Facebook posts and Tweets. Those are usually non-fiction.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I have to use a computer. My handwriting is so bad even I can’t read it. I mostly write at home, either at my desk or out on my back patio when the weather is nice.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

I can write in a lot of different places. In the summer and during the holidays I visit family so I write in their houses. I write in my office on campus. If there’s a deadline–and there usually is–I can work anywhere. I really can’t listen to music when I write because tSomebodyIUsedToKnow_18.7_redhe music distracts me.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

Don’t worry about how bad the first draft is. Revision can save a bad first draft. Just get it down and then figure out the problems later. No one has ever written a perfect book or story, so you don’t have to try to either.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Write the kind of book you would like to read.

How I Write: Joe Turner, Professor of English

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

Our featured writer this week is Professor Joe Turner. Dr. Turner is new to the Department of English at University of Louisville. He teaches courses in rhetoric and composition and has research interests in the history of rhetoric, Roman and Medieval rhetoric, and Medieval literature.

joe turner

Location: Bingham Hall, 317D

Current project: An academic article on perceptions of style in the late Middle Ages – plain, direct speech and complex, ornate speech, and what a person’s speaking style revealed about their character, social class, and education. There was, in the Middle Ages as today, a mistrust of people who speak well: behind their glib words could be any number of motivations.  Because rhetorical training (similar to what occurs in our English 101 and 102 courses today) was central to medieval educations, and few people received educations, using rhetorical figures was a marker of high status and education.

Currently reading: Kathy Davidson’s Now You See It, as many graphic novels as I can get my hands on, and texts related to my research (such as the Poetria Nova, the Rhetorica ad Herennium, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales).

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

I write articles, lesson plans, and short blogs (for my courses). In these blogs, for example, I outline the class’ structure and provide a digital record that students can review.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I write scholarship in my office and lessons/blogs at home. I find that my dog, Anya, is far too interesting for me to sustain work on any academic projects while at home.

I generally dedicate all day Tuesday and Thursday to writing scholarship. In the mornings I do my reading at home. First, I re-read my writing from the previous writing session. Then, I read a few articles/chapters that are pertinent to the article or the next section of the article. After that, I drive to campus and begin writing. If I get stuck, I normally start reading the piece from the beginning and try to chart out where I should go next.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

Diet Coke. I have to have caffeine, and I don’t drink coffee. I also find that my office is conducive to writing in ways that my home is not.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

Make a schedule and stick to it. I find that a dedicated space and a routine have become writing cues. Once I arrive in the office on my “writing days,” sit down and open my diet Coke, my mind automatically switches to writing mode. It’s become a habit and a ritual.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

My PhD advisor told me to write every day because once you stop writing, it’s easy to make excuses to continue not writing. Writing is a learnable skill like any other. It’s not something that some people have and other people don’t. The only way to learn a skill is to practice it, over and over, and to make conscious efforts to improve.

How I Write: Heather A. Slomski, Former Axton Fellow in Fiction

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

Our featured writer this week is Heather A. Slomski. She is the author of The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons, winner of the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award and published by the University of Iowa Press. She received her MFA from Western Michigan University and held the Axton Fellowship in Fiction at the University of Louisville. Her stories have appeared in TriQuarterlyAmerican Letters & Commentary, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and ArtThe Normal School, and elsewhere. A recipient of a Minnesota State Artist Initiative Grant and a Minnesota Emerging Writers’ Grant, she currently lives in Minnesota with her husband and son and teaches writing at Concordia College.

heather slomski

Location: Moorhead, MN

Current project: The Starlight Ballroom, a novel-in-progress

Currently reading: Italo Calvino’s The Complete Cosmicomics, which, just out this fall, brings together for the first time in the states all thirty four of his “cosmicomic” stories.

 1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

Fiction. Up until recently—short fiction. Currently, I am working on a novel.

 2. When/where/how do you write?

I write best early in the morning, starting at about 5:30. I either write at the dining room table (to be near the stove for making coffee and the large windows for watching the snow fall, but only if no one else is awake), in my study, or at a coffee shop. I alternate between these spaces, depending on my mood; however, I tend to go in phases. For example, I’ll write primarily in my study for a few months and then relocate to a coffee shop when I feel stifled or need a change of scenery.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

When I am writing at a coffee shop I use a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to block out conversations and the music that the coffee shop is playing. Sometimes I am listening to lyric-free music; often I am just wearing the headphones and not listening to anything. Regardless of where I’m working, I usually only listen to music when I’m using it as a sort of soundtrack for the piece I’m writing. For example, I listened to a compilation of fifty Ennio Morricone compositions while writing “Before the Story Ends,” the last story in my collection. Listening to this album helped me to create the mood I desired for the story. Even now when I listen to that album it conjures up for me the world of my story. Most of the time, however, I am not listening to music. Wearing the headphones while working at a cafe, even though I can still hear the muffled noises around me, provides a kind of mental block—a shield between the noises and me. I often like a little distraction, but not too much. (This is one of the main reasons I like to work at a cafe; it usually provides a suitable amount of “activity.”) Occasionally, however, whether I’m at a cafe or at home, I’ll listen to some jazz or classical music if the silence is too quiet and if I can find something that fits the mood of the piece I’m working on.

I also use my headphones to listen to my works-in-progess. I use a program called Ghost Reader, a text-to-speech converter, which allows me to listen to my computer (the voice I usually use is “Alex”) read aloud what I’m working on. Hearing my work aloud helps me with my sentence rhythms, pacing, and transitions. Before I began using Ghost Reader I would intermittently read my own work aloud as I wrote, but now I prefer to listen to my computer read it to me. Also, when I listen to “Alex” read sections of my work aloud, I enter this sort of in-between space where I am almost reading and writing at the same time. I find positioning myself in this in-between space very productive.

I also keep a stack of books next to me while I’m writing. These are books that in some way relate to what I’m working on, or books that I feel might inspire me, often just by sitting in a stack at my elbow. Occasionally I’ll open one of these books and flip through it. Sometimes I’ll read a random passage or reread a specific passage for a particular reason. Sometimes I’ll open a book to look at its large structure. If it’s a novel, for example, I might look at the chapter lengths. If it’s a collection of poetry I might look at its sections or parts and think about the philosophy behind this organization. (And of course I’ll read an occasional poem.) If it’s a story collection I’ll look at the order of the stories or also its sections or parts if it is divided up in such a way. If it’s a play, I’ll look at the set description, the list of characters, the lengths of the scenes, the way the dialogue and stage directions are laid out on the page, etc. I love going to the theatre for the immersive experience it offers, but I read plays in part for a different reason. I love the way plays look on the page. I am drawn to the white space around the text, which somehow makes the words more three-dimensional and the actions—even subtle ones—more “active.” I am very interested in the relationship between fiction and drama, and I sometimes like to play with this relationship in my work. “The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons,” the title story of my collection, blends these two genres into a hybrid form.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

I try not to start a story until I feel sure that I have what I need in order to begin. I do think it’s possible, at least for me, to start a piece too early, and maybe not to ruin it but to at least make the process more difficult and less enjoyable. I try not to begin a piece until I have a clear sense of the emotional landscape or mood, equipped with a definite setting, a few key images, and usually a few phrases or lines of dialogue. The emotional landscape is always based on a situation between characters that involves some kind of conflict, even if I’m not exactly clear on the conflict when I start.

On the other hand, I have to begin writing a story before I know too much about it. The act of writing for me is wholly a process of discovery. I discover the story and I get to know my characters as I write. If I know too much when I sit down to write, much of the magic is lost and my writing feels dull. Edward Albee says that he thinks about his plays for a long time before he begins writing them—that he doesn’t begin writing until he knows his characters so well that they essentially write the play for him. While this process clearly works very well for him, it does not work for me. I need the excitement of discovery to breathe life into the words as I write them.

My revision process is pretty standard. When I feel confident enough in a draft, I give it to a few trusted people to read. I am very careful of giving a draft to my readers too early. I need to be sure that I’ve gotten a piece as far along as possible—that I’ve explored what I set out to explore and that I’ve reached a conclusion that satisfies me, at least for the time being. If I give a draft to my readers too early, I run the risk of writing the story that they want to read rather than the story I want to write.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

On a draft of one of the first stories I turned in for a graduate-school workshop, Stuart Dybek wrote to me to be careful of being precious. This was in reference to a rather tender story, and in a tender story especially there is a fine line between being “precious” or affectatious and being emotionally honest. This was very important advice for me as a young writer. It helped shape my approach to writing in that I try to write with as light a hand as possible; I try to keep myself, the writer, out of the way so that all the reader sees are the characters and the honesty of their emotions. If a writer is too present, particularly in delicate scenes, the writing runs the risk of coming off as forced, false, affectatious, or “precious.” Of course, there is also the danger of being too distant as a writer. This can result in emotionless prose and characters. The key is to strike the right balance.

How I Write: Tim Johnson – Professor of English

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

Our featured writer this week is Professor Tim Johnson. Dr. Johnson is new to the University of Louisville’s English Department, having just finished his Doctorate in English-Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He teaches rhetoric and writing courses and researches the intersections of rhetoric, writing, and the economy.

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Location: Bingham Hall, Louisville, Kentucky

Current project: An article for the journal Rhetoric and Public Affairs concerned with Ford Motor Company’s films during and after World War II

Currently reading: Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, March by Geraldine Brooks

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

I’ve been doing a lot of proposal writing lately: an abstract for an edited collection on technical writing, a presentation proposal for an upcoming conference. I like writing these brief statements because they force me to be brief and figure out the gist of what I’m working on. Beyond that, I work on a pretty steady queue of journal articles, potential book chapters, emails, and classroom materials.

Generally, I like to be in a few different “stages” of the writing process on a handful of projects all at one time—planning one, compiling research for another, doing the actual writing for a third, and revising a fourth. While this isn’t always the most efficient practice (I start more than I finish), I have found that it keeps me from getting so fixated on any one piece of writing that I become unproductive. This rotation also makes working on one project feel like taking a break from another and that mental shift can make all the difference; plus, I have found there is a certain degree of serendipity in having multiple projects (I’ll find a great source for one while researching for another, or the phrasing I spent an afternoon trying to get right comes to me when revising another project).

2. When/where/how do you write?

Right now my work consists of writing, teaching writing, and teaching the teaching of writing—so, essentially, most of my day is filled up with writing-related activity. I very much enjoy this…though it doesn’t make me much fun at dinner parties. When really getting down to the business of writing, though, I try to have at least an hour on my hands to devote to the project without an interruption.

In terms of place, I’ve been writing at my home desk or in my office on campus. Now that it has cooled off a bit, I take to my porch as well. I like to have a window to look out of and the occasional excuse to get up and take a stroll. I’m constantly trying to update and change my process, but lately it has been pretty uniform: I begin by reading something (usually from the same genre that I will be writing). I find that it helps to see another writer in action as this can spark ideas and cause my own writerly voice to come out. Once comfortable, I will start reading my work from the top. On a good day, I’ll get to the part of the work that I was planning to expand and proceed writing. More often than I’d like, though, somewhere along the way I’ll decide the order is wrong, change the organization, realize this wasn’t the problem, and then finally get to the writing I meant to start with.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

A computer and a pair of headphones. If I’m in the revision process, I rely a lot on my computer’s text-to-speech function. There’s something about a pseudo-mechanical voice reading my writing aloud that makes me more aware of what needs adjusting. At this point, it has become an essential part of my process.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

Seek feedback, or just someone to talk to about what you’re up to. Do this during the process of writing, not just once the work is finished. I find that, when left to my own devices, getting a piece of writing to come out right can involve going around in circles. However, if I can get someone to read and talk with me about my work, something magical happens and I can suddenly write again. Apparently, there is some kind of Center that will do this for free on campus.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Think in sections. Trying to wrestle with the entirety of a piece in any one sitting is not only exhausting, but largely inefficient. Learning to break a project into a set of shorter, more manageable tasks made both writing and revision easier.

“Let it go.” This came from a mentor who noticed my refusal to send anything to them unless it was just right. Again, sharing my work was a real breakthrough and sometimes my biggest challenge as a writer has been good, old-fashioned self-doubt.

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