Write What You Know: The Benefits of Journaling, By Alex Werner

Write What You Know: The Benefits of Journaling, By Alex Werner

Every single person that will come across this post is guaranteed to understand stress, be it in their work, their studies, their schedules, or their relationships with others. Recently, I have had some trouble with each of these and I found additional stress in trying to juggle them all. It was after the sudden passing of one of my family members that I rediscovered the importance of journaling, which used to be one of my main outlets for handling stress. Whether your forte is fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry, I believe there is potential for journaling to become a starting point for any genre.

  • Catharsis. Personal journaling is, to me, an incredibly cathartic experience. Like with any project, getting my thoughts down on paper helps to clear my head and organize my thoughts in a constructive way. The main inspiration for this blog post was actually an event I felt the need to write down my thoughts for: the funeral of for my great aunt. I had a lot to chew on from the stress of starting school and the sudden news of her passing, and on the day of the event I had moments where I was feeling reflective and found the need to write down my thoughts once I had the chance. Putting my focus into writing kept my thoughts from becoming too overwhelming. In a way I was able to say the things that I needed to.

 

  • Point of View. I’ve been keeping sporadic journals throughout the course of my life, the most frequent being from around the time when I was in middle school. I look back on these and marvel at the way in which I used to write, including how I found the need to write in code sometimes on the off-chance my journals would be discovered by someone else. Now, as a writer at the age of 20, I sometimes find it difficult to recapture a voice meant to be from a younger perspective. That is where holding onto old pieces of writing can come in handy: in a sense I have captured my past self in words. Even if you haven’t kept any works from as far back as I did, there is still potential to start journaling the thoughts of your current self and use that to draw from in the future. Perhaps there will come a time where your mentality shifts, such as a mind-frame that comes from the loss of a loved one–it can sometimes be hard to capture that voice from raw memory.

 

  • Remembering Events. This may be obvious, but it is still worth mentioning. It can be extremely beneficial to write down events that seem important as they occur. Personally I have trouble looking back even a few years ago to try remembering what happened to me and how I might have felt about it. The past has a tendency to become muddy, or can become affected by hindsight: for example, I can remember some details about my first breakup, but without consulting the things I wrote down about it I can’t even ground myself in which specific year that it took place. Was it the year I was on the speech team or the year I joined the strategy game club at school? All three of these events have a lot of weight to me, but I only know when one of them occurred. There is also merit in keeping track of events should you ever be asked to record autobiographical information; I believe that the more grounded in time you are for that, the better.

 

  • Inspiration. Always write down the things that come to you or inspire you. This has less to do with “personal” journaling and more with keeping an ideas journal. I imagine most writers out there have this in some form or another but I would like to emphasize my personal belief that a writer should have something to write on/in at all times. Inspiration can come in the strangest of ways and can also disappear at a moment’s notice. I found my latest inspiration at a funeral, feeling motivated to jot down my thoughts on the program as soon as I could get my hands on a pen. When I got home after the event, I typed up some paragraphs that were reminiscent of a CNF piece, even though I usually write fiction. Whichever route I choose to go, I have the material that I need to make something meaningful.

 

I encourage everyone to consider journaling as a tool to help better their writing. While you may not need it as a stress reliever like I do, there is still benefit in using it to organize your thoughts and tie down fleeting ideas. If you write what you know, you can’t go wrong; and I’d argue that journaling your current thoughts, feelings, and perceptions will reflect what you know best.


Meet the blogger:
ALEX WERNER is currently a junior studying creative writing at Hamline University. Her focus is fiction and she enjoys the fantasy sub-genre the best. In what free time she has, she likes to draw and hopes to be able to provide illustrations for her writing in the future. Her dream is to eventually publish her own novel.

5 Ways to Survive (And WRITE!) in Our Political Climate with a Sense of Humor, By Alex McCormick

5 Ways to Survive (And WRITE!) in Our Political Climate with a Sense of Humor, By Alex McCormick

As we all know, the last year has been a trying time for Americans who care about their own future well-being, and it can be hard to feel safe in a country where the fan-favorite former host of Celebrity Apprentice’s main political strategy, is to fire those around him who fail to do his job well enough for him. Luckily, we are all equipped with pens that are possibly the most useful weapons for fighting our fears and foes. Writing and humor provide necessary catharsis and release of tension in our day to day lives. Psychologists who have researched humor have identified 3 primary theories of why people find something funny – incongruity, superiority, and relief. Aspects of each of these theories can be identified in most humorous literature, and can be used easily within your own writing as well if you understand how they work. Here are 5 examples of how to do so.

1. Make a trip to McSweeney’s website. They publish a unique blend of humorous hybrid-genera works such as “The Coffin Industry Proudly supports the Graham-Cassidy Health Care Bill” by Matthew Disler and “Six Pillows I Screamed Into After Learning My Preschooler Has To Participate In Active Shooter Intruder Drills” by Hayley Deroche that are sure to add some fun to your day. Then, write your own humorous short-form essay. Try taking an absurd persona as Disler did, or use hyperbolizing a personal fear in a relatable way as Deroche did, in order to create a humorous but educational discussion about a serious topic.

2. Once a day, choose a part of a politician’s appearance or character that you find ugly, funny, annoying, or just downright weird. Write it down. Make fun of it. Like really just dig into the powdery cheese exterior of that factory defect Cheeto. What does this have to do with politics? You may be asking yourself. Nothing. That’s the point.

3. Catch up on your politics for the week by watching a political satire monologue. John Oliver and Trevor Noah provide great examples of how to be humorous while still getting your point across. Then pick an issue that angers, perplexes, or upsets you, and try writing your own monologue. Incongruity and absurdity are your best friends here, however, don’t be afraid to throw in an immature joke (possibly from the prompt in section 2) to keep things light. Few people are too moral to laugh at someone else’s expense if it’s for the sake of feeling better.

4. We live in an age where conflicts of ethics and morality polarize people. Sometimes it’s possible to laugh about it. Science fiction comedies like Rick & Morty are a good place to look for examples of this type of scene. The two main characters have the ability to travel between any planet or dimension, which allows the writers of the show infinite opportunities to compare the moral compass of the protagonists, with the moral compass of people and societies they meet that aren’t limited to earth-like realism. Create a scene in which two characters discuss moral differences.

5. It has already been stated that creating a fictional universe can provide a writer with many opportunities to create absurd humor, however, there’s no reason the universe can’t be humorous in itself. As previously mentioned Rick & Morty flash through many different realities sometimes for full episodes, sometimes for only one scene and a few seconds at a time. However, if you are looking for more expansive universes, many of Terry Pratchett’s books take place on a fictional planet called Discworld. Discworld is half what it sounds like – a large flat disc that his various protagonists can all live on and fall off if not careful. The unexpected half is that the disc rests on top of the backs of 4 elephants who stand stationary on top of a gigantic turtle that floats aimlessly through the universe. Create your own bizarre planet and/or universe in the form of a setting description. What are the rules of this universe? Who or what lives there? Is there government, gravity, or god? The options are endless.


Meet the blogger:
ALEX McCORMICK is a poet, songwriter, and musician from Minneapolis, MN. His poetry is experimental in form, incorporating found texts that are later annotated, transcribed speeches and fake documents like resumes and letters. All are primarily tools used to create political satire and philosophical discussions. Alex’s other passion is playing and writing music, and currently performs with Minneapolis based indie rock band Sass, as well as several others. He is a senior at Hamline University, with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in English.

Is Sexualizing A Character So Bad? By Maya Wesman

Is Sexualizing A Character So Bad? By Maya Wesman

Writers often hear about how sexualizing a character reduces them to nothing, and that no one will take them seriously. Many argue that a character can’t be both empowering for the reader, and sexual. I reject that notion. I challenge that idea. Let’s take a character from a well known story:  Poison Ivy from Batman.

Poison Ivy is a character whose power is not only unique to her in the DC Comic Universe, but at the same time is known for being a character that isn’t just sexualized, but is very sexual herself. Don’t discount this as a weakness of her character though. The allure of her character allows her to lure her targets into a false sense of complacency, only to find themselves the punchline of a cruel, sadistic joke that usually ends in their gruesome death.

The idea of a sexualized villain who isn’t a new concept though, and in classic fantasy and sci fi they were a sort of archetype. Take, for example, succubi and incubi. These are very old, classic fantasy creatures that are not only very sexualized, but also very powerful. They can be men (incubi) or women (succubi), although there tend to be more female characters written this way than male ones.

Where the succubus falls flat, Poison Ivy excels. The succubus is sexual in order to seduce her victims and feed on them to sustain herself. Poison Ivy uses her sexuality as leverage to exploit those who oppose her, and has a larger goal than simple self preservation. She is an eco-terrorist who believes that plants should be the dominant life on Earth, and that humans and animals are subordinate, and inherently corrupt. She has a defined goal that she directly pursues, using her sexuality as a tool, instead of simply being sexual to get media attention and more readers. She views her sexuality as something to hold over the heads of others, and instead of being the victim, is instead the villain.

We can see that the idea of a sexualized character is not a new concept, nor is it necessarily one that was considered inherently degrading or diminishing for the character. Instead, we see the idea of sexual attraction used as a strength of the character, and despite in many stories it is used by characters considered evil, it is no less effective when it comes to achieving their goals.

Lets also take into account what role sexuality plays in being human. For most people, sexuality plays a large role in their lives, as they find certain people attractive, and in some cases, almost irresistibly so. If we were to ignore that aspect of being human, we’d not only be writing a character that isn’t fully relatable, but also denying the character believability. Coming back to Poison Ivy, we can see that not only is she a three-dimensional character that readers and viewers can relate to, but is also a well written character who is easily one of the more believably sinister characters in pop culture today.

I’m not sure what most people seem to have against humanity in a character, but it seems to me that by completely omitting sexuality as a dimension of our humanity we are actively making a character less relatable. As far as Ivy goes, without the lack of value for human life, a healthy dose of borderline nymphomania, and an amazing origin/backstory, Poison Ivy would be reduced to nothing but a stock character. More than that, she would be giving off the impression that a female character is completely flat, and unengaging, leaving male characters to dominate the scene.

Now I’m not saying that sexualizing a character is the only way to make a believable and inspiring female character. Far from it! I just hate to see something so common to the human condition thrown away like we’re all still puritans living in the countryside, afraid of anything that exposes the imperfect, and terrifying nature of humans. There are of course still plenty of ways to make a believable, lovable, and engaging characters without blatant sexuality being woven into the fabric of their personality. Lets just make sure that we aren’t pretending that a natural part of humanity doesn’t exist.


Meet the blogger:
MAYA WESMAN is a senior at Hamline University majoring in Creative Writing with a focus in fiction. She loves writing fantasy and science fiction, and one day hopes to author children’s books. She believes that through stories we can explore what it really means to be humans in a complex world.


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If You’re Not Writing You Should Be Reading, By Meghan O’Brien

If You’re Not Writing You Should Be Reading, By Meghan O’Brien

We’ve all been there: sitting with a notebook in hand, ready to write the next big piece, but nothing comes. Not a single word. You might think it’s a case of writer’s block you have to push through, and you’re right. You absolutely should push through, but you should also take a moment to consider the benefits of setting your pen down and picking up a book instead.

Whether you write poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction, the one thing we all have in common is a love of reading; but for some reason we forget that reading is just as important to the writing process as the actual writing. This may be because reading exercises our writing skills in some fairly subtle ways.

  1. When you pick up a book you are simply taking a break from your own writing to study the work of other authors, hopefully authors whose work you admire. It’s incredibly important to be reading work related to the area you want to focus on, even if it includes five different genres of fiction. I personally like to write chick lit, mystery, and essays or memoirs, so of course I read those genres. It’s a way to study the technique of the genre and hopefully discover new ways to rework it in your own mind.
  2. Every creative writing professor I have had for class has said at one time or another that we should all be stealing ideas from authors. Of course they don’t mean literally copying the plot of a book, but stealing ideas about form and characterization as well as other elements of creative writing. For instance, if you admire the way an author plays with point of view you might also attempt a similar form. We should be taking inspiration from the texts we read and applying what we’ve learned to our own writing. For example, I try to convey a similar lighthearted voice in my protagonists that I see in various chick lit novels (Sophie Kinsella is a personal favorite of mine).
  3. This is perhaps the most important reason to keep reading, yet often times the most overlooked: when you keep a wide variety of reading material you begin to understand what makes a text good. You can tell the difference between a well-structure, intelligent plot and a plot that was just thrown together. You can examine what makes an author’s style effective versus exemplary. There are millions of different books out there, each with its own positive and negative qualities for you to study.

These are only three of the reasons it is important to continue to read passionately, for it is through reading that we develop our own personal tastes and styles. We all were inspired to write because of another writer, and what better way to maintain our passion than to read our favorite authors’ work?

If you’re stuck in a rut and looking for some good reading, here are some of my personal recommendations.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (you know what, just read everything by her)

Dog On It (the entire collection) by Spencer Quinn

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois

And of course the Harry Potter series is a must read.


Meet the blogger:

MEGHAN O’BRIEN recently graduated from Hamline University with a BA in English and a BFA in Creative Writing. She enjoys writing fiction and binge watching various shows on Netflix. She one day hopes to become a published author or at the very least be employed.

Recommendations From The Crypt, by Corva Leon

Recommendations From The Crypt, by Corva Leon

It’s October, and Halloween is slowly pushing its cart of tombstones, candy, and rattling bones up the street, so what’s better than filling your life for a month of spooky things? For people like me October is not just a time to celebrate Halloween, it’s also a time to indulge and celebrate goth-ness, darkness, the occult, and the macabre. I’ve dug through what I’ve been listening to, reading, and watching lately and here’s a list of my current favorites.

Music:

Bela Lugosi’s Dead – Bauhaus (1979, Small Wonder Records)

Considered to be the first “gothic rock” record, and a classic in goth subculture, this song has been on repeat whenever I have my headphones on while doing homework. Even at nearly ten minutes long, Bauhaus’s first single continues to be referenced around the world during October, and I’m no exception.

Transilvanian Hunger – Darkthrone (1994, Peaceville Records)

Visceral tremolo picking, screeched vocals, and varying percussion caused this album, and the title track, to be considered a hallmark of Norwegian black metal. It’s my personal favorite album to listen to at night as soon as October hits. Spooky and haunting to the core, I recommend this album constantly to friends who want something new to listen to as the weather gets colder. Black metal can be an acquired taste, for sure, but this album’s atmosphere hasn’t been beat in my books yet.

Books:

Failure and I Bury the Body – Sasha West (2013, Harper Collins)

Selected for the National Poetry Series, Failure and I Bury the Body is an astounding collection of poetry that links itself together as one allegory following the narrator and Failure taking a roadtrip through the Southwestern desert before picking up an unlikely passenger: the Corpse. Serious, inventive, and endlessly necropastoral, Failure and I Bury the Body has become a steadfast tomb to return to during October for some introspective, and eerie, reading.

Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse

I continuously return to Steppenwolf every fall, if time permits. As with Hesse’s work, it is laden with introspection, mystery, some magic, and overall a twisting narrative that leaves the reader with questions— not just about the book, but due to allegorical nature Hesse often times takes in his novels— about the world and its state. Steppenwolf is a labyrinthine novel, with twists and turns as you follow Harry Haller into the depths of the magic theater, and the mysterious Hermine, when you finish the novel, it will feel like November 1st: coming up for air, already planning for next year’s October.


Meet the blogger:
CORVA LEÓN is non-binary, latinx, poet, visual artist and fledgling gender theorist currently residing in Minnesota with aspirations to attend graduate school on the East Coast. 

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