Tuesday, April 25, 2017


I recently received a batch of anonymous evaluations from a class I taught a year ago – a 15 week work shop wherein each student submits almost 60 pages of prose which the class and I then discuss with a view to pinpointing what is and what isn't working.

Generally I get good reviews – and these were no exception. A few grumbles about odds and ends – you can’t please everyone—and a suggestion which I shall take to heart – more writing prompts to break up what can be the drudgery of fifteen week of critique.

But there was one puzzler. A student complained that he (I suspect it was a guy from the handwriting) would have liked more focus on ideation.


The student repeated this criticism in his summary – he would have liked more discussion of ideation.

I have a pretty big vocabulary but this word ideation isn't part of it. Obviously it has to do with ideas . . . 

So I Googled ideation creative writing and found THIS LINK
'Boost your creativity -- ideation techniques for writers. '

Aha! It's the old "Where do you get your ideas?" question that always gets asked in interviews and at book readings.

My answer, after I've fought back the impulse to say 'Walmart, Aisle 4', is generally that I get ideas from life -- living, observing, reading, paying attention.

I'm not sure one can cold-bloodedly generate an idea, as suggested in the link above, that will sustain a writer through a novel. Writing prompts are great for short pieces -- and sometimes in a writing prompt one may meet a character that demands more attention or a situation that could be a part of a longer piece.

What was it this student expected, I wonder -- especially since the class dealt with work (presumably) already written?

I'm also wondering if this is a kind of creative writing buzzword -- it's happened before that I get a student who's taken lots of writing classes and is fixated on certain words or techniques -- in another class one student kept talking about filtering which was a term new to me, as applied to writing anyway. 

I looked that one up too -- and found much very useful information. It's basically the same advice that Strunk and White give in Elements of Style (avoid unnecessary words) but HERE is an excellent explanation.

Always learning . . .

Sunday, April 23, 2017

World Book Day

Every day is book day here . . . the books pictured are from a post I did several years ago about 25 books that had influenced me and my writing . . .

What am I reading now? Just finished My Thomas: A Novel of Martha Jefferson's Life by Roberta Grimes - an interesting look at the early days of our country. Currently reading Pillars of the Sky by Cecelia Holland -- a novel imagining the building of Stonehenge. Also dipping into a period piece -- Girls and I by Mrs. Molesworth. 

And you? What are you reading?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day 2017

I remember the first Earth Day back in 1970. Things seemed so hopeful then -- we could change our ways: recycle! live mindfully! alternative energy!

So, how have things changed? The American Museum of Natural History has put together an interesting little presentation HERE.

 Some bad news -- the global population has doubled -- doubled!  Seas are rising, animal populations are shrinking . . . 

But there's good news too. A lot of the changes have been implemented that have improved air quality, banning DDT has brought the Bald Eagle back from the brink of extinction, banning lead in gas has improved health . . . changing our ways can make a difference. 

Now, alas, our government is in the hands of Big Business, of climate change deniers, of those who wield alternative facts so that their corporate masters can increase their profits. 

What can we expect from a POTUS whose experience of Nature is through the windows of his air-conditioned penthouse high above Central Park,  . . . or on the chemically manicured and water-guzzling greens of his golf courses. . . or vicariously through  his sons as they go on yet another big game hunt?  

So far, his record is pretty dismal. His Cabinet choices . . . his proposed budget . . . as The Guardian puts it, the Trump presidency is a disaster for the planet.

I've long maintained that humankind is the greatest natural disaster of all. The difference is that we have the power to control such disastrous behavior . . .but will we?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Post Party Thoughts

It was a wild three days -- our house was full of folks; Justin and Claui's house overflowed. . .

John and I were thrown out of our quiet comfortable routine but, we decided, that's a good and necessary thing.

A lot of work -- and there was a lot of help. Justin's friends could run this thing without us.

As of Wednesday, I was still laundering sheets and tablecloths and dealing with leftovers and there are still the party supplies to be inventoried and put away.

I keep returning in my mind to the moment during the party when I was sitting and talking with old Tampa friends -- Elizabeth, who was in junior high and high school with John and me, as well as Robert, a student of mine at Berkeley Prep back in '68, and Tommy, a student from the early 70's at Independent Day School. It's remarkable how warm and meaningful these connections are.

We aren't quite sure but this may have been the 38th or 39th Easter Party at Wool Branch Farm. There were children of children who used to hunt eggs -- even a grandchild of a one time egg hunter.

So many people talked about how many years they'd been coming to the party and how much it meant to them. But I think my friend Ida who traveled from Maryland explained the charm of the Easter Party the best:

No matter how far away we get nor how crazy the world becomes, we can always count on this. And it looks like the next generation will be carrying on long after we have all left the scene. This year was really special in light of so much
going on in the world and we did so enjoy ourselves. Peace!