Sizzlin’ Summer Writing Prompts

On Summer Writing Workshops

By: Sophie Clark

In the summer of 2017, I was willing to try anything. During the semester prior, I had become distant to my writing and decided to devote my free time in the summer to attending poetry workshops and traveling. First, I planned to attend the Juniper Summer Writing Institute at UMass Amherst for a week in June. Then, in July, I signed up for a weekend workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I anticipated a summer of inspiration and dreamed of meeting and learning from well-known writers as well as finding the path to becoming one myself.

At UMass Amherst, I was placed in a poetry workshop with Timothy Donnelly (Author of The Cloud Corporation). For a week, I would attend a craft talk in the morning, a workshop in the afternoon, and enjoy a reading by a contemporary writer in the evening. I found the writers involved in the program to be wonderful and the attending students encouraging. However, while I was there, I noticed I had done very little writing. Although I attempted to write in my free time, I felt too intimidated to write amongst the attending writers and decided to settle for taking a lot of notes instead. At the end of the week, I was glad to have gained a lot of books and information but was ultimately disappointed that I didn’t write more.

After my experience at Juniper, I had not given up hope on my Iowa Summer Writing workshop experience. I planned to do nothing but write for an entire weekend. Although I ended up writing a bit more because my group was writing from prompts in our workshop, I still wasn’t writing from that great source of inspiration I had hoped to find there. Again, I settled for mostly taking notes and exploring the city.

At the end of the summer, I was left with a good amount of books and a good amount of advice written in my notebook. In the coming semester, I would learn my inspiration was just around the corner and that I would soon find my voice in writing once again. Since that summer, I’ve not only learned that you cannot force inspiration but also that you cannot simply expect it. I was waiting for something to happen to me while, in truth, I had to make it happen myself. While I would recommend attending these workshops if you have the time and money, I would also advise you to truly make it worth your resources. Work hard while you’re there and try to get into good writing habits you can stick with afterward. And if you are unable to attend these workshops (which many of us college students are), know that if you work hard, you can gain the same knowledge on your own. Your greatest inspiration is waiting for you, but you ultimately have to find it for yourself.

5 Books To Read This Summer

Have you finished your summer reading list? Are you looking for something new to read? If so, check out these five books you should read this summer.

1. Hunger: A Memoir of  (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is a New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist. Her latest book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, was just released this June 2017! This memoir tackles vulnerable subjects such as body weight, food, and self-image. This powerful book is definitely worth checking out!


2. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz, a Mojave American poet, published her debut poetry collection in 2012. When My Brother Was an Aztec gives readers a glimpse into life in and out of the Mojave Reservation. If you are interested in exploring family-narrative poetry, take a look at Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec.


3. Enigma by Tonya Kuper

Tonya Kuper is a part-time instructor at UNO. Her debut novel, Anomaly, is the first book to the Schrodinger’s Consortium duology. Enigma, the second book, was just released on July 3rd of this year.

This young-adult fiction series follows a “nerdy” teenage girl named Josie, who discovers she is unlike most other teenagers. She is an anomaly and can make objects appear and disappear using her own mind. If you like young-adult fiction or want to follow Josie on her epic journey, read Tonya Kuper’s Anomaly and Enigma.


4. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Look familiar? Gene Luen Yang visited UNO in Spring 2016! Yang was also recently named the fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress.

Have a look at Gene Luen Yang’s award-winning graphic novel, American Born Chinese. The story’s protagonist, Jin, is a teenager faced with racial struggles and stereotypes. Like most teenagers, he is also trying to figure out who he is. This graphic novel is sprinkled with humor and culture throughout. It certainly is worth a read!


5. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is an award-winning writer of books like, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Flight, and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven to name a few.

His memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, was just published this June. This book allows you to see into Alexie’s life through verse and prose as he experiences grief, from his mother’s passing, and memories from a complicated childhood. If you are a fan of Alexie’s writing, consider adding You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me to your summer reading list!

Poetry – Titling Your Poem

The poem floats on the page, an amalgam of your hard work, love of language, and intense feeling. You feel serene and somewhat spent, ready to share your creation with someone – almost. The poem is complete, except for one thing – the title. For many poets (including myself), this is one of the hardest parts of writing a poem. How do you choose the right title? How do you know what kind of title would work best for your poem? Here are a few kinds of titles that I always consider when I’m stuck for what to name a piece:

 

  1. A title taken from inside the poem

One simple way to title a poem is to take something from inside the poem itself. This kind of title is often thematic, in that it reflects the poem’s central image or idea. Many poems are named in this way, and examples are thick on the ground. One such poem is “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath. (You can read it here.) These kind of titles are effective and efficient – they get tie in with the poem and give the reader a taste of what is to come.

  1. An explanatory/contextual title

A title like this can be extremely useful, particularly if you fear that the poem itself could use a bit of context. Try for a title that can give the reader some insight into how they should read and understand your poem. Consider Geoffrey Hill’s poem “In Memory of Jane Fraser.” (You can read it here.) Jane’s name is nowhere inside the poem, but by giving it that title the reader is aware not only that it is an elegy, but that it is an elegy to a specific person. An explanatory title can be a great way to add just a touch of much-needed context without having to add it into the poem itself. It needn’t be overly explicit or too informative, of course,

  1. A lead-in title

Sometimes, you have a title, but it feels like a brick, sitting heavy on top of your poem. Other times, you can’t find a title that doesn’t interfere with the musicality or lessen the impact of the first line(s). In these instances, a lead-in title may be just the thing, because they let you get to the heart of the matter right off the bat. A good example of a lead-in title is Robert Duncan’s poem “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow.” (Read the poem here.) The title sets the scene, but also pulls you right into the body of the poem. There is no disconnect or space between title and poem, which creates an immediacy that serves the piece well.

  1. A refrain title

If your poem has a refrain, you may consider that for a possible title. Though you want to be careful about overdoing it, just as you have to be careful when using refrains inside the poem, a refrain title can be the best topper for a musical poem. For a good example of the refrain title, check out Walt Whitman’s famous poem, “O Captain, My Captain.” (You can view the poem here.)

  1. A sensory title

Sometimes, you don’t want to use language that is in the body of the poem, nor do you want to try something that explains too much. Perhaps your poem doesn’t need any extra context, but it needs something before you dive into the body of the piece. In these cases, you may consider an image or association that can grab the reader’s attention without exposing too much of the poem’s intent right off the bat. Look at Audre Lorde’s poem, “Coal.” (You can read it here.) In this poem, the title is a concrete image that ties in with the poem, but isn’t necessarily directly related to it. Rather, it adds to the visual detail of the piece, and brings with it the connotative weight of the word to bear on the reader’s interpretation of the poem.

  1. The dreaded “Untitled”

There are times when a title of any kind feels like a streak of spray paint on the Mona Lisa. Of course, many writing professors won’t allow an untitled poem in the classroom, but when you are writing your own work, you may decide to ditch the title altogether. Untitled poems can be effective if the non-titledness fits with the poem’s atmosphere (unless you happen to be Emily Dickinson , in which case you need never title anything). Tracy K. Smith eschews the title to great effect in her Terza Rima which begins “What happens when the body goes slack?” In this poem (which unfortunately isn’t available to view online but can be found in her collection Life on Mars, available here.), the lack of title adds to the sorrow and confusion of the poem, which deals with death and the yawning gap of loss. A title on such a poem would be too pat, too solid. The words need to drift, much as the speaker of the poem does. If you have a poem where a title would only hurt the piece, you may consider simply leaving it off.

 

Hopefully these ideas will get the gears churning when you’re confronted with that blank space above your piece. If you need more inspiration, here are some other articles that might help:

http://magmapoetry.com/archive/magma-51/articles/working-titles/

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/69116

http://canuwrite.com/article_titles_poems.php

Sizzlin’ Summer Writing Prompt #5

writerstoolbox

How about those crazy summer storms? They start with a hot, humid summer day, then the wind picks up and before you know it those fat drops of water are pouring like sheets from sky, with thunder rolling around in the background from what seems like every direction. Have you been caught in one yet? Or have you watched from the safety of a porch, sipping a glass of cold riesling (like me)? Maybe you can use your own summer storm experiences in this week’s writing prompt. Add a little romance for that sizzle! Then be sure to share some or all of your results in the comments below, and polish it up for Issue #2!

Remember, all writing prompts are taken from The Writer’s Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan, a great little kit to spark your creativity when you’re feeling blocked.

How this works: I will use the toolbox to identify a protagonist, his or her goal, an obstacle to that goal, and an action the protagonist takes to achieve the goal. I’ll also post an extra credit sensory detail for you to use in your story in some way. Use your imagination to build a story around these elements, and post your results in the comments section so we can all be wowed by your creativity!

Sizzlin’ Summer Writing Prompt #2: Margaret (protagonist), who loves Sy, wants to see the world (goal), but a fear of heights is keeping her from her goal (obstacle). To achieve her goal, she gets on television (action).

Extra Credit Sensory Detail: the hole in his sock

Previous Prompts:

Sizzlin’ Summer Writing Prompt #4

writerstoolbox

So summer seems to really be on the upswing. I hope you keep a journal on hand at all times to jot down events and experiences that would make good fiction. Let’s keep going with our writing prompts, shall we? Be sure to share some or all of your results in the comments below, then polish it and send it in for Issue #2!

Remember, all writing prompts are taken from The Writer’s Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan, a great little kit to spark your creativity when you’re feeling blocked.

How this works: I will use the toolbox to identify a protagonist, his or her goal, an obstacle to that goal, and an action the protagonist takes to achieve the goal. I’ll also post an extra credit sensory detail for you to use in your story in some way. Use your imagination to build a story around these elements, and post your results in the comments section so we can all be wowed by your creativity!

Sizzlin’ Summer Writing Prompt #2: Fred, the monster (protagonist), wants to discover happiness (goal), but Laurie, the famous acrtress, is keeping him from this dream (obstacle). To achieve his goal, he loses weight (action).

Extra Credit Sensory Detail: a man wearing a plate on his head

Previous Prompts:

Sizzlin’ Summer Writing Prompt #3

writerstoolboxNow it’s time for prompt #3. I have a feeling Bill (from prompt #1) has moved on from his goal for the scenario below.

Remember, all writing prompts are taken from The Writer’s Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan, a great little kit to spark your creativity when you’re feeling blocked.

How this works: I will use the toolbox to identify a protagonist, his or her goal, an obstacle to that goal, and an action the protagonist takes to achieve the goal. I’ll also post an extra credit sensory detail for you to use in your story in some way. Use your imagination to build a story around these elements, and post your results in the comments section so we can all be wowed by your creativity!

Sizzlin’ Summer Writing Prompt #2: Don, the jailbird (protagonist), wants to get rich (goal), but Bill, the paleoclimatologist, is keeping him from this dream (obstacle). To achieve his goal, he learns to forsee the future (action).

Extra Credit Sensory Detail: five bucks left on the table

Previous Prompts:

Sizzlin’ Summer Writing Prompt #2

writerstoolbox

Did you get some juices flowing from the first prompt? Be sure to share some or all of your results in the comments below, then polish it and send it in for Issue #2!

Let’s keep the energy flowing! Remember, all writing prompts are taken from The Writer’s Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan, a great little kit to spark your creativity when you’re feeling blocked.

How this works: I will use the toolbox to identify a protagonist, his or her goal, an obstacle to that goal, and an action the protagonist takes to achieve the goal. I’ll also post an extra credit sensory detail for you to use in your story in some way. Use your imagination to build a story around these elements, and post your results in the comments section so we can all be wowed by your creativity!

Sizzlin’ Summer Writing Prompt #2: Mother (protagonist), wants to be young again (goal), but Joy, from the rock band, is keeping her from this dream (obstacle). To achieve her goal, takes up stalking (action).

Extra Credit Sensory Detail: November in Cincinnati

Previous Prompts: