February 2016: Craft

I ascribe to the belief that writing is an art, a craft, and a business. The artistic goals of your writing may relate to the larger themes you see your work addressing, or the “conversations” your work engages in. The business of your writing career relates to publishing and otherwise earning money so you can support your work as an artist. (We’ll be talking a lot more about business side of writing in the coming months.)

Craft, as I would define it, falls somewhere between these two. Your craft are the skills and techniques that you have honed over your years as a writer. They enable you to (hopefully) earn a living, as well as translate your artistic vision into words on a page. Because Clovers is not a workshop group (unless you and your group members have made other personal choices in this regard), we won’t actually be working together to improve our craft through feedback. But, we can still have some rather important discussions about what we write, how we write, and how we work to improve what we write.

The internet abounds with advice for writers on developing a writing practice and improving craft. As a starting point, you and your group might want to frame your discussions around a list of suggestions for keeping yourself writing, published on LitReactor. Have you tried any of these strategies? What has worked for you and what hasn’t as you’ve developed your writing practice? Where would you like to improve?

Beyond the rhythms of your writing life, you and your Clover may also want to discuss the steps you’ve taken to hone your craft. Have you taken classes, or are you curious about them? Attended conferences that have been helpful (or that you wish you’d avoided)? Or have you developed your own work through reading or other independent study? Related to the question of developing craft, Poets & Writers contains some useful resources for anyone interested in learning more about conferences, colonies, and workshops.

Finally as you continue to get to know the members of your Clover, you may want to use your discussion this month to talk more about what you like to write, as it relates to your goals for developing your craft. Are you stuck in a rut, or embracing a new project? What kind of writing are you most interested in pursuing, and how has your writing changed over the years?

Feel free to comment here if your discussions with your Clover lead you to any insights you’d like to share!


January 2016: Talking about Community

“We are individuals; together, we are a community. And as such we have a responsibility—an opportunity—to open our minds and listen, read, and respond to the perspectives, challenges, and lessons of others. And then, in the end, do what we must: write.”

Poets & Writers editors note

It seems fitting as we get started with Clovers—something I think many writers signed up for in search of community—for us to work together to define what this means to us. Writing community can mean many things, from workshop groups, to readings, to classes, mentoring, or networking events.

Conversations about writing community often begin and end with discussions of MFA programs. While it’s true that graduate school can be a great place to find community (and certainly something you should discuss in your groups), it is not the only way.

In a blog post about writing community, author Po Bronson writes of “The Grotto”—a community centered around a shared office space, where members inspired each other to stay on task with their writing and to take new risks.

Detailing the birth of a different kind of community Melissa Adamo writes on English Kills Review about her experience setting up a virtual writing group following an online writing class.

And of course there is The Clovers, where you will hopefully form firstly a small community within your group, and a larger community through Facebook with all the writers who have taken part in the program.

Over the next few weeks, you will hopefully find time to schedule a video chat with your group to begin to talk about community. As you do, you may want to consider the following questions:

  • How would you define writing community and why is it important to you?
  • What types of writing communities have you been a part of?
  • What kind of writing community do you wish you had?
  • What resources are you aware of to develop writing community?
  • How has your engagement with writing community changed throughout your career?

These questions are, of course, meant as suggestions to get your started. Some may apply to you and others may not. If during the course of your conversations you discuss any resources that you think our group would benefit from, please feel free to add them here in a comment, or post about them in our Facebook group.


Publication News for Alexus Erin

Photo credit: Kellyanne Goldie

Photo credit: Kellyanne Goldie

Alexus Erin is pleased to share that her poem “The Net Rising Soundless as Night, the Birds’ Cry Soundless” was recently published in The Nervous Breakdown.

Erin’s poem is one of many in her chapbook, Descant, for which is currently seeking publication. She is also delighted to share her new position as a music reviewer for the music website, Speak Into my Good Eye. She is thankful to her Clover (featuring Katie Sherman and Mary Cristine Delea) for all of their support, good advice and friendship.

Goals for Writing and Life

One of the purposes of The Clovers Project is to allow writers to put into words the often nebulous career goals constantly swirling through our brains. In a reflection on the process of discussing her goals with her mentors, student writer Kaite Britt discusses how helpful it was for her to put her goals into words. She also comments on the connection between writing goals and “life goals” that so many of us experience; often it’s the writing that helps us to stay on track with the rest of our lives.

Here’s what Kaite had to say:

After speaking with my mentors I feel like I have my goals in the right place and am encouraged to move forward with writing because it seems more doable. Right now my goals are to get through college and keep writing. The latter is the more difficult of the two with the crazy schedule that I have set myself on. It can be difficult to move one step at a time when it feels like you’re climbing to the top of the Empire State Building. But my mentors reminded me that prioritizing is important to moving forward.

At the moment my goals are to double major in English (creative) and Engineering (industrial). I will probably be in college for at least five years including summer sessions. My long term goals are to get through it, work to the best of my abilities, make connections with people along the way, maybe an internship, and hopefully get a job at the end of all this. Also I started a novel last year and I want to continue working on it. Recently I realized that I have to re-do a lot of it because it strayed away from my original idea and consequently the conflict isn’t strong enough. I want to work with that and find the plot again.

My short term goals are more self-oriented. In the past I struggled with an eating disorder, and am in the final stages of recovery. One of my goals is to keep eating healthily and remember that food is one of the most amazing things in the world because if nothing else we all need it. I’ve been trying to stay mentally and physically healthy by sleeping and exercising on a regular schedule. How does writing fit into this? Writing is one of the few activities that keeps me sane and honest so I want to make a goal to write once per day even if it’s a journal entry just to keep the thoughts flowing.

I have started writing for a newspaper for the lifestyles column. Sometimes it feels difficult to keep up with their schedule and mine, but it’s good experience because I’m not great at non-fiction and this is my chance to learn. Recently I messed up, though, so I have some new goals for writing that I think I need to develop into habits soon. I need to communicate better with my editors and get myself on a schedule for writing and researching articles. By the end of February I want to have a set schedule for myself in terms of researching and getting work done.

Most of my goals are doable and it’s been really helpful to voice them. When we first started the exercise I wasn’t sure of any of my goals. Once I started writing them down though the words just started flowing and it was easier for me to organize what I was thinking and compare it to what I wanted in the long run. I think I now know better what I want and how to get there.

Why I Want to Help the News Industry Survive

by Kat Friedrich

Have you ever realized that you wanted to go against the crowd in your career choices? This month, while corresponding with the other writers in my Clovers mentoring group, I developed a very clear vision of what excites and motivates me. It goes completely counter to conventional wisdom about what works in the writing industry now.

We’ve all heard the rumors: the United States news industry may be dying. I’ve even seen a Facebook page called Newspaper Escape Plan. I was in graduate school studying science and environmental journalism when the layoffs began; the industry has hemorrhaged talented people since the mid-2000s. And unlike the auto industry, we aren’t getting a bailout any time soon.

But despite that grim reality, I sense a glimmer of hope—for myself as a writer, if not for the entire industry.

During and after the recession, I developed a trade specialty. And although I have written some news and blog posts for businesses, most of my work has revolved around a small news site that is now hosted by a major university.

Working on this grant-funded site has taught me the essential skills of managing small news publications—and I have discovered that I love this kind of work. I am fascinated by the new technology and journalistic challenges I encounter. I am dedicated to building the quality of my product and cultivating the craft of our contributing writers. I am interested in both print and digital publications.

I do not want the news industry to go away, trashed by the market forces that motivate people to seek and share low-quality content for free. I believe independent, free speech is a cornerstone of a free society.

I don’t believe the forces shoving former reporters into marketing and public relations roles are aligned with the values that underlie the craft of news production. Unless the organizations they are marketing have research-friendly, open, data-oriented cultures, writers may not be free to ask intelligent questions.

If personal branding requires me to make a choice, I choose reporting, blogging and editing—the road with less traffic. This is not because I dislike marketing communication but because the entire purpose of my writing, the power that makes my stories gel, is based on having a third-party perspective.

In a world that is pushing me toward marketing communication, I want to have a relatively independent voice. I know absolute neutrality is impossible to achieve and values are relative.

If I choose to blog or write web copy for any organization, I want my voice to retain that third-party point of view. Working with research organizations and data-friendly nonprofits would make that easier. I know where my priorities lie. Promotion is an art, but it is not my primary focus. I know who I am and what I do.

I’m a former engineer turned science reporter and editor. My job is to ask questions that go beyond promotion and create fuel for discussion. I have an allegiance to the organizations for which I work, but I also want to help construct a new reality in which the news industry can continue. Beaten and bruised though it may be, I hope the news industry can recover, stand up, and walk forward to document a future of rapidly-changing technology.

Why I started The Clovers

I was inspired to launch this project after reflecting on the things I used to believe about “being a writer” when I was an undergraduate taking my first writing classes. I remember having fixed ideas about what it would mean to make my living as a writer: I would write a novel, get an agent, publish the novel. That would be it.

Looking back at the number of different ways I have made my living over the past fifteen years, always somehow pursuing writing as I did, the thought of these early ideas makes me smile. And it makes me want to share some of my experiences with an undergraduate writing student. I’m not cynical or jaded about the writing life; far from it, in fact. But I know some things now that I wish I’d known then.

I also have so much left to learn. What’s it like to work with an agent? What’s the best way to position myself for a book launch? What don’t I know about the life of a published writer? I’d love to have a mentor just a few steps ahead of me in this work to whom I can address these questions, or who will simply be willing to share stories about their experiences.

I suspect I’m not alone in these feelings. There are student writers out there wondering what it means to be a writer today. There are emerging writers with experiences to share, and questions of their own. And there are established writers who are interested in connecting with writers outside of their normal circles, and with stories of triumph (and failure) that they’d like to tell. I’m sure of it.

For more about The Clovers, and my work as a writer, check out a recent post on my own blog, from which this reflection has been excerpted.