SOMETIMES, WE’RE MUTE, we writers. Sometimes, we drift, dream, words floating above us, like sunset clouds in fantastical shifting shapes—now a ship, now a sheep, now a swan and his wife. Sometimes, it’s twilight, and we’re quiet, content. Sometimes, we choose not to cast our nets to capture those words, glittering like so many stars in the broad night sky of our imagination.
My writer friend and co-author Tia Levings signs off emails with this quote:
But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they may think their dreams into reality with open eyes. —T.E. Lawrence
So, yes, sometimes, it’s enough to read what’s in our own hearts, and let the words build castles and angels and half-memories, undisturbed. Sometimes, we have no need to chase them and jar them, like fireflies, but, instead, simply watch the words flicker into tiny, brief constellations that mean just what they mean to themselves, while we allow them—and ourselves—to be mysteries that remain unsolved. At least for now.
These may be times to read fairy tales or peek into other writers’ journals to see how they dream and drift on the page. Here are some stories and pages that may flutter beside your own quiet heart right now.
IN TAROT CIRCLES, the Hierophant, also known as the Pope, can get a bad rap—for being an uber-conservative, repressive, by-the-book sort of guy. But, really, he might just represent any clergy person, mentor, or teacher—however rule-bound or not. And I’ve had some great teachers!
My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Nethercote, for instance, gave me props for my mad reading skills. The next year, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Smith (who looked like Aunt Bea from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW), thought I was a fine communicator and took the time to introduce me as such to my third-grade teacher, who subsequently always listened to what I had to say!
High school was tough, but my tenth-grade English teacher, whose name is lost to memory (and to various adolescent indulgences), was a bright light, encouraging my poetry-writing. In Seattle, at Shoreline Community College, theater instructor Charlie gave me a directorial role, saying she thought I had leadership potential.
As I make this list, other teachers—a horseback-riding instructor, an art teacher, a math professor—arrive at the threshold of my mind, nodding approval across the years. Their long-remembered encouragement has boosted my self-esteem and bolstered my belief in my own abilities when I’ve needed it most.
This, then, is a thank you to them all.
Revisit your memory of a supportive teacher—or create such a champion in the life of a character who could benefit from one just about now.
Alternatively, if your life has been stingy regarding mentors, consider this your chance to rewrite history and provide yourself one you wish you’d had. Once you’ve got him or her on the page, let your self-created mentor provide a bit of guidance. Chances are it will be some of the best advice you’ve ever received!
When I told my art pal Paula Jeffery about this prompt, she shared this poem with me:
Just Words by Paula Jeffery*
Before home time, every day, That sleepy, can’t-write-any-more Time of day, Low sun picks out chalk dust Suspended in air, over kids, Who only want to meander Across the park, For tea and Thunderbirds.
Most kids. Not all kids. Not us kids. We were Mr. Gardener’s kids, And the slowest of us perked, Eyes bright, legs crossed At the end of the day, Warm with anticipation. Home was not pressing On our nine-year-old minds
Unexpected Mr. Gardener, Generous, mild, and Gentle sharer of knowledge, Balancing on the brink Of retirement, Who, at the Christmas concert, Awed us, floored us With soaring solo Emmanuels.
Before the bell, we gathered round. He held the book aloft and cracked open our little worlds With Beowulf. No diluted, convoluted picture story form, This was all bloody battles, Dragons, a severed arm. A teacher transformed Animated, passionate, Mr. Gardener Held us all in thrall
We went home through the cloakroom, Summer air heavy with the smell Of plimsolls and sour milk, Minds alive and buzzing with heroes and monsters, Chasing sword play across the park.
I thought, Imagine. You can have all that
With just words.
WHILE WRITING CAN BE A FORM OF SELF-EXPLORATION, it is also a way to communicate our thoughts and stories with others. That’s why it’s important to publish your writing.
About this, my novelist pal MK Swanson says,
There is no writer without a reader. Writing is a performance art. When I was little, I used to make up stories that my girlfriends and I would act out—sometimes with puppets, but usually with our bodies. One time, Kori and I pretended to be in the Nautilus, being dragged down into the depths by a great sea creature, a story inspired directly and entirely by the sound the washing machine made as it shifted cycles.
We performed as if someone was watching and applauding. I thought I was the most talented, funniest writer in the world, as I directed my friend and myself to run around the porch, captaining the submarine. Now, when I try to make something new, and I don’t think anyone will ever see it, it falls flat. An audience pulls art into the third—or maybe the fourth—dimension.
I agree with MK. When I write with an audience in mind, it gives my work a sense of purpose—traction, focus—that it lacks when I am writing only for myself. But going public with our work can feel daunting. Here’s the good news: You can publish your writing in a wide variety of ways.
In SHOW YOUR WORK! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (see a list of those ten ways, below*), author Austin Kleon discusses the many benefits of sharing our creative work with others—especially how doing so can make us “findable.” Reviewer D. Bivins says of the book, “This is a refreshing kick in the butt about believing in yourself as a creative person and jumping in with both feet. The basic idea is to put yourself out there even if you (or your work) are a work in progress.“
And while we may not currently be availing ourselves of pre-Covid in-person opportunities to show our work (remember open mics and free, monthly bookstore writing groups?!), there are myriad contact-free ways to offer our writing to the world.
You could always start a blog, join an online writing group, or send out stories to literary contests—all great options for sharing your work. You might also try one or more of the following suggestions if you’re seeking fresh avenues to show your writing to others:
Every August, there’s an event called the Postcard Poetry Fest. Essentially, once you register at the site, you’re sent a list of addresses. You then write a (possibly terrible) poem each day for August’s 31 days and mail it to one of the 31 recipients on your list.
Can’t wait until August? A friend and I used to declare an arbitrary period our own personal Postcard Poems month. Then, for the next 31 days, we would email daily mini-poems back and forth. Often goofy, sometimes poignant, our “poems” generally started with a place name (fictional or not) and were written from the perspective of an imagined persona who was there visiting. Here’s an example:
I’m in Quincy, Alabama, and the almond trees are in high bloom. So are my allergies. My nose, red like a rose, won’t win me any suitors. But my days and nights are full enough without thoughts of another to cloud my view of the stars.
Wish you were here.
Throw a Zoom! prose-and-poetry party
Back in the day (basically, pre-February 2020), friends and I used to gather regularly to eat, chat, and read our work to one another. Zoom! makes this even easier, now. No need to arrange a ride—or even wear proper pants. Just find your tech-iest friend and get them to make it so.
Publish on Medium
If you don’t know about Medium, I’m about to make you very happy. Medium is a platform for writers. And readers. Here’s their mission statement:
Medium is not like any other platform on the internet. Our sole purpose is to help you find compelling ideas, knowledge, and perspectives. We don’t serve ads—we serve you, the curious reader who loves to learn new things. Medium is home to thousands of independent voices [um, that means “independent writers,” which, by definition, could include you!], and we combine humans and technology to find the best reading for you—and filter out the rest.
Submit to THE SUN MAGAZINE‘s Readers Write
A well-regarded, ad-free, glossy print and online monthly, THE SUN magazine not only publishes poetry, interviews, short memoir, short fiction, and fabulous black-and-white photographs, they also open their pages to their readers!
In their Readers Write section, they publish twenty or so short nonfiction pieces each month. These pieces are written to themes (like “ghosts” and “getting started”) listed on the website. As their Readers Write submission guidelines say, Topics are intentionally broad in order to give room for expression…. Writing style isn’t as important as thoughtfulness and sincerity. There is no word limit, but we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the section before you submit.
And if your piece is chosen for publication, you’ll receive a six-month subscription to the magazine!
“Publish your writing” doesn’t have to mean getting a three-book deal with a major publisher! It can simply mean “make your work public.” Sharing your ideas and work with the world in whatever way appeals to you can make you feel more empowered as a writer and more involved as a citizen of the world.
WE WRITERS CAN BE AS VISUAL AS WE ARE VERBAL. Each of the following prompts capitalizes on that by inviting you to start with images and find words to accompany them. Use these exercises to spark a new story or poem—or to just have fun!
Writing Prompt 1: That looks good enough to eat!
Find an image of a prepared food dish that intrigues you—because it looks delicious, or ridiculously complicated, or for any other reason. Then, without knowing the ingredients, write the recipe. Now, write a scene in which your dish is prepared and served—for better or worse.
Children’s picture books and graphic novels both rely as much on illustrations to tell their stories as they do words. For this prompt, find half-a-dozen compelling images (funny, absurd, poignant, intriguing) online or in a magazine. Cut them out or print them, then arrange them so they tell a story, which you then write.
Go to the hardware store and grab a handful of appealing paint chips. The color names are often almost poetic! Combine some of them to create a found/collaged poem—or write a story about someone who names paint colors for a living. Be sure to include plenty of color words in whatever you write.
If you’re interested in another color-centric prompt, check out this post: “Color My World.”