How does time away affect your writing?
Sometimes getting outside your reality may help you write better.
I took time off from editing my novel manuscript for a few months this spring in order to let it breathe. I started working on other projects during this time, mostly poetry and a bit of personal essay. I had hit a point where I stopped being able to see new avenues through the work and when summer came I jumped back into the project.
Well, first off, I learned that taking time off can give you new perspective. Taking a break from your manuscript can help you see it with fresh eyes. Leaving your routine, if you get a chance to, can be a blessing in disguise. I was really not expecting to make any artistic breakthroughs, but I plodded along any way. By the end of July, I started to see the work with fresh eyes. I have been working on this book since time immemorial so seeing a new way to edit it was a minor miracle.
Everything is useful for an artist. Even taking breaks from projects can be a kind of creative crop rotation. As writers, we have to be really good at noticing things. Noticing them and then articulating them. Sometimes we have to become sponges absorbing everything and others, we have to find a way to take those experiences and get them out of our minds and onto the page.
As writers, it’s hard to know whether we’re doing it wrong. I was chatting online with my oldest and dearest writing friend, Chiwan Choi, and we were lamenting the state of the world, human frailty and the difficulty required in making good art. Why is it so hard even after many years of working at the craft?
This is the conclusion we came to:
We all have different ways we work. Each artist creates a way. We create a mold, then we pour the mold and we chisel it with the tools that we also make. It’s just hard discovering your method because we always think we’re doing it wrong. We’re all doing it wrong and we’re all doing it right.
That’s why it can be so hard to pursue the art and craft of creative writing because the guideposts are so nebulous, but writing classes can be a tool.
They can show you one way—the way that works for the teacher. The teacher can give the students a praxis to follow for the time that they are in the class and this can strengthen the student for the long slog when they are on their own. Maybe they can come back into the class to fine tune, or to reconnect with their allies. The creative writing community in its ideal form can be at best, an oasis— like a watering hole, and we—the weary wild animals who have come back to drink, rest or recover at its banks.
I’ve come to the conclusion that so much of writing is on your own that you need community in order to survive.
It’s important to have allies. Some of your greatest allies in writing will be your classmates.
We are lucky here at the SF Creative Writing Institute, because we have been creating community and people have been coming to us and finding that. And we are lucky because we are growing and we have so far survived in this tough economic situation that all arts organizations have found themselves in the Bay Area and we are living to fight another day. Read on about our upcoming events, classes and press.
© Alexandra Kostoulas
SF Creative Writing Institute
Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley was a smashing success.
On June 6-7th 2015 we had a booth at the Bay Area Book Festival in downtown Berkeley. Thank you to all of the people who came by to visit our booth and to those of you who helped us man the booth. Also thank you to all the poets and prose writers who came down to read from your works-in-progress.
You made the weekend fun and brought life to our booth.
We also held a raffle. Prize winners will be announced at the end of this newsletter.
Over the summer, SF Creative Writing Institute was lucky to be featured on Frank Garza’s podcast,
San Francisco People.
Episode Summary: Alexandra Kostoulas is an award-winning writer who teaches creative writing in the City. She’s been teaching the Jack Grapes’ Method Writing Program for a number of years. This program helps students find what’s called their “Deep Voice” and she explains more about this on the show. Alexandra has also recently launched the San Francisco Creative Writing Institute to teach even more creative writing methods. This podcast is great for anyone who wants to write more but is struggling or having a hard time getting started. Alexandra shares some tips by going through the routines, processes, and tools that have helped her become a better writer. My favorite part of the interview, however, was when Alexandra talked about her own writing. She tells me about the novel she’s finishing up, Persephone Stolen, and then does an on-air reading of one of her poems, Los Angeles of my Youth. I had read the poem before our interview and thought it was beautiful. But hearing Alexandra give the backstory and read it from across the table has been one of my favorite podcast moments.
-Frank Garza, SF People Podcast
If you have some free time, have a listen.
Introducing Our Newest Instructor:
We are so lucky to have Hollie Hardy join our team this fall to teach a Poetry Workshop on Sunday afternoons starting late September. Here is a little bit about her: Hollie Hardy can teach you how to survive anything. Her first collection of poetry, How to Take a Bullet, And Other Survival Poems has titles ruthlessly appropriated from The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook,and is available now from Punk Hostage Press (2014). She is an English instructor at Berkeley City College and seasonal lecturer at San Francisco State University, where she also received her Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry. An active participant in the local Bay Area literary scene, Hardy co-hosts the popular monthly reading series, Saturday Night Special, An East Bay Open Mic. She is a core producer and venue coordinator for the Beast Crawl Literary Festival in Oakland, curator of Litquake’s Flight of Poets, and a former Editor-in-Chief of Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review.
Q&A with Hollie Hardy:
What kind of things do you cover in your course?
We’ll use generative writing prompts to explore craft elements of poetry, such as imagery, metaphor, symbol, rhythm, word choice, repetition, and the line, and practice giving and receiving feedback to in order to sharpen and refine new work.
Is it more for experienced poets or can anybody take the class at any level?
All levels of writers are welcome! Whether you’re just curious about poetry and thought it might be fun to take a class, or you have an MFA in poetry and want some inspiration and feedback to energize your practice, this is the class for you! I will work to cultivate a safe space for beginners and to challenge experienced writers. My goal will be to meet all my students where they are.
What if I write slam poetry, spoken word, or traditional forms? Is there still a place for me in your course?
All kinds of poetry styles are encouraged! I hope we will have a diversity of voices in the room, so we can learn from each other and even experiment with new ways of creating poems. Writing prompts will be designed to offer options and invite students to take risks.
What is something important to remember about writing?
Writing is a learned skill, and just like performing surgery, riding a motorcycle, or mastering the violin; it takes practice. Ray Bradbury reminds us, “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”
How did you get started as a writer?
For me, writing began with reading, with falling in love with books and wanting to write my own. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. Journals, stories, poetry, love notes, scathing essays, strongly worded letters. I had a poem published in the local newspaper when I was in first grade. I started taking my writing career seriously when I was accepted to the Creative Writing program at San Francisco State University in 2003, where I subsequently earned a BA in Creative Writing and an MFA in Poetry, and started publishing my work and organizing literary events. I also served as Poetry Editor and then Editor in Chief of Fourteen Hills, The SFSU Review for a couple of years, and learned about editing, publishing, layout, and design. My first book, How to Take a Bullet And Other Survival Poems was released on Punk Hostage Press in 2014.
How many years of experience do you have writing? Teaching? As a published writer? As an organizer of poets?
I’ve been writing for 35 years, publishing for 10 years, teaching for 5 years, and organizing literary events for 7 years.
Can you talk about your experience organizing the Beast Crawl and how it’s helped you as a poet?
Beast Crawl is a labor of love. For those who may not be familiar, Beast Crawl is Uptown Oakland’s annual free literary festival featuring more than 200 writers in a single night, in dozens of events, spread out over three hours and thirty-five local galleries, bars, restaurants, cafés, performance spaces, and storefronts. Since its inception in 2012, I have been a core producer of the festival. In addition to Beast Crawl, I also co-curate and co-host Saturday Night Special, An East Bay Open Mic, Litquake’s Flight of Poets, and numerous other events. I believe that by holding the space for other writers, I can help to shape a literary community that also nurtures my own identity as a writer and informs my work, not only by providing a platform to perform, practice, and play, but also by including a diversity of talented writers to broaden my own sense of the possible. In this way, I am constantly challenged and inspired.
Do you believe it is important for writers to have a day job? Why?
Yes, because even writers have to eat 🙂
What is your day job? How does it help you in your craft?
In addition to teaching poetry at the SF Creative Writing Institute, I also teach a combination of creative writing, journalism, and composition classes at San Francisco State University, Berkeley City College, and Community Works West. I also do technical writing and marketing for a construction company. For me, teaching is a joy, a learning experience, a constant challenge, and a mirror for self-reflection. My construction job provides stability and structure, a tether for the kite string of my creative life.
What are some of your greatest successes as a teacher?
My proudest moments are of inspiring students to exceed their own expectations, to reshape the boundaries of the possible to reflect a more generous truth about their capacity for greatness.
Writing The Literary Page Tuner on Thursday Nights starts next week
Instructor: Nick Mamatas
Exciting plots and larger-than-life characters are the cornerstones of popular fiction and the emphasis of this course. Whether you’re writing romance, mystery, science fiction, or suspense, the principles of writing popular fiction — interesting prose, characters with whom we can empathize, and a story that moves — are key.
In this course, we’ll workshop your short stories and novel chapters, explore the history of the genres, perform writing and idea-generating exercises, and discuss the magazines and publishers looking for your sort of fiction. The goal is to give you a solid grounding in the demands of popular fiction from an editorial point of view, and a better understanding of your favorite genres.
We are very lucky to have Nick Mamatas teaching with us for the second time!
“I personally took Nick’s class last time it was offered at the SF Creative Writing Institute and it was excellent. Great place to get help with plot and a nurturing environment for genre writers. There aren’t many fiction writing workshops like this that help with plot, the market and popular fiction. Great place to get help on a novel-in-progress or start one.”
Here’s a little bit more about him:
Nick Mamatas is the author of seven novels, over one hundred short stories, and dozens of essays and articles. His books include the novels Love is the Law and The Last Weekend, the short fiction collection The Nickronomicon, and the how-to guide for writing short fiction and non-fiction, Starve Better. Nick’s short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Asimov’s Science Fiction, New Haven Review, and many other anthologies and journals. He has written about writing for The Writer, Fine Books & Collections, and Wonderbook. His anthologies include the award-winning Haunted Legends (co-edited with Ellen Datlow) and The Future Is Japanese (co-edited with Masumi Washington.)
Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING starts next week. Wednesday Nights at 6:30.
Get your spot before it’s gone.
Instructor: Alexandra Kostoulas.
As usual, we will still be offering Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING Program. This time only one section will be offered on Wednesday Nights.
Here is a run-down of the class.
The Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program
We want to connect with the world. We want to share the life that is inside us. We want to write poetry and prose that speaks the truth and moves the reader. But where do we start?
There’s a voice within all of us wanting to find its place in the world. The concepts and techniques in the Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program will lead you step by step, show you how to create compelling moments and scenes, how to move your reader with writing that jumps off the page and grabs them by the heart.
In this workshop, we will focus on stripping away the artifice of writing, the baggage that keeps us from the most essential building block of any writing: the Deep Voice. We’ll turn journal entries into poems and stories, and by the end of the class, you’ll produce a “chapbook” of your work, turning process into product. This class focuses on weekly journal writing using the techniques and concepts of Method Writing. Suitable for both poets and prose writers, beginners and advanced, this class will help you find your deep voice and use it to create clear and compelling written work.
We’ll be using Grapes’ textbook, METHOD WRITING: THE FIRST FOUR CONCEPTS. Continuing students can begin Level 2: The Four Voices and beyond.
These classes have been running for 30+ years and were founded by Jack Grapes. Classes are offered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. San Francisco classes run three times per year.
For the second time, we will offer Intermediate/Advanced Editing–this time on Saturday Afternoons
(For Method Writers)
This class is offered by invitation & audition and geared toward people who have taken Method Writing many times and who have found a project they want to take to the next level.
We focus on crafting short pieces, rewriting, and the principles of storytelling in order to you leave the class with solid finished pieces or excerpts/chapters from a larger work. The focus is on polishing the product. It is recommended that interested students already have familiarity with the concepts and techniques of Jack Grapes’ Method Writing and have found their voice and a particular project that they want to work on. Interested parties, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get ready to Sign up For Fall Classes:
They start next week.
All classes this term are located at Wework Golden Gate *
25 Taylor Street * San Francisco, CA 94102.
Click on your preferred day or class to sign up.
Fall 2015 * Schedule of Classes * Starting this September
Jack Grapes Method Writing Program
Instructor: Alexandra Kostoulas
Sept 16-Nov 4, 2015
Writing the Literary Page Turner
Instructor: Nick Mamatas
Sept 17-Nov 5, 2015
Intermediate/Advanced Editing for Method Writers
Instructor: Alexandra Kostoulas
Sept 26-Nov 21, 2015
Instructor: Hollie Hardy
Sept 27-Nov. 22, 2015
Come to our events!
Friday, Sept 18. Write from the Gut #9. Fall Kick Off Reading Wework Golden Gate. 25 Taylor Street, San Francisco. 5:30-7:30 pm. Click here for more info or to RSVP/get tickets. Come join us for a fall term kick-off reading of poetry and prose Featuring the works of our talented writer/ teachers:
//////Nick Mamatas///////// of Writing the Literary Page-Turner
/////Alexandra Kostoulas//// of Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING
//////////Hollie Hardy//////// of Sunday Poetry Workshop
///////Also featuring works of students and alumni//////// from the ###SF Creative Writing Institute####
The event is free. We’ll have a keg of beer for you to enjoy and some wine. Feel free to bring snacks.
Also going on right outside the event will be the 5th Annual 6th Street Art Walk with live music, food trucks, and art exhibits. Come after work and enjoy.
If you took the any of our Spring classes, you are invited to read your works in progress. Please prepare something 3-minutes long to read on the mic. Also okay to attend without reading, but we’d love to have you join us. Invite your friends.
Monday Sept 21. At the Inkwell SF-Fiction Night–Alley Cat Books. 3036 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. 7pm. Alexandra Kostoulas is the new curator for At The Inkwell SF–A curated reading series and book review blog started by Monique Antonette Lewis in New York and is hoping to go nation wide. You can find more about the series here. Basically, it’s a way to bring published to the bookstore authors to mingle and show off their recent work. The San Francisco readings will take place at Alley Cat books for the first three months and will be on the third Monday of the month. Featured readers for September:
Elena Mauli Shapiro is the author of the novels 13 rue Thérèse and In the Red, both published with Little, Brown. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as Zyzzyva, Five Chapters, the Farallon Review. She lives in the East Bay with one scientist husband and two ancient half-Siamese cats.
Apollo Papafrangou is a writer of novels, short stories, and poems from Oakland, CA. He is a 2010 graduate of the Mills College Creative Writing MFA program, and is the author of “Concrete Candy,” a short story collection published by Anchor Books, with French and Danish editions, when he was just 15 years old. He has since written for HBO Films, which optioned the movie rights to his novel “The Fence,” and his fiction has appeared in the Simon & Schuster anthology, “Trapped,” and “Voices,” a collection of works by Greek writers published by Nine Muses Press, among other publications. His debut novel WINGS OF WAX, the story of a shy, young artist seeking to reconnect with his ladies’ man father in Greece, is forthcoming from Booktrope.
Kathryn Kruse received her MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where she didn’t die of dehydration and did founded and curate the NeonLit reading series and run collaborative art projects. Her work is published, among other places, in Indiana Review, The Manchester Review, I Hope You’re Feeling Better Collaborative Exhibition and The Adirondack Review.
Carolina De Robertis is the internationally bestselling author of The Gods of Tango, Perla, and The Invisible Mountain, which was a Best Book of 2009 according to the San Francisco Chronicle, O, The Oprah Magazine, and BookList. She is the recipient of Italy’s Rhegium Julii Prize and a 2012 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work has been translated into sixteen languages. Her writings and literary translations have appeared in Zoetrope: Allstory, Granta, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is also the translator of Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai, which was just made into a feature film, and Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case. De Robertis, a writer of Uruguayan origins, grew up in England, Switzerland, and California. Prior to completing her first book, she worked in women’s rights organizations for ten years, on issues ranging from rape to immigration. She makes her home in Oakland, California where she’s co-producing a documentary about people of African descent in Uruguay and working on her fourth novel.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
? Joan Didion, The White Album