Thursday, September 16, 2010

Writing for Direct Mail: The Sun

Yesterday, I received a direct mail piece from The Sun Magazine ... and read every word in the piece! Designed like a miniature version of the magazine, it contains seven fold-out panels alternating pages of photos and text.

When you open the first panel, the piece begins with "Praise for The Sun" including five quotes from two publications, from poet Robert Bly, author Bill McKibbon, and a subscriber. I loved Bly's description of the magazine, saying "it's full of people like a Globe Theatre; it's nourishing like a field of pumpkins; it's like a grandfather who talks to total strangers."

Open the next fold and you find a "Dear Reader" letter from the magazine's founder and editor, Sy Safransky. Sy's letter tells his personal story of starting the magazine, shares what's found in each issue "that celebrates beauty without ignoring the destructive forces around us; a publication whose politics are personal and whose God isn't way up in the sky." And he signs off with an invitation to "join us" (accompanied by a P.S. offering a free trial issue, with no obligation to buy).

The next fold opens to "Readers Write" (personal stories by our readers) and "Interviews" (from a conversation with David Edwards). Remaining panels offer "Fiction" (a short story) and "Nonfiction" (an essay), followed by the "Free Trial Offer" reply card.

Overall, a simply designed direct mail piece that clearly demonstrates the quality of writing and photography in the magazine.

So what did I do after reading the piece? I detached the mailing label from the front of the mailer, placed it in the "Please peel off address label and affix it here" box, and walked to my local post office with the business reply card in hand.

While I have no idea how many people responded to the mailer like I did, I'm confident that people who did will receive a magazine that achieves "the promise" of the direct mail piece -- great writing and great photography in a "handsomely designed" magazine.



Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Four Words

Over 20 years ago, I read Natalie Goldberg's, Writing Down the Bones, and I've read every book she has written over the years. Her books on writing are both great for "practice" as well as for inspiration.

I'm currently rereading Goldberg's Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. One brief chapter offers what I consider her best advice for any writer:

"I could tell you in four words what to do and it will hold you for your writing life. Do you want to know those four? Shut Up and Write."

It doesn't get any clearer than that. Of course, Natalie recommends that writers also take some "dreaming out the window" time and some time for a "noodle walk" between sessions to make space for intuition to enrich one's writing.

So, no more "writer blocks" and much less lollygagging: Shut Up and Write.



Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Listening for the Story"

Yesterday I started reading Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot's book, The Third Chapter. In her introduction, the author shares her process for interviewing people for the book. She notes that she employed Eudora Welty's approach of "listening for the story": for its shape, intensity, rhythm, and texture; for its substance and content; for its metaphors and symbolism, for the light and shadows."

I loved how Lawrence-Lightfoot described her many roles: "I was the discerning connoisseur, developing a taste for the shape of their sentences, the cadence of their language, the arc of their stories. I was the artist, painting the landscape, drawing their portraits, sketching in the light and shadows. I was the spider woman, weaving together their life remnants, unsnarling the tangled threads of their stories, casting a net to catch them if they should fall. I was the probing researcher, patiently gathering data, asking the impertinent questions, examining their interpretations with skepticism and deliberation."

The author goes on to say that she "felt deeply engaged in new learning" while hearing the narratives of her interviewees, "echoing and reflecting the curiosity, vulnerability, risk-taking, and passion of their journeys in my own. I looked into their eyes and saw my reflection, the refracted images of my face in the mirror: a sixty-two-year-old woman with 'confessional moments' of my own."

I've conducted hundreds of interviews over the years and have often felt that I was "facing a mirror" as I heard people's stories. But I've never read such a beautiful description of the process. Thank you, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot!



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Defining the difference in genre (Melissa Hart)

One of the writer's blogs I read is Melissa Hart's "Butt to Chair." Her recent post titled "What's My Genre" takes on a workshop student's question:

“How can you tell the difference between an article, an essay, and a short story?”

I enjoyed Ms. Hart's response. And picked a few blackberries hanging over my fence!



Monday, September 7, 2009

Silence, Solitude, and Creativity

This week I read Anne LeClaire's new book, Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence. The book describes her experience of practicing total silence on two Mondays each month for over seventeen years.

In LeClaire's chapter on "Nourishing the Creative Self," I appreciated what she says about the power of imagination:

"Today our imaginations are under siege by a constant barrage of noise and busyness. Our culture regards solitude and silence as something to be avoided. We would rather scrub grout than spend expended time alone.

A high cost comes from this. We have lost the path by which we journey to the place deep within where dreams and stories and visions appear. As Picasso noted, solitude is necessary for this work. In silence's calm surrounds, we discover the power of imagination and throw open the gates to creativity. In the opulent luxury of solitude, time becomes elastic and creative impulses surface and are allowed room to breathe. Sitting quietly, we gently enter our own inner worlds. Daydreaming, Woolgathering. Lost in space. These are rich and fertile activities. The playgrounds of imagination."

Thankfully, at this stage of my life I have many hours of solitude each week -- some of the time in silence (but never full days like the Ms. LeClaire). Knowing how important solitude is for nourishing my creativity and inner life, I may well give the author's practice of silence a try. I definitely want to reduce the noise and distractions in my life and would welcome an upsurge in creativity. Her experience transformed her life, igniting her creativity and fostering new connections with others, with herself, and with nature.

I enjoyed reading about Anne LeClaire's discoveries from answering an unexpected call to "Sit in silence." Now the question for me is "When will you start?"

If you decide to read the book, please send along your comments. Or share your experiences of silence and solitude.



Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Creative Writing: Lost Art?

I've been away from this blog for many months working on other projects. This morning when I read Paul Bodin's article, Creative Writing Fast Becoming Lost Art for Most in the Register Guard, I decided it was time for a new posting.

Bodin wonders "How many of us write for pleasure or for meaning these days?" Most of my writing lately has been on the internet but I still occasionally write in my paper journal -- usually in a coffee shop -- both for meaning and pleasure. One of my recent "for fun and pleasure" creative writing gigs has been on Twitter where I began writing "tweeku" poems (I shortened haiku to 2-5-2 syllables to easier fit the 140 character limit of Twitter). My web analytics guru son turned me on to Twitter after he created a new tool for "tweeps" that he calls the Twitalyzer.

Many of my business related projects involve creative writing -- both for print and internet applications. Overall, for the past few years I've been writing much more than I ever have in my worklife (and I'm attempting to work just a bit more than half-time).

What has your experience been with creative writing? Lost art? Or more writing in different media?

I look forward to reading the planned sequel to Bodin's essay.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Finding A Lost Northwest Book

In the Sunday Oregonian, Matt Love from Nestucca Spit Press writes about his sleuthing to find whether or not an anthology was published for Oregon's centennial. Indeed there was and my favorite Oregon poet, William Stafford, had both a poem and short story in the anthology.

Love made a PDF of the short book available (it's in the public domain) at his website for downloading. Makes for interesting reading, especially for Oregonians with curiosity about the state's history and its writers.