The Declaration of Love project: upcoming livestream and podcast series

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In January of this year, a million years ago, I was formally introduced to our community at the State of Arts and Culture in Wake County event.

You can read more about that experience and my Piedmont Laureate Remarks in my first blog post:

2020: we begin with love for writers and writing

Here is a snippet of what I said then:

I applied for the Piedmont Laureate position because I’m in love. In addition to my spouse, I’m in love with North Carolina and our growing region of the world. I’m in love with the people who reside here, including a multitude of creatives, artists, and writers of all genres and mediums. 

I’m in love with writing plays and audio fiction, and what’s more I love encouraging others to experience the soulful benefits, the exquisite struggle, the gentle bliss, the crucible of putting words on a page…and then sharing them…and then hearing them performed by others. Playwriting has transformed my world internally and externally. Experiencing a powerful script — whether it’s powerfully funny, gut-wrenching, or thought-provoking — is one of the greatest joys of my life.

My intention for the year was to amplify love and joy for local playwrights and the writing process. 2020 has proven to be a year of unexpected, formidable and heart-breaking challenges, and yet, I have witnessed pockets of love and joy that sustain me, our creative community, and our work as writers.

One such pocket of love and joy is The Declaration of Love Project: an audio anthology written, performed, and created by over 30 Triangle-area artists. It is a project that I have undertaken as Piedmont Laureate to live out my intention for this year. I hope it does so.

In July, my co-producer Aurelia Belfield and I commissioned eleven NC playwrights to craft short audio scenes based on the prompt “Declaration of Love.”

Recorded remotely by local actors, the finished scenes will be lightly sound designed, and released to the public in podcast form later this year.

If you would like to hear more about Declaration of Love, please join us for the livestream from the Clayton Center on Tuesday, September 29 at 7pm.

Here’s the event link

Aurelia and I will be talking generally about DOL, how it came together and why we think projects like this one are valuable. And, we’ll be showing 6 of the 11 pieces in various forms (mostly unfinished because we don’t want to give it all away before the release!).

Here’s the event link (again!)

If you are available, we’d love for you to tune in on Tuesday and give the project an audience boost.

Featured actors for this event: Aurelia Belfield, Lakeisha Coffey, Thaddaeus Edwards, Sai Graham, Trevor Johnson, Kyma Lassiter, Yolanda Rabun, AhDream Smith.

Featured playwrights for this event: Aurelia Belfield, Lakeisha Coffey, Thaddaeus Edwards, Michael Ivory, Jr, Tamara Kissane, Robin Carmon Marshall.

I’ll be sharing more details about the Declaration of Love in the coming weeks. For now, please share the link, mark your calendars, and get your popcorn ready. (Actually, a quieter snack would be better. 😄)

Sending you love and good writing vibes,

Tamara

Conversations like coffee, again

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Friends, how are you?

It’s beginning to seem like autumn is a distinct possibility even here in the toasty Triangle. Perhaps I might wear those sweaters tucked away in the closet. Perhaps I might not break into a sweat walking to the mailbox at the end of the drive. What do you think? Is pumpkin spice in your future? Fall leaves and frosty breath? All possible?

Seasonal transitions are often a time of reflection for me.

My reflection, to state the obvious, is that this year has been enormously so much.

My own writing practice is ever evolving and changes from day to day. I’m churning out more work, but it’s shorter in length, written for different mediums; it is more collaborative in nature, but often, deeply private solo writing that I will show to no one else but me.

Much of my work in 2020 is new work for a new time in my life when everything seems especially up for grabs and precarious and precious. I’m working with new people in new ways in new roles, and there’s so much unprecedented EVERYTHING in my life. So much that is never-before-experienced.

And, much of my work in 2020 is me revisiting my old writing from years ago – writing that feels ancient from decades past! I scan that old text, asking myself, “Can I mine some treasure from those words or plant them like seeds I’d secretly squirreled away? Will I discover old language that has somehow richly composted in the notebooks under my bed? Maybe I can add to that fertile mess and grow something entirely different?”

What has your work been this year? New and old?

Have you revisited your writing from years before? Do you remember being that person? Do those ‘old’ words still apply and seem relevant to this ‘new’ you?

Today, I’d like to share a blog post that I wrote in March 2014 titled Conversations like Coffee. You’ll see it below. I discovered it recently during a bout of writer’s block.

Six + years ago, my life was very different. Almost unrecognizable in many ways. Like an echo from across the sea. However, although I don’t remember writing this blog post, and don’t remember the specific incidents that I reference, I find that much of what I wrote then, I am experiencing now.

2020 me is experiencing strong conversations, deep listening, and messy human connections just like 2014 me did. All of these experiences are worthwhile and essential for my growth and for our growth as a community. All of these experiences are challenging and nourishing and press on my tender heart too.

So, take a trip back in time with me below. Perhaps my old words will resonate with you now.

Be well and safe. I hope you are holding steady. Write when you can.

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Conversations Like Coffee

March 17, 2014

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

My brain got stretched this week, and it was uncomfortable. My head ached. I felt exhausted every night from the extra hard thinking I was doing — from trying to keep up with the conversations, the connections, the leaps of thinking and the much-too-muchness of all people have to offer. Sheesh, people! People and their words! On Thursday night, I cried. Then I mopped my face with a tissue and went straight to bed so I could be well-rested for the more that the next day would bring. More uncomfortable brain-stretching, more conversation, more connections, more much-too-muchness of all people have to offer.

It was a week of deep conversations every single day. Even the conversations that were brief, were taxing for my imagination and my equilibrium:

In conversation with my daughter, I pointed out the rain drops on the car’s windshield, and she explained that “rain drops are made of souls.”

In conversation with a group, a participant suggested that ‘the sky would teach me everything if I really looked at it several times a day.’

In a conversation with friends, we talked about the nets we build and do not build to catch each other when we fall. We talked about the far-reaching life-altering decisions that we make as a result of our connectedness to others.

I had lengthy, far-ranging conversations about illness, legacies, writing, poetry, death, theatre, politics, race, religion, parenting, poverty, libraries, pornography, and life. I made small talk that wasn’t small talk about parodies, calendars, brunches, rock bands, cat food, human food, dreams, real estate, bodies, television, laundry, coloring books, and more, and more, and more. These were conversations face-to-face, over the phone, and via the interwebs — a communications assault on all fronts.

I found myself dropped in conversations that were so unexpected they took my breath away. How did I get here? People surprised me with the size of their hearts, their intellects, their compassion, their blind spots. It was a week full of conversations laced with yearning and unsettledness. It was a week of seeking peace and seeking solutions where there were none. It was a week of reaching out for human connection with laughter and joy, with anger and frustration, with wonder, with confusion, with words, words, and more words…and some tears.

Human beings being human beings.

And I was so grateful. I am so grateful for all of those conversations. I am so eager for more because this was a week that left me vibrating and overwhelmed by the people I encountered. I felt literally impressed — pressed into — by the energy of humanity in a way that made me feel alive and exhausted by the possibilities and the mysteries and the answers on the horizon.

It was a highly caffeinated week.

Even though I love it, it is really scary for me to talk with people. Even though I want to, it’s really scariest for me to have high-wire conversations about the deep stuff of life with all those emotions along for the ride. God forbid I say something stupid or rude and have someone dislike me. God forbid I offend someone. What if someone gets angry? God forbid I have nothing interesting or comforting to say. What if I don’t have an answer when someone is looking to me for an answer? What if this conversation ‘gets out of control’?!

People are messy and the words that we use to communicate with each other can be confusing and frustrating and distracting. Conversations are incredibly inefficient — they take a lot of time. And who has time for anything these days? Sheesh, just send me an email. Sheesh, just get to the point. Just tell me what you want me to do. Many words = many opportunities for misunderstanding. And so much of what we are trying to convey is heart-stuff, laden with emotions and history and hopes that we can barely articulate to ourselves let alone another person.

Talking with people….it’s so much work.

For me, right now I think the work is worth it.

Yes, I think the work is worth it. I’m hanging in there (until I just need a break! until I just need to rest!) thru the hard messy stuff to keep talking. I want to. What do you think?

Real conversations — sincere attempts at connection and a commitment to vulnerability and understanding — we gotta have them to grow as individuals and as a community. Conversations build the (metaphorical) nets and bridges that we need to hold our society together. Conversations lead to commitments and actions that make change. Conversations light a fire under our butts, and help us re-examine our assumptions about responsibility and preconceived ideas of what other people think. Conversations tear down walls, and expose shoddy arguments and lies. Conversations reinforce connection and the idea that we live together on this planet. Of course, conversations lead to great art too.

I am grateful for the talking-talking-talking that makes my head hurt and keeps me awake at night like strong coffee. I am grateful for the seekers and bridge-builders who move thru my life with the curiosity and openness and respect that make these conversations possible. They drop keys/clues/crumbs into my lap that open ideas and connections I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. This is one way I learn about the world.

I am grateful that people allow me to speak and that they allow me to listen. (Yeah, cuz the listening is as important as the talking.)

Let’s keep talking. Let’s keep listening.

Let’s keep hanging in there, even we when need to pass the tissues all around, even when we question whether we should have had that fourth cup of coffee-like conversation.

14 playwrights + 13 theatre companies = multitudinous perspectives on the 19th Amendment

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According to ourdocuments.gov, the 19th Amendment of the United States Constitution was “passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920.”  It goes on to say “the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote.” The Amendment “prohibits the state and federal government from denying citizens of the United States the right to vote on the basis of sex”.

To mark the 100 year anniversary of ratification, Burning Coal Theatre Company in partnership with The League of Women Voters of Wake County and thirteen other theatre and/or opera companies from across central North Carolina will present The 19th Amendment Project, a collection of 14 short plays written about the passage of the 19th Amendment 100 years ago and its impact on our society.

Each of the short plays will be released virtually, one at a time, between August 17 – August 30, 2020. The plays will all be available until September 30, 2020. For more info: call 919.834.4001 or https://burningcoal.org/the-nineteenth-amendment-project/.

I’m honored and humbled to be a name on this roster of playwrights for my 10 minute piece THUNDERCLAP.

THUNDERCLAP description: Parents Rachel and Jake are stoked that their daughter, Alice is now 18 and can vote, but she doesn’t believe that her vote will actually help.  Content warning: language and sexual violence.

This week, I’m grateful to have been given space to talk about this project in podcast form and in print. Big thanks to journalists Lauren Van Hemert and Byron Woods for listening to me go on about writing generally and writing 10 minute plays more specifically, setting a play in the current moment, the future of theatre and what voting means to me.

If you’d like to listen or read, please see the info below. And then grab your tickets for The 19th Amendment Project. The other playwrights are amazing (including 2014 Piedmont Laureate Carrie Knowles) and it has truly been an impressive collaborative effort across our theatre community.

ALSO, VOTE. #votevotevote

RDU ON STAGE PODCAST

Do you know about THE 19th AMENDMENT PROJECT?
Want to hear me confess my love for Geraldine Ferraro?

Listen to this podcast from RDU on Stage and the ones to follow!

This is the 1st episode in a nine part series featuring playwrights and creatives working on The 19th Amendment Project. Lauren speaks with the wonderful Playwright Hannah Benitez (The 19th), Dianna Wynn with the League of Women Voters, Jerome Davis, the Artistic Director of Burning Coal, ….and ME saying things (a lot of things!) about my play Thunderclap, what voting means to me, the conflict I feel about celebrating the 19th Amendment, and the present and future of theatre (just a few small topics!).

All this week and next, RDU on Stage will be spotlighting the playwrights behind this collection of plays. (Here’s the podcast interview with Carrie Knowles: Episode 73: Carrie Knowles get Arthurian with Ladies are Waiting)

INDY WEEK

Check out this promo piece for The 19th Amendment Project at Burning Coal in INDY Week:

Fourteen Ways of Looking at What the 19th Amendment Achieved—and What It Didn’t

Getting unstuck with STUCK

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What do you do when you feel stuck as a writer?

Below you’ll see some writing tricks that have worked for me when I can’t seem to make any headway or even get started.

What has worked for you?

Writing tricks for getting unstuck:

  1. Write with a timer. Just 5 minutes of committed writing time might get you in the flow enough that you want to continue beyond the timer going off. Just getting started can help you build momentum.
  2. Write knowing that you have the option to throw it all away and never show your writing to anyone else (you don’t even need to show it to yourself again!). Take the pressure off and just let those words flow without expectation.
  3. Pull inspiration from another author. Grab a book from your bookshelf and choose a piece of random text as a jumping off point. See David Menconi’s suggestion to jumpstart your writing here.
  4. Find an accountability partner or writing group. In these stay-at-home days, you might still reach out to friends to talk thru your story ideas and to gather the encouragement you need. Writing can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. 🙂
  5. ‘Go visual, aural, or physical’ — clip photos from a magazine, listen to music, or move your body for inspiration.
  6. Take a break. Come back to it tomorrow or another time when you feel your well has filled again. It’s ok to dream about your work away from the page. It’s ok to take a break and percolate for a bit.
  7. Construct boundaries or a list of required ingredients for yourself. Occasionally creating some restrictions around our work can help to free us up.
  8. Write for another medium or genre. If you are a playwright, try writing for audio or for video. If you write dramas, try your hand at comedy. An occasional switch up can be inspiring!
  9. Give yourself a deadline. I love a deadline as motivation, even if I’m the one setting it for myself!

Do any of those resonate with you?

Those tricks in practice:

This month, I’m feeling really grateful that the STUCK MONOLOGUES from PlayMakers Repertory Company allowed me to call on almost all of the items from the list above in order to get my contribution completed on time. 🙂

In particular, I want to point out #7 (list of required ingredients) and #8 (writing for another medium) from the list above.

As you’ll see below, the playwrights for the STUCK MONOLOGUE project were asked to adhere to a recipe of three ingredients when writing our short monologues. Those items gave my writing focus while still feeling expansive enough that I could follow my own voice. I was able to write more quickly than usual, and wow, during this time of corona-distraction and molasses-creativity, it was a balm to finish something.

And, as you’ll see/hear, each playwright developed a unique piece based on the same ingredients. So thrilling.

As a playwright who writes for the stage and for audio, it was also a fun challenge to write a short piece for pre-recorded video and to consider ways to use that visual element to tell the story. Check out LEVERAGING MR. BUMBLE and see if I succeeded.

Speaking of…

Have you watched the STUCK MONOLOGUES from PlayMakers Repertory

Hop on over and enjoy all of them. If you have a moment, please let the staff at PlayMakers know if you are eager for more of this type of project – I know they’d love to have that feedback and support.

Released over the course of July, these short monologues were written by local playwrights including: Jacqueline E. Lawton, Julia Gibson, Lynden Harris, Tamara Kissane (me!), Alejandro Rodriguez, Madeline Sunshine, Mark Perry, Michael Perlman, Khalil LeSaldo, and Mike Wiley.

Here’s the description from the PlayMakers site

As early quarantine days had us feeling “stuck,” we called upon some of our favorite local playwrights to turn that feeling into art. Then members of your favorite acting company, past and present, worked their magic in bringing those monologues to life.

We gave our playwright friends a “recipe” to turn our common moment of being stuck into something creative:

  • It must have at least one local reference
  • It must contain at least one joke.
  • It must fit well under the title of “stuck.”

An image from my piece performed by Gwendolyn Schwinke

Go directly to LEVERAGING MR. BUMBLE on YouTube here.

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A couple more things….

#1: I was on the radio on July 24 to have a quick chat with Dr. B on WHUP (a local radio channel). We talked about Piedmont Laureate-ing, audio dramas, writing, and the pandemic. (Listen here starting at the 25 min mark.)

#2: The Durham Arts Council is delighted to be partnering with Alamance Arts, Orange County Arts Commission and Person County Arts Council to offer the new Artist Support Grant.  The grant program is funded by the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, with additional funding from the Durham Arts Council and the partner counties.  The Artist Support Grant was created to provide direct support to individual artists during and following the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative will fund professional and artistic development for emerging and established artists to enhance their skills and abilities to create work or to improve their business operations and capacity to bring their work to new audiences.

Eligible artist applicants: have lived in Durham, Orange, Person or Alamance Counties (NC) for at least one year, are at least 18 and are not enrolled in a degree program in their art form.  Projects in performing, visual, literary, traditional and media arts are eligible. Grants will range from $500-$1,500.

Information sessions are currently scheduled for 6PM on August 6 (co-hosted with Alamance Arts) and August 11 on Zoom. Email Margaret DeMott to register.

Guidelines and scheduled information sessions can be found here.

Applications are due on September 14.  Questions?  Email Margaret DeMott.

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Thanks and happy writing,

Tamara

Playwright Jacqueline E. Lawton: upcoming event + podcast episodes about new play development

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A quick blog post to encourage you to attend an upcoming event and to listen to two wonderful podcast episodes with Triangle-based playwright, Jacqueline E. Lawton!

Jacqueline E. Lawton is a playwright, dramaturg, producer, and advocate for Access, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the American Theatre. Her produced plays include:  Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; The Hampton Years; Intelligence; Mad Breed; and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Currently, she is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a dramaturg for PlayMakers Repertory Company. She is also Dramatist Guild’s Regional Representative for North Carolina.

Jacqueline E. Lawton, photo by Jason Hornick

UPCOMING EVENT:

Jacqueline’s play, XIX, was commissioned by the Women’s Theatre Festival in celebration and reckoning with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment (the 100th anniversary is this year!). XIX is a socio-political drama about the role of Black women in the women’s suffrage movement.

Please make a note on your calendar to attend the virtual reading of excerpts of XIX on July 11 at 7:30pm as part of the Women’s Theatre Festival. Click here for more information. Post-show discussion will be facilitated by dramaturg Jules Odendahl-James, with panelists JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell (XIX director); Jacqueline E. Lawton (XIX playwright), youth voting advocate Isabel Lewis; Dr. Gloria Thomas, the director of UNC’s Women’s Center, and the President of the League of Women Voters of Wake County, Dianna Wynn.

LISTEN UP:

And, listen to two podcast episodes featuring Jacqueline E. Lawton on Artist Soapbox. You’ll hear Jacqueline and guests JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell and Jules Odendahl-James talk in detail about the new play development process. So much helpful and powerful information in these episodes! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

126: XIX: New play development with Jacqueline E. Lawton, JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell, Jules Odendahl-James

The wonderful guest trio of Jacqueline, JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell and Jules Odendahl-James dig into playwriting topics such as translating a historical event into a contemporary piece, deciding what story to tell and who should be the center of the story, the development process and the roles of the director, dramaturg and playwright and much more.

127: ARDEO: Narrative medicine and new play development with Jacqueline E. Lawton and Jules Odendahl-James

ARDEO is a one act play inspired by research and personal narratives of health practitioners and patients at UNC-CH’s North Carolina’s Jaycee Burn Center. This play explores how patients and doctors communicate with each other; how health practitioners communicate with the public; and how theatre artists can be of service to patients, doctors and the larger public.

Jacqueline and Jules touch on the field of narrative medicine, the particular development process of ARDEO, the value of partnering the dramatic arts and science, and opportunities to create those collaborations. Speaking of collaborations, Jules and Jacqueline discuss their work together as theatre-makers and the awesomeness of dramaturgs and dramaturgy especially for new plays in development.

Be well, friends,

Tamara

 

 

 

Graphing Conversations

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How do people talk to each other? How do we write convincing, real-sounding conversations that convey relationships and character?

Today, I’m excited to share a fabulous writing exercise from Carrie Knowles (PL ’14) that focuses on DIALOGUE.

I love Carrie’s exercise because it is a visual and aural exercise for oral discourse. Rather than writing down a conversation word for word, Carrie encourages us to graph as we listen, then discern the patterns, and ask what those patterns mean for the relationships between the people in conversation. Very cool.

The exercise below is a small excerpt from Carrie’s new writing workbook: A Self-guided Workbook and Gentle Tour on How to Write Stories From Start to Finish

If you’d like to complete the remainder of the exercise below and make progress in your writing journey (at your own pace!), then grab yourself a copy of the workbook and enjoy the ride.

*As we stay home for safety during COVID-19, you can adapt this exercise by listening to conversations happening online or in radio and podcast form. You might also listen to dialogue from different styles of movies and TV shows. If you live with family members (as I do), then you’ll have lots of conversations to graph right in your own home!

Excerpt from LESSON SIXTEEN of A Self-guided Workbook and Gentle Tour on How to Write Stories From Start to Finish

 HOW DIALOGUE CAN HELP YOU TELL YOUR STORY 

Dialogue is one of the great tools of writing fiction. So, let’s learn something about how it works and why understanding how people talk to each other can help us develop the characters as well as the plot. 

Here’s your first lesson in writing dialogue. Words matter, but how the conversation is constructed matters more. A well-constructed dialogue can define relationships between characters and explain the underlying story. In short, great dialogue shows more than it tells.

Here’s an exercise that can help you sort out this concept. 

Go to a coffee shop or some other busy place where people are talking. Listen to how people are talking to each other rather than what they are saying. Pay attention to the rhythm of the conversation. 

As you listen, draw lines. Set it up like a dialogue. When the first person speaks, write A, then start making a line. Try to mimic the speed of each person talking as you move your pencil across the page.  The faster someone talks, the faster you draw your line. 

When the next person speaks, go down a space and write B then start a second line. Go back and forth between the two speakers. Your page should look something like this: 

A______________________

B_____________________________________________________________________________

A______________________

B_____________________________

Use a question mark (?) to indicate someone has asked a question and an exclamation point (!) when someone has shouted or raised his or her voice or gave an emphatic response. 

Do this for a whole page. Look at the lines; are some longer, others shorter? Who has most of the short lines? Who has most of the longer lines? Is there a pattern? 

What can you know about this interaction just from the length of the lines? Is one person dominating the conversation? Who initiated the conversation? Did someone dodge a question and change the direction of the dialogue? Do you notice any pauses in the conversation? What might those pauses indicate? Are the two people taking polite turns talking? Are they talking quietly to each other? Is one person raising their voice? Are they laughing? Are the sentences they are using long or short?

What does all this mean?

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BIO

Carrie Knowles has published dozens of short stories and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, and four novels: Lillian’s Garden (Roundfire Books, 2013), Ashoan’s Rug (Roundfire Books, 2013), A Garden Wall in Provence (Owl Canyon Press, 2017), The Inevitable Past (Owl Canyon Press, 2020), a collection of short fiction, Black Tie Optional: 17 Stories (Owl Canyon Press, 2019) and a writing workbook, A Self-Guided Workbook and Gentle Tour on Learning How to Write Stories from Start-to-Finish (Owl Canyon Press, 2020). Her non-fiction memoir about her family’s struggles with their mother’s Alzheimer’s, The Last Childhood: A Family Story of Alzheimer’s, initially published by Three Rivers Press, was recently revised, updated and reissued through Amazon.

Carrie writes a regular column for Psychology Today: “Shifting Forward: A Wanderer’s Musings”.

Carrie was named the Piedmont Laureate for Short Fiction in 2014. Her short stories have won more than 25 awards, including the Village Advocate Fiction Contest, the Blumenthal Writers & Readers Series, the North Carolina Writer’s Network Fiction Syndication and Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Competition. She has been named a finalist in Glimmer Train competitions six times and was also a finalist in the Doris Betts Fiction Contest and received an honorable mention in the National Literary Awards.

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FINAL NOTE

Near the end of March, I reached out to a handful of experts to request a quick tip or exercise for people who are writing at home.

It’s taken me awhile to circle back around to sharing what I received, but I’m happy to say that a good writing tip rarely goes out of style.

Thus far, I’ve shared a writing-prompt exercise from David Menconi (PL ’19), and a 5 step revision process from Ian Finley (PL ’12).