Craft Article: "Image Power: Click-Click to Enhance Your Writing"

My craft article was published at Women on Writing today. 

"Image Power: Click-Click to Enhance Your Writing"

By Melanie Faith


"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." ~ Dorothea Lange


What one art form has most enhanced my writing? 


Photography. Hands down.


What makes photography such a great sibling to our poems and prose? What can we learn through photography that will inform our writing for the better?


  • Both are imagery-based arts. Many of the same instincts and thought processes I use when writing also come into play when I make photographs. Paying attention to specific details is a key part of making written and visual art.

  • Both photography and writing involve knowing not only what to include but what to exclude for the strength of the piece.
  • Photography often follows similar themes as our writing. Perhaps you are drawn to family dynamics in your writing? Photos of children, babies, parents, grandparents, and more may shed light on a new aspect for you to consider in your writing. Or perhaps you enjoy writing about nature--from flowers to animals. Studying and taking photos outdoors can underscore elements to explore with detail in your writing.

  • Both arts explore symbolism. Metaphors are often involved as well. Are there certain shapes or colors that recur in your photos? They likely recur in your writing as well. Are you interested in tumbling sheds or impressive arches and flying buttress beams in architecture? Then I bet you've written about structures--from apartments, trailers, and houses to dormitories and other buildings you've experienced--and what they symbolize personally and culturally from time to time, too.

  • Both arts are great fun. Let's not overlook the joy of creating both media. There's never been an easier time to write, with computer software and online workshops, or to take photographs. Most cell phones have amazing cameras in them and digital photography has brought photo sharing to a wide audience. Not only are there amazing tools to unleash your creativity and to explore your questions about life, spirit, and love, but also the process of creating can be relaxing, fulfilling, exciting, and meaningful. You don't need to spend a ton of money on the latest lenses or equipment to make gorgeous, meaningful pictures or to write publishable verse and prose. Basic tools and a little time can yield amazing results.

  • Both arts encourage variety and a slowing-down to focus. Exploring new ways to develop my still-life photos has also encouraged me to try new formats in my poems, essays, and fiction. At the same time, photography has taught me much about slowing down and being in the moment, something that's equally important in photography and writing...and daily life.


Try this Prompt! 

List two subjects you photograph and/or write about repeatedly. Describe this object, person, or place in 150 words. Then list two reasons why you repeatedly revisit this subject. What about this subject might you see from a new angle or describe with new words? What do you think these subjects symbolize in your current life or the life you'd like to lead in the future? What qualities do they represent about you as an individual artist? Break out your camera and take a photo of this subject in a way or from an angle you've never thought about before now.



Interested in a class that combines photography and writing? Click the link below.


Imagery Power: Photography for Writers



Instructor: Melanie Faith


Workshop Length: 4 Weeks


Class Dates: Friday, March 9, 2018 - Friday, April 6, 2018


Cost: $155, which includes e-mail critique and positive feedback on student writing, and access to a private group for student interactions.


Limit: 10 Students


Description: "Fiction, like dreams, exists in images... Fiction must exist in images, not abstractions," wrote John Dufresne. Indeed, the ability to develop imagery is important in all forms of writing, from poetry to essays and all sorts of descriptive writing. The art of photography, an evocative visual art, frequently helps authors hone our image-seeking and development skills. There won't be technical jargon of F-stops or aperture priority in this course and you are free to use any form of camera you already own and love--from camera phone to digital, DSLR to Lomo, instamatic, you name it; this class is about cracking open the everyday extraordinary, about the kind of seeing and focusing on detail that will enhance your writing and spark ideas for months to come.


In this four-week workshop, we'll take a daily photo-taking prompt for a spin, post our response, and describe what inspired each photo at our class group. During the second week, you will begin a piece based on one of the photos you've taken that you will share (in part as an excerpt or in full, up to you) with the class during our fourth week. Handouts on topics covered will include: Truthiness: Adding Layers to Your Art with Art; The Genesis and Development of Imagery: Example Sheet of Published Work; Submitting Your Work to Literary Magazines & Other Venues Looking for Photos: Cover Letter Tips; Photographic Resources to Check Out!; Tips for Writing about [Our] Art; How to Match Your Photographic Style to your Writing Style; Ekphrasis and You: Writing in Tandem with the Visual Arts; and Tips for Writing Fabulous Writer/Artist Bios. 


There will be a private group for students to discuss our creative process and share daily responses to each prompt and for sharing of literary resources, such as markets and quotations about the image-making process.


"Shopping for Images: 3 Tips for Finding Poetry Topics"

Here's a craft article of mine that was just published today. Enjoy! 


"Shopping for Images:

3 Tips for Finding Poetry Topics"

By Melanie Faith


Ever have a day where you woke wanting to write, but the ideas were murky or not arising at all? Or maybe you've just finished writing a poem that felt like magic a few days ago, and now any idea feels filled with false starts? What about an afternoon where you finally sit down to write and, thinking of your day, nothing jumps out at you as worthy of verse? Or, after the to-do list is tackled and the wobbly mountains of laundry washed, you open your writer's notebook and stare at a blank page, too tired to focus?


You are not alone. These are common quandaries most writers have at one point or another. Good news! Try one or more of these ideas that have worked for me and my poetry students to release that stuck feeling and get our pens moving once more.


1. Not-so-common Commonality. Certain places and experiences are so ingrained into daily life that whole populations of people share them. Yet we sometimes overlook them as topics for verse. One of the great facets of writing about shared events is that readers will experience their own aha! moments from what you write. You also have the wonderful opportunity to tighten focus on one part of the communal experience that resonates with you and which will make your poem distinctive. 


In Alan Ginsberg's prose poem "A Supermarket in California," he takes a mundane trip for groceries and turns it into an event for celebration: "What peaches and penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?" Many people have written about food, but none in quite the same playful, exultant way as Ginsberg. Don't think it's all been done before; whatever the topic, no one has written a poem about this topic with the exact diction choices, tone, and images you will. Go ahead, write your own supermarket, food, cooking, gardening, or eating poem! You'll bring something unique to the table [pun intended].


2. The Running List. Sometimes, there's a lot of pressure when we sit down to write to pick a topic out off the top of our heads like a rabbit out of a magician's hat. Lower the pressure with a little list. Try keeping your writing notebook with you as you go about your day or start an email list of topics in your phone (I sometimes quickly email myself ideas before I forget them). We often see interesting ideas all day long but infrequently have time to stop in the moment to write a whole poem, but it only takes a minute or less to jot a note about the image or idea. Begin a running list of topics for the future, and add to it as you go. Then, when you sit down to write, either pick one at random from your list or work chronologically, so you'll always know what your next topic will be. Like a game, it becomes more fun the more topics you've listed, and you'll train your mind to notice imagery that could spark poems more often everywhere you go. 


3. Get out of Your Own Skin, or: The Conversation. Sometimes we forget that poetry can include dialogue and/or use a conversation as a sparking point. We also sometimes forget that poems don't have to be centered on our own experiences. Go ahead, have a conversation today with a longtime friend, the clerk at the post office, someone in the waiting room, your frenemy, your children or grandchildren, your coworkers, whomever. Something someone else is struggling with or happy about or angry about might just spark your next poem. Of course, you don't have to stay with the circumstances as they are in real life. Re-imagine your conversation partner's circumstances or trials through the eyes of a made-up character. How would another person deal with these events? What would their actions be? What would their thoughts be? Feel free to make up what that person might say in certain circumstances. The point is to get another person's POV on life and to write from there. 


Looking for an online poetry workshop in February? I'd love to have you in The Joy of Poetry Writing.  


"Artfully Editing Your Personal Essay"

My craft essay about editing essays was published through Women on Writing today. Catch some cool tips, below. :) 


Artfully Editing Your Personal Essays

by Melanie Faith


Ah, the spark of inspiration--the keys clacking, the ideas flowing, the wind at your back! Shortly, however, the initial draft is finished, and it's time to begin the more arduous editing journey. Take heart...and these tips to sculpt your personal essay: 


Division Decision


A bit of creative structuring may take a piece to an exciting new level. In Crafting The Personal Essay, Dinty W. Moore notes: "While most of my nonfiction writing follows a pretty traditional path, I have also composed essays that mimic the form of a coroner's report, a made-for-television movie script, and a Zen koan. One of my favorite experiments, 'Son of Mr. Green Jeans: An Essay of Fatherhood, Alphabetically Arranged' borrows a form known as abecedarium from the world of poetry." Consider unique subject headings or organizational methods. Poem titles, favorite thematic quotations, place names, even times of the day may all structure an essay into an intriguing mosaic. 


Time, Time, Time


Although writing nonfiction, that doesn't mean that a writer must adhere strictly to chronological order. Consider flashbacks and flash forwards, mixing chronological time with the more sophisticated timing of personal epiphanies and hard lessons well-learned. 


Spotlight Self


A writer may include many other "characters" within the piece--siblings, neighbors, exes and friends--but the central moments of change must occur for the speaker. Readers want to discover the aha! moment via the first-person narrator; she is the one readers root for and identify with most strongly. Edit or omit sections where discovery takes place through or for another person. An essay will be stronger for narrowing the focus.


"You don't Say!"

Dialogue can be a great tool for compression. Are there whole rambling sections describing setting, clothing, or personality that could be expressed more succinctly in a tart remark or an aside? In Naked, Drunk, and Writing, Adair Lara advises, "Dialogue is very readable, makes writing move fast, and is the fastest way to reveal character...Keep dialogue short and punchy. We're not allowed to say much before we're interrupted by others or something else is going on." Characterizations are strengthened by lopping off background fluff. A short interchange between speaker and friend can easily demonstrate more complex conflict. Lara further advises, "Dialogue gets interesting when there's subtext: what characters are saying between the lines." Trust that your readers will intuit much from less. 

Edit details that don't showcase theme(s).

While interesting, does this portion contribute to the whole piece? Ask yourself: would a reader who had not experienced this person/event find a meaningful connection with the rest of the essay?

Set it aside. Then trust your gut.

When writing truth, a writer's emotional connection to the material can cloud editorial judgment. Take breaks of days or even weeks to let the material cool. With the passage of time, an essayist often finds the courage and perspective to hit the backspace key. 

artfully editing personal essays pic.jpg

"Four Myths about Outlining Your Novel:" Craft Article by Yours Truly :)

Published today (12/12/17) at Women on Writing's awesome blog! Enjoy. 

"Four Myths about Outlining Your Novel"

By Melanie Faith

straws danielle-macinnes-222434.jpg

photo by: Danielle MacInnes

Here comes a new year, and with it goals you'd like to accomplish in your writing. What better time than now to write your novel? One of the best ways to begin a novel is to prepare an outline or series of outlines first.


Let's smash some commonly-held myths about beginning with planning:


Myth 1: Following an outline will kill my creativity and take the fun out of writing.


"There's an outline for each of the books that I adhere to pretty closely, but I'm not averse to taking it in a new direction, as long as I can get it back to where I need it to go." ~ Justin Cronin


Some of the most creative, amusing excerpts my students have written were outlines of their characters and their proposed plots. Outlining uses many of the same muse-muscles as drafting and is part of a fluid writing process: tapping into the subconscious and making connections between settings, conflicts and characters, while compressing those elements for ease of exploration.


I've been the writer who delved in--and ended up writing 45 pages of a book to figure out what my conflict was--only to have to scrap the first 44 pages and begin rewriting from that point. Had I paused to craft outlines, I could have pinpointed my characters' motivations and the main conflict much, much sooner. I also could have enjoyed exploring relevant details about my characters' lives first, rather than cluttering up my draft with interesting but inessential information that appeared in my first drafts.


The other great, creative facet of outlines is that they are not written in stone. They are meant to be seen at a glance yet developed over time. You can easily pull up the file and edit. Go ahead: add, change, move, or omit details as you learn more about your characters and plot, without scrolling through numerous pages and extraneous details.


Myth 2: Outlines are so boring! All of those Roman numerals and indentations--no, thanks.


These ain't your high-school English teacher's outlines. There are numerous ways of outlining your novel--mapping, using images from online to create a picture map of a setting or a character, using a White Board to create giant lists, making a photo roll on your mobile device, you name it. I've had students submit Pinterest pages relating to their characters as a weekly outline, which was an ingenious way to visually collate ideas about their protagonist. Others created a brief Power Point presentation of four or five slides about their plots. Use whatever organizing principle you find most compelling, whether that's a traditional, numbered outline or fill-in-the-blank workbook exercise or a more modern approach.


Myth 3: Outlines should describe the entire plot, setting, and conflicts and detail every character, yet I don't know all of this information yet.


Guess what: you'll get glimpses of your characters' lives, motivations, fears, and joys as you go. Most of the students in my outlining course begin with one or two characters and a setting and, through the process of outlining, other elements pop up and surprise them as the story develops and they chase new threads of narrative. Students are welcome to return to amend their outlines at any time.


Myth 4: Outlining is a waste of time. Wouldn't it be better just to dive in and see where it goes?


"The more work you put in on your outline and getting the skeleton of your story right, the easier the process is later." ~ Drew Goddard


Actually, pre-planning actually saves you time, especially in the long run. Remember those 44 pages I mentioned earlier? Had I done pre-writing with my characters and plot, I could have saved at least 10 hours of writing time--and gotten to the same place with more focus and energy: the opening scene.

My outlining course that begins on January 12th. Consider signing up or sharing with writer friends: Outlining Your Novel with Ease