Monday, May 23, 2016

Spark Will Inspire You!

Thanks to writer Cheryl Somers Aubin for telling me about this fun program for creative spirits:

Get Ready to Get Sparked!

Imagine being able to work with an artist or musician who will give you a piece of work as inspiration for your own writing.  Now imagine that same artist or musician using your work as inspiration to create a piece of art or music.

This is what Spark is all about.  Founded by Amy Souza, Spark has been taking place four times a year since 2008.   Participants have ten days to create their own work from the inspiration pieces they are given.

No worries that these are first drafts, the fun and important part is to let inspiration take you wherever it will!   If you write nonfiction, you may come up with a poem.  Likewise, poets may write a piece of fiction.

Both writers and artists/musicians are needed.  The next round of Spark takes place May 25th – June 3rd

Visit this website to see some of the amazing work that has been done in past Sparks: 

Check out the Spark Experience page to read about others' experiences during Spark:
 Then go here to register: (NOTE: official registration has closed, but you can jump in with an email to Amy Souza, which is explained at this site.)

A donation of $10 is requested but not required to participate.


Cheryl Somers Aubin has been writing and publishing for over twenty years, and her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Foundation Magazine, and other newspapers, magazines, and online journals.  She has a Master of Arts degree in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.  Cheryl teaches memoir writing and creative writing that incorporates artwork.  She has been an instructor at Johns Hopkins University and a featured speaker at personal history writing symposia, writing conferences, and workshops. More of Cheryl’s work can be found on her website

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Prompt Writing Class at Politics & Prose

I’ll be teaching a prompt writing class in July, at Politics & Prose Bookstore. I’m especially excited because I’m using a new book for a prompt base and I’m trying out a new format…a series of stand-alone classes that will focus (broadly) on a specified topic. First up: PEOPLE!

Here are the details:

Monday, July 11, 6:30 – 9 p.m.
 Politics & Prose Bookstore
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

$45 (10% off for P&P members)

Explore your creative side safely in this session, one of a series of stand-alone prompt classes. We'll focus on writing about the people in our lives, including ourselves. The class offers discussion and writing exercises designed to get your subconscious flowing. No writing experience necessary! This is a great class for beginners and also for those fiction writers and/or memoirists with more experience who might be stuck in their current project and looking for a jolt of inspiration. The goal is to have fun in a supportive, nurturing environment and to go home with several promising pieces to work on further. Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a fully charged computer. NOTE: New book and all new exercises! Returning participants welcome!

The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, ed. by J.D. McClatchy
* Please note: Though this is a poetry book, you are not required to write poetry.

I’ll paraphrase someone who attended my last session: “I thought this would be scary, but it was so fun!”

Monday, May 9, 2016

Etiquette for Recent MFA Grads

Okay, I’m not really the official Miss Manners of the writing world. But for graduation season, I’d like to offer a few thoughts directed to new MFA grads who will now be navigating the mysterious world of Writing Biz on their own.

First, do not expect your teachers to keep in touch with you. They may adore you and your work, but their own writing (and life) is always going to be their priority. This does not mean that they aren’t interested in what you’re doing…just that, for the most part, you will need to be the one to keep in touch. (The teacher-student relationship is, of course, also structured around a certain power dynamic and it is plain wrong for a teacher to pursue a student after graduation [unless that student wins a Pulitzer, haha].) So think about which teachers were especially meaningful to you and your writing life, and think about how to stay connected with them.

Social media is a nice way to keep a casual relationship going with your professors, but if they (or you) don’t use social media, an occasional email/text is, it seems to me, welcomed by most professors. A few dos and don’ts on that occasional email/text:

DO reread what I said and take to heart that word: occasional. Don’t overdo it.

DO follow what your beloved professor is up to and acknowledge his/her publishing successes.

DON’T (ever) attach work you’d like to be critiqued.

DON’T write only when you want/need something.

DON’T take it personally if your professor is too busy to respond to you immediately, or perhaps ever.

DON’T write only when you want/need something. (Oh, did I say this already? Hmmm…must be important.)

DO ask for letters of recommendation/blurbs if you need them and you have maintained a good relationship with your teacher…but DON’T imagine you can make this request for the rest of all eternity. DO understand that your beloved professor will be beloved by many students who will come along after you. DO imagine that perhaps you’ve got a couple of shots at this sort of favor. DON’T (ever) ask for any letters that are due in less than two weeks.

DO understand that favors go both ways. You are now an MFA graduate, a member of the writing community, and that means you are allowed (encouraged!) to use whatever power you may have to help the people who helped you…can you invite your teacher to read at your reading series? Is your journal looking for a contest judge whom you will pay? Did you write a glowing review of your teacher’s book on Amazon? Can you interview your teacher for a writing blog? DO send an email offering something to your teacher!

DO follow up with your professor with a thank you after he/she has helped you in some way, whether it’s a letter written or advice offered or a question answered or whatever. At this point, your professor is not required to help you and is doing so only from the goodness of his/her heart. Saying thank you is FREE!

DON’T forget that your professor is first and foremost a writer whose job was to teach you. Note the distinction. Once you have graduated from the program, your professor takes no responsibility for you (unless you win a Pulitzer). Sad but true: your professor may not want to stay in touch with you. This might feel like a rejection. But please be gracious. A good teacher will have given you the tools to you need to forge ahead on your own and find your place in the community.


I’ll also offer a suggestion that revolves around that word “gracious.” Maybe it turned out you didn’t like your program so much. I’m sorry. I really am. (I wish you would have joined us at the Converse low-res MFA!) But now that you’re “free” of all those “%$#$-ing” teachers who think they’re such “hot $#@$” it might be tempting to let loose on them, either in your writing or on social media or in scathing, tell-all articles.


I’m only offering my own views here, but it’s been my experience that our lovely writing community is a small-small-small-small world, not only in size (I promise I could play six degrees of separation with about any MFA grad and get to a mutual acquaintance) but it is also small in terms of pettiness, which means that people WILL remember that you were the one who trashed the program or your teacher on The Rumpus or in The New Yorker or wherever. (Also, no one will be fooled by your pseudonyms and the tricks you use to disguise people/places…remember what I said about six degrees of separation?)

And think about it: why would you trash the crazy-imperfect-infuriating-inspiring program you graduated from? Now that you’re out, you should feel invested in the success of the program: you want your fellow grads to win awards and bring prestige to your school because that will help you and your degree. When your book is published, you should want to return in triumph to your program, invited back for a reading or a class visit. You should want your name proudly listed on the website as a “famous alum.” The fact is, you are connected in some way to your MFA program for the rest of your writing life.

Bitch and gossip privately, to your friends or at the AWP bar after you scope the scene to ensure your teachers are out of spitting distance. But always think twice and then twice again before going public about all the crap you endured while at your MFA program. (Unless we’re talking about something illegal or an abuse of power.)

In short, don’t burn bridges…until you win your Pulitzer.


You may not want to keep in touch with all or any of your former professors, and that’s fine. While many segments of the writing world run on blurbs and letters of recommendation and such, your former teachers are not (and should not be) the only source for acquiring those documents. You will move forth and build your own network of support, and memories of that horrible MFA workshop will fade in time, and maybe soon you will be the teacher opening emails from former students. But one last tip:

DO thank your teachers in the acknowledgements of your first book, and DO spell their names correctly. And if you’re one of my former students, DON’T send me a free copy: I will happily, happily buy it!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.