Monday, May 31, 2010

I've been reading my own list of blogs, and hoping that some sort of inspiration would strike me for today's post. And, there's been nothing from me today.

However, the folks over at Easystreet Prompts have put up a rather fantastic prompt for today. As their prompts always are, this one is simple, thought-provoking, and has a high potential to be the launching point of some words.

What is it that you're remembering today?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chad Smith: Flow

I recently just finished up a rough draft of a long poem I had been working on with the title “Bébé qui lutte avec des diables”. I would have actually had this post done sooner if I hadn’t been so obsessed with making the poem work right (oh and the LOST series finale also took the wind out of my writing sails). I’m not sure if it’s perfect yet but I’m setting it down for a few days and will pick it up later and hopefully have a fresh perspective.

According to my computer’s translator, Bébé qui lutte avec des diables is French for “Baby who battles with devils”. I don’t know French so I guess that’s right. I don’t know how to pronounce it either. I just know it by seeing it and haven’t tried to say the poem’s title out loud very often yet.

Another name I don’t know how to pronounce and mostly just see in writing is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I don’t have to spell much of it either now that search engines fill in what you’re looking for once you start typing Mihaly. I first heard of Csikszentmihalyi’s work in a great class I took in college called the Psychology of Creativity. It was a class on how to beef up one’s creativity. I bought his book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” a few years ago and hope to finish reading it some day.

Csikszentmihalyi is a psychology professor who coined the phrase “flow” to label that moment of being in the zone, bliss, or ecstasy when one is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. That state where you are concentrating entirely on what you are doing and time seems to fly by. Inspiration hits and you are feeling totally on fire and creative. Csikszentmihalyi believes that experiencing this optimal experience brings people true happiness and enhances quality of life.

I am a flow junkie. If I can get to that state while doing something creative then I am totally in heaven. It keeps me coming back to the creative process again and again. After that class on creativity and learning that getting lost in creating ones art was called flow, I started to notice when my own moments occurred.

The first time I really said, “Hey I was just experiencing flow” was when I was doing some digital video editing using the program Final Cut Pro on the computer for an editing class I was taking. I was so engrossed with putting my video project together that I didn’t notice 10 hours had just vanished and the school’s computer lab was closing for the night. Flow has hit me quite a bit while working on video projects. So much so that I had thought that I was going to change my major to video production (I didn’t).

I have experienced flow while drawing and working on art projects. I often get lost in my work when doing illustration or graphics on the computer as well. I hate to admit this of course but even during my day job I have experienced moments of total focus and creative bliss.

Gosh, this is starting to sound a tad naughty.

Until about a month ago I hadn’t really had a flow experience while writing. I was working on a poem, everything was coming together, I was in the zone, focused and it hit me, “Oh my gosh! People experience flow while writing poetry?” I am even more hooked now on writing poetry!

The question then is how in the world do we get into the flow and how do we stay there?

Unfortunately it seems like with what I have read (haven’t finished the book like I said) and studied so far, Csikszentmihalyi takes a Yoda sort of Zen stance when asked how one achieves flow. You won’t know how to get there but you’ll know when you have arrived. I guess that keeps the magic of a muse intact. He suggests paying attention and take note of your surroundings when you discover you have been in the flow. What were you doing to get there? Csikszentmihalyi says that the task that you are taking on has to be challenging, but not too challenging and you have to have the proper amount of skill to complete the task.

It goes back to the old standbys: What time of day do you do your best writing? Do you have a quiet place where you can go and be free from distractions? Are you well rested? Many writers have all kinds of rituals that they perform or things the put in place to get the writing flowing.

I have noticed a lot of creative ideas come to me while washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. I think Csikszentmihalyi was talking about this being a form of flow but I can’t find the exact passage for it now that I want to write about it (of course). Something about the repetition of mundane tasks, getting the brain and body into a rhythm that it can do automatically and not think about while your mind is freed up to wander to and think about creative things. My wife sometimes gets annoyed with how long washing the dishes takes me. Lots of ideas come to me and I have to stop and write them down. Once again my day job’s repetition is great for getting out of my head and thinking of more important things.

Music also helps me get my flow on. I listen to head phones all day at work and I find instrumental music, jazz and lately electronic dance music has been getting me into a trance like creative state. I think there is something to the repetition and the beats.

So had you heard of flow? Maybe you have experienced it but hadn’t heard of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? I was hoping to give you a bit of an introduction and give you a springboard to do your own investigating. What methods do you use to get into the flow and bring the muse forth?

While looking up info on the nets to help with writing this post, I found quite a few blog posts that covered this subject much better than I. There is a ton of stuff out there if you are interested in investigating flow and creativity further. Here are a few good links that I looked at:

There are lots of videos of Csikszentmihalyi speaking. This TED talk was pretty good:

An article by Csikszentmihalyi in Psychology Today on finding flow:

An article on the benefits of boredom:

Especially interesting to me are these links on poetry and flow:

These last two links are on creativity:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A case for adverbs

A couple of weeks ago, on Wed May 12 (okay, not quite a couple of weeks ago, but close enough) we talked about adverbs, those obnoxious words that tie-up language.

Generally (hey look, there's one!) adverbs clog up speech and don't allow for high-quality communication. But adverbs exist in the language, so surely there must be a case for them, right?

Just like any other writing axiom, the "rule" to never use adverbs is more of a suggestion. Sure, adverbs clog up language. And, yes, the English language demands the use of strong nouns and verbs. What if I had used "strongly requests" or "expertly asks for" instead of "demands" in that last sentence? There's something missing in the meaning of what's said.

But, what about verbs that don't have a replacement? "Swim," for example, doesn't have any replacements. When there's someone walking, I can decide to have the skulk, or wander, or stroll, or even run or job instead of walk. All of these verbs illicit a different sort of "walk," a different action unique and separate from walking.

I can't use the same bit of dictionary magic on the verb "swim." I have to use a modifier instead. I could have someone swim quick, or slow, or stealthily, or any number of ways.

What other words out there might not have a replacement with a better inherent definition; one that doesn't need a modifier?

Sunday, May 16, 2010


It's May 16th (though you're probably reading this on the 17th), which means we're just a month away from the deadline for submissions for Bites from the Orchard: Floats. This got me thinking about floats, and what they might be. I know I always think of a cool root beer float in a plastic Tupperware cup on my grandma's patio in the middle of the summer (even though I don't really like root beer).

Or, sometimes a cloud comes to mind. Floating from work to school to home to evening writerly activities. My horse's teeth that need floated.

Though, that's all just me. And I want to hear about you.

What gets you floating? What do you think of when you hear the word "float." We want to hear from you!

Think about a float, and everything that a float can be. Write us something about it. Send us an essay or a story or a poem or whatever it is that you think fits Bites from the Orchard. Check out the submission guidelines (we accept and consider all genres), and send it to us. We'll read it. And, if we like it, we'll print it, and your work will be available to read in a literary journal.

An extra hint: be sure to read all the submission guidelines. Make sure you save in the proper file format. And, if you have any questions, please ask. We like answering questions.

Can't wait to read all your submissions!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Books, the Making Of: Part Three

I promise, after this one, I'll stop yammering on about making books. When I left off, though, we had a stack of bound signatures, and a stack of casings, and if I recall, we hadn't quite finished up those casings, had we? The spine needs to be rounded on hard bound books, and I've already pointed out the how of it. Let us take a moment on the why.

A hard bound book is an object that is intended to last. In fact, that's the real reason behind binding manuscripts in the first place. A bound manuscript of any sort lasts longer and is more durable than a stack of loose papers. If you'll look carefully at a hard bound book, you might notice that the pages extend behind the boards as they get to the spine of the book, leaving a small soft area between the boards and the spine, this is what allows the book to actually open.

Now, you'll notice, hopefully, a curve in the spine and the pages. When you open it, it will start to to flatten out. Here is the the reason for the spine bending. If you have the spine bent too little, the pages will flatten out with use, which can lead to the whole thing falling apart. If you didn't start with any curve then, the book would fall apart in fairly short order.

Okay, enough prattling on about that, I just needed to waste some time because there's really not that much more to go. In order to glue the signatures into the casing, you use a bit of cloth called mulling. It's rather like cheese cloth, but a bit of a heavier weave (hard not to be). This is usually glued onto the signatures around the spine and, about half an inch onto what is currently the front "page", but as we'll see, that'll never be noticed.

Now, if you're looking at an older book, this next one will be highly noticeable, but if not, you may just have to take my word for it. You open the cover, and you'll notice a paper that looks something like this. Sadly, newer books just use normal, boring paper, as marbled paper like this can be a bit expensive. Anyway, these are called end sheets, and are glued both to the signature, and the casing, to hide the ugly work of the binding behind it (the gluing of the cover to the boards, and the mulling on the signatures).

One last bit. Look at the top of the spine, and you'll notice a bit of fabric sticking up behind the pages, hugging the spine. That's ribbon. It's purely decorative, and glued, or stitched, onto the signatures.

Guess what? We've done all the interesting stuff now. Actually gluing the signatures into the casing? Yeah, it's just that. So that's all.

- Sam

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Adverbs. What are they?

Strictly speaking, adverbs are words that modify verbs and adjectives. Verbs are action words – words like run, walk, pounce, shift, and hyperventilate. Adjectives are words that modify nouns. Nouns are things – you, me, Heather, the hole in the ground downtown. Adjectives describe these words – short, tall, angry, green, ugly. Adverbs modify everything that an adjective can't (verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs). They answer the question how. How big? How ugly?

Generally speaking, adverbs will clog up speech. “He ran quickly” can be shortened to “he skittered.” Incidentally, skittered almost certainly creates a better picture in your mind of what's actually happening. Think about the difference between “ran” and “skittered”. Define the two verbs in your mind. Let a picture form. Which one is stronger?

This is exactly why adverbs are almost always unnecessary and even confusing.

Look at the above paragraphs. I've used some adverbs up there that are completely unnecessary. Find them, and let's talk about why they make the writing weaker.

Cleaning up the mess

Adverbs are used for many reasons. Sometimes it's a form of laziness: the writer can't come up with a stronger verb or noun, or doesn't want to pull out a thesaurus or dictionary. Sometimes the writer thinks the word is strong; almost, very, and other such words seem like they ought to be strong, and that they make the sentence more specific. They don't. Here's a comparison, using the first sentence of this paragraph (what I tried to write when I started writing this paragraph):

Often, adverbs are used for many reasons; the word almost fits, so the writer chooses to use it. (compare this to the beginning of the above paragraph. Which is stronger?)

How about this: What I almost wrote when I first started writing this paragraph. (Again, compare. Which is stronger and why).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Books, the Making Of: Part Two

Did you know we have a book out? We do. You can find it at Rediscovered Bookshop and A Novel Adventure (not yet available online, we're working on it, promise.) Part two on the adventures of book binding. Last time I talked about how the casing is made. The other really major part of a book, and more important, is the signature. Which isn't quite right either.

Bites From The Orchard: Bridges is what would be called a single signature book. Which is a nice way of saying that it only has one block of pages. What are you talking about? I hear someone saying?

Okay, let's go back and revisit Ulysses S. Grant (and I'll point out that some of these steps do not apply, as Bites From The Orchard is a single signature). It is approximately 300 pages long, and looking at it, has twenty different signatures. Each signature is a pile of pages folded in half. So, Ulysses has twenty of these. Each signature then only consists of four sheets of paper, and each sheet of paper actually holds four pages (incidentally, this is why if you tear out one page, you'll almost always have another page wanting to fall out).

Before I go on, I'm going to jump to a composition book, which happens to be a single signature book, and they lie to you! (at least the Top Flight I have on my desk does.) They say 100 sheets, but if you open it up, exactly in half, you'll notice some thread holding the whole thing together, and that it's actually 50 sheets, for those 200 pages. Anyway, give one of the pages a tear, the first page works really well for this. You'll then find that the back page also wants to fall out!

Enough of that though, we have a pile of twenty signatures now, and that can't be called a book, they're all loose and falling all over the place. Here's where we actually get into binding. Each one of those signatures needs holes in it. A lot of them. Remember in Part One when I mentioned that Ulysses has six lengths of cord stiffening the spine? Here's how that comes into play.

For each and every signature, in the fold, we punch holes, all in the exact same spot for each signature. If Ulysses was using the cord for the signatures (I'll explain that next, I promise!), and let us assume that it does, it would need at least twelve holes in each signature.

So, through those holes, we now take a length of (no, not the cord) thread! Linen by preference. We stack all of our recently holey signatures in a device called a sewing frame. The sewing frame holds the six cords we mentioned earlier nice and tight, and in proper alignment--the signatures holes lining up one on either side of each cord. Then? We stitch each of the cords onto the bottom signature, carry over the stitch into the second signature, and so on and so fourth up all twenty of them. You see, the stitching holds each separate signature together, while the cord holes all the signatures to each other. And no, I will not describe the stitches, if you are that curious, there are books for that sort of thing (and I'm not good enough at writing to accurately give you a picture of what is going on, but let's not tell anyone that).

I did say it wasn't very likely these were part of the signatures though, didn't I? Well, almost certainly they're not. At some point (I don't know an actual date) using cord to bind books fell out of style in favor of ribbon. People still expected those ridges on the spine though. They were attractive. If they weren't there, people would have thought the product was of an inferior quality, and what publishing house wants that? None! So, instead they glued the cord to the inside of the casing, and then pressed the leather around them to give them shape.

We now have a stack of twenty signatures, stitched and bound by cord. We have a beautiful casing, carefully made so every corner and edge is perfect. How do they come together? You see parts I haven't mentioned yet? You promised us a part 3? All are true! And all our next week.

- Sam


If you've read the comments here recently, we've been the unfortunate victims of comment-spam. Just thought I'd make a post here that we do delete comment-spam. Comments that repeat themselves on multiple posts, especially when they have a link to an spammish advertisement, will be deleted.

We love your comments. Please don't leave us spam though :)

Spellchecker says "spammish" is not a word. I say it is! Use it in some writing. Spammish eggs anyone?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why Blog?

The first blog from May's guest blogger, Chad Smith. Chad won the Bridges contest. His poem, "No Rocks on This End," can be found in Bites from the Orchard: Bridges. Happy reading!

First off let me say thanks to Megan and everyone in the writer's group for letting me hang out in the Novel Orchard. I am truly honored to have my poem in your book. Sorry I couldn't make it to the book's opening night, but alas I am in Portland and my private jet has been in the shop all week.

When Megan asked me to be a guest blogger here on Writing Through the Year I was frightened at first. Sure I would do it I guessed, but what in the world did I know about writing? Then I thought about some subjects to write about and calmed down a bit:

I was asked to write a blog post. I can totally do that.

I will have been writing blog posts for 9 years this August. My first post is dated August 18th 2001. Before that I had been keeping a creative journal in a spiral notebook for several years. I don't think everyone was calling it blogging yet back in 2001 (I'm definitely not the first person to have started a blog). I think of myself as a journal keeper. No, not a diary. A journal.

I started keeping a creative journal right after I graduated from high school when an instructor at Portland Community College suggested that everyone should keep one. A place to store all of your creative thoughts. Story ideas, plot lines, dialog. Ideas for drawings and graphics. Notes for your Great American Novel. As I started to get into it and get some words down on paper I found that my creative journal, along with the notes and ideas was turning into a diary. Keeping track of my daily activities was keeping more entertained than scribbling notes for graphic designs or movie scripts.

Around 1996 I came up with the name Jack Noodle. I was subscribed to AOL back then and I wanted a name for my AOL email that didn't have to have a number in it. Chad Smith was already taken (believe it or not). Jack Noodle was born. I was going to use the name Jack Noodle everywhere I went in cyberspace and all of my artworks and writings would be signed by Jack Noodle. Now days I don't try to push the pseudonym as much. Everyone knows that Jack Noodle is really Chad Smith. No mystery.

That takes us to right around 1999 - 2000. I had been reading and enjoying the musician Moby's daily journal that he had up on his website and was also reading a journal by a multimedia artist named Mumbleboy. I was constructing my website and graphic design portfolio around that time and thought it would be cool to have my creative journal, a daily posting area on the site as well. I didn't have Wordpress back then so my posts were entered using raw html. I switched over to Wordpress around 2003 - 2004 and slowly reloaded all of my old posts into the Wordpress database then.

So where is this rambling history taking us you ask?

Well for my guest blog post I am going to agree with your previous guest blogger, Margaret Ellsworth's post last month on Practice and maybe expand a bit on the idea that blogging and keeping a journal is a very important activity for writers to take part in these days.

I think that anyone who is an aspiring writer should get a blog going. It's a great tool in helping build your writing muscles. I liked what Margaret said about getting the sensations of writing imprinted into your muscle memory. Maintaining a blog helps you practice the writing you will do on other projects.

Writing the Jack Noodle Journal is something I do for myself. There are other bloggers out there in the blogosphere that really worry about their numbers and try to get as many page hits as possible using all kinds of tricks. It's really easy to get caught up in the schemes and wizardry of page hits and reader numbers. For me it's about the act of writing and I'm not so concerned about who is reading it. Sure it would be fun to be popular and have a million readers but I like to think that have an audience of twelve.

Well if I'm not concerned with generating an audience with my blog then why put it up on the internet at all? Why not just keep my writing in my spiral notebook?

Despite saying I'm not concerned with how many people read my posts there is a certain level of attention set to the writing style knowing even subconsciously that someone might read what one is writing. That is good to cultivate and is really is a better writing than something one would hide away in a closet and never show anyone. If you are going to be a professional writer you are going to have to show your wares to the public eventually right? Why not start now with your blog?

Another benefit of having a blog is that I have a nice history and artifact of the history of the last 9 years of my life. Oh yeah, and with a search function even! It has been fun going back and refreshing my memory concerning the big events that have taken place. Along with family stuff I have interesting (to me) posts on how I felt on 9-11, a couple of presidential elections and other World events. Oh yes and I do still have some notes on creative thoughts and the start of some ideas I wanted to do for a television show until I saw that LOST was covering all of the topics I had thought of.

I have been surprised a time or two by who has been reading my blog when I get comments or emails. The most resent surprise was when a reporter from the Oregonian contacted me and said she had been reading about the details of my wife's pregnancy and the birth of our son on my blog and wanted to interview me for a story on paternity leave. That was pretty fun. You never know who's tuning in and what kind of opportunities could arise from someone enjoying your writing.

So that's my advice to you fellow writers. If you don't have a blog now then add more time to your already hard to find time for writing schedule and write a blog!

Also Facebook and Twitter are pretty cool too. Probably stay away from Facebook though, as it is a massive, distracting time suck. My Twitter feed is filled with people who continually give excellent links to interesting items. I've found a lot of writers and poets on Twitter as well....

But Facebook and Twitter belong in a different post.

Monday, May 3, 2010

May Guest Blogger: Chad Smith

May's Guest Blogger is Chad Smith, winner of the Bridges contest. His poem, "No Rocks on this End," can be found in Bites from the Orchard: Bridges.

[Edit: Never post things half-asleep, especially when copy pasting. The formatting will always get funky]

When and why did you begin writing? What genre/style do you generally write (fiction, poetry, non- fiction, mystery, literary, etc)? Do you ever write in multiple genres?
I started writing and illustrating stories way back in grade school. I took a creative writing class or two while in college. I enjoy being creative and making art stuffs. Most of what I've done in the past has been in the visual arts realm. I'm a graphic design multimedia guy. This year as a New Year's resolution I decided I was going to become a poet and I am starting to get serious about writing.

Where might we be able to find your work?
My poem "No Rocks on this End" in the Bites From the Orchard book was the first landing spot (of hopefully many) out of the gate. I have been posting my poems on my blog at

Do you have a writing schedule? What works for you? How do you keep up the discipline to stick to that schedule?
Oh! I really should stick to a schedule. I find that my best writing and ideas come to me first thing in the orning. I'm a firm believer in documenting anything that comes to you in your dreams right when you wake up. If you say you'll be able to write it down later in the day you won't and the freshness will have worn off. I had a whole poem figured out in a dream, still had it when I woke up and then totally forgot it later in the day. Many writing and artistic solutions have come to me while sleeping. That's quite handy when one can catch it.
If I could get more nuts and bolts, nose to the grind stone writing done in the night before sleeping that would be awesome. I'm usually too sleepy then.

You're walking on a straight line. There's trees and grass and bunnyrabbits. The road turns a bit, and reveals a fork. Do you go right or left?
Left of course.

What do you like to read? Who's your favorite author? Has this writer influenced you and your work? that about a writer you despise? Has this person affected your writing at all? Where would you take your favorite author to dinner?
I'm an excellent starter of books but a horrible finisher. I wish I was more of a reader. I'm in love with the idea of being an avid reader and consumer of books. I think one of my problems is I read too slow and then my mind wanders off when an interesting idea pops up in the book. I'm an excellent retainer of the words that do make it into my noggin though.

What's on your reading list right now?
Right now I am reading all poetry. I've been checking out lots of how to write poetry books from the library and reading as many poets as I can. I'm digging Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. I discovered Kim Addonizio a couple of days ago and can't wait to check out more of her stuff. I'm going to investigate Gertrude Stein in the near future. Oh yes, and Arthur Rimbaud's "A Season in Hell" is magnificent. I'm still a toddler in the poetry world and I've been quite excited with where my self educating journey has taken me so far. I'm still figuring this stuff out.

Do you have any projects on your table right now? What are they? At what stage are they? Are you satisfied with it?
Right now I am working on a one hundred line poem about a baby who fights demons. I'm also trying to finish up some poems that I'm not posting to the website in hopes of submitting them to some poetry magazines. There's that whole, "Is posting your poem to your blog count as previously published?" question that I haven't got a solid answer on yet. I'm trying to write one hundred poems in 2010. I'm not sure if I'll make it. I have a thing for the number one hundred and I'm trying to slip it in every chance I get. Not sure why.

Look out! It's the Zombie Apocalypse, and the only inhabitable place on earth is an island. What do you do? What do you take with you?
I don't care for the zombie genre so much. I think somebody should totally write a zombie teen romance series in the vein of Twilight though.
My favorite horror movie is "Devil's Rejects" by Rob Zombie. Devil's Rejects is the sequel to "House of a Thousand Corpses" and they should both be viewed in the same sitting. House of a Thousand Corpses isn't as good as Rejects but you must see it to appreciate how horrible and terrifying the characters in Devil's Rejects are. Despicably not for anyone the slightest bit squeamish. Very scary.
Wow look at that tangent.

Your computer just died, does this ruin your writing day, or can you cope?
I'm a computer guy. I have to sit in front of a computer everyday for my day job and I enjoy it. I am getting to the point in my old age though that I probably wouldn't mind if my computers died. Pen and paper is nice for writing. I would miss the spell checker!
That is an excellent reminder to save and backup your files.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book Review: A Kick in the Head

April is (was?) National Poetry Month. I know I've said it several times now. And, I know it's not April any more. Never-the-less, I had planned a book review of a poetry book all month. It just hasn't happened until now. So, for one more day, it's Poetry Month.

For some, poetry comes naturally. The words flow from the tongue in a form that allows much language to be left behind, yet have more meaning for the lack of words. For others (like me), it's a struggle to read and understand poetry, much less write it.

Regardless of where you stand with poetry, it's helpful to understand the many aspects and forms. Some ideas are best portrayed in one type of poem than others. If you don't know those forms, it's hard to know how best to portray the ideas in your head. How can you choose when you simply don't know? And who wants to dig through mountains of theory and explication in some anthology that takes up more space than all of your favorite books combined?

That's where A Kick in the Head comes in. This succinct book is written for kids to explain different poetic forms. Because it's written for kids, it's simple. An an example is given, of say a couplet. It's short, two lines that rhyme. And there's a glossary in the back with a deeper explanation of the poem in the glossary in the back.

This book took me straight back to my childhood. I had forgotten the joy and beauty of a reference book written for the young. The beautiful cut-out illustrations and the glossary anyone can understand aren't an insult to my intelligence, but rather make a complicated subject simple, or at least give it a simple starting point.

I think I've made it quite clear this month that I'm not a fan of poetry. A Kick in the Head could very well change my mind about attempting some of this form.