Lyrical Writing with Malcolm Brooks


Lyrical Writing with Malcolm Brooks

Malcolm Brooks is a multi-talented musician. He is a composer, performer and teacher and has created a program for writers, musicians, and ordinary citizens to express their feelings through lyrical song writing. During my week-long writing workshop with teens at Maine Media, Malcolm and his student and friend Khalid Taylor used his documentary method to help us turn a prose piece into a song. He said, "We don’t have enough songs that talk about our emotions,” and our song was full of such emotion and surprise.

During my workshop, Malcolm asked one of the students to tell a story. As the writer talked, Malcolm typed the words which appeared on a big screen in our classroom. Malcolm invited us then to look for words to knock out and for words that expressed the true emotion of the piece. We were creating a free verse poem. Once we chose the refrain, Malcolm and Khalid put the words to — using their guitars-- and we all sang the song. It was an exhilarating experience, one my students and I will take with us throughout our writing careers. I encourage you all to check out Malcolm and his good friend, Khalid.



A Week with Teens

I taught last week at Maine Media. I taught writing, Finding Your Voice, to the YOs (the teenagers). The kids were gifted, eager and challenging. We worked on images, sensory details, discovering voice, rhythm and language. We used The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker to enliven our experience.

When sitting in the small  room got to be too much, we went to local places and wrote there. We went to Seafolk Coffee and wrote about what we saw. We went to Owl & Turtle Bookstore. I had my usual delicious double espresso macchiato while the kids checked out the books. Lots of visits to 47 West Cafe. The kids love the books chosen by daughter Olivia. Theola makes a terrific  turmeric, ginger coffee. Sara Cole-Pardun, an English teacher as Camden Hills High School joined us, and led the students through a bunch of (very good) prompts. We spent about an hour at the toy store, Planet, and visited two ice cream stands, River Ducks and Camden Cone.

The piece de resistance was a visit by Malcolm Brooks, a composer, documentary songwriter whose work can be heard on PBS NOVA and the History Channel. Malcolm arrived with one of his students, Khalid Taylor, a delightful gifted musician who was up for the week to work with Malcolm. Malcolm invited one of the YO students to tell a story. Malcolm wrote down her words which  we were able to view on a big screen. The entire class participated in cutting the story down to lyrics for a song. And then, Malcolm and Khalid added music. And we all sang the song (me too). Great song, great experience. 

Every Friday evening Maine Media concludes with a viewing of the student’s work. In our case, a reading. The YOs in my class started the evening’s events by reading from their work. Nine minutes was the limit, but they were each able to read a piece. The last piece was very funny. And the applause following their performance was loud and enthusiastic. The kids and the audience had a blast. Me too.

Thanks again to all of you in our Camden/Rockport community who helped make this week memorable.




Young Creative Writing


Young Creative Writing

In partnership with Maine Media Workshops + College, I am teaching a week-long workshop for teens centered on finding the deep voice. Here’s the description.

Teens are at an age of self-exploration, discovery and purpose. Their lives and identities are fluid and changing. Writing is a powerful avenue to help harness their truth, empower them to believe in their words, and bring out their instincts and feelings. In this five-day intensive, students will begin to identify their own distinct voice, rhythm and tonality and help their classmates identify theirs. They will learn to write a scene with the help of exercises including Write Like You Talk, The Transformation Line and Image/Moment. Students will begin to notice their own style and feel empowerment within themselves. They will develop skills in listening and offering feedback in a safe creative and judgement-free space.

Above all, this is an inquiry, a search, an emphasis on play with a product in mind.

If you have a child, or a grandchild, consider this course. From beginners to novice, from those entering high school to those about to graduate, all levels and stages are welcome. For further details, click here:



Bow to the work you are creating


I took a webinar, in late 2016. It was taught by a client from my days teaching in NYC. She has become a renowned coach and communicator. I was struck by something Victoria asked and I’d like you all to consider an answer to the questions she posed.

What is the through line to your story ( we’ve talked about this). That is, what is the force that drives the story? What is the passion that drives you to tell the story?

What is your noble intention in writing the story or any story? I know this sounds Buddhist, and it probably is, but it’ s a good and basic question. And, yes, I do want you to take yourself seriously as an artist in the world.

What is the nobility behind your work?

What do you want the audience (reader) to know, do and feel after they have heard or read your story?

These are interesting questions and might help you gain a new perspective on your work. You could ask, as well, the noble intention of the narrator of your story or stories.

I am aware that we all experience bouts of insecurity and doubt, and maybe we’re afraid of being critiqued. But one of the most noticeable characteristics of the accomplished and, pardon the expression, famous people I’ve known in my life is humility. And the second characteristic is wonder and curiosity. If you, as writers and creators, can remember that you are serving the audience, not your own ego, then you will be ablle to slow down, bow to the work you are creating, and get better and better as artists.



A bit of reflection


Reflect upon your present blessings, of which

every man has plenty;

not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

Charles Dickens

 It’s a good idea as a writer to step back from your narrative, dialogue, description and make a comment about life.  We all long for wisdom – we want to be set right or awakened or turned up side down, if only for a moment, and we are happy to find tidbits of wisdom tossed into a work of fiction.  Let’s take a tip or two from the Greeks:

The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.

Sophocles Oedipus Rex

We know this, don’t we, but isn’t it helpful to be reminded of in the middle of an extraordinary play.  This thought becomes part of our take-away from the evening, consciously or unconsciously.

Unwanted favors gain no gratitude. 

Oedipus at Colonus.

How often do we imagine we are helping someone when in fact we are just bothering them?  I call this part of me Lady Bountiful, the part of me that gets thrills from playing the wealthy benefactor, often, it turns out, to people who are not interested in my help. Sophocles, yes Sophocles, can jolt me to awareness about this.

Philosophy tossed into the middle of the narrative stops the reader and gives us pause.  Abraham Verghese, in his novel Cutting for Stone, offers this thought: “It was a sacred object.  But for a four-year old, everything is sacred and ordinary.”    We stop to think, is this true for me.  Does my child treat everything as sacred. Should I?

Commenting on his wife’s remark, late in life, that she hates him, the narrator of John Updike’s  “My Father’s Tears,” says this:  “As well as love one another, we hate one another and even ourselves.” I read this and stop and think.  I suddenly feel melancholic, hating to think this might be true of all marriages, of all relationships.  The narrator has snagged my attention and won’t let go. 

Hope is the deep orientation of the human soul that can be held at the darkest times.

Vaclav Havel 

Havel knows what he is talking about, having been involved in the Polish fight for freedom.

Exercise: Take a look at your work.  Do you stop to impart wisdom from time to time?  Choose a piece you are writing, or simply begin a piece in your journal.  Half way through, stop and ask yourself, what am I trying to say here?  What can I say to stop my reader short, to make her pause and reflect.



Hunkering Down for Winter


Friends in New York City (not to mention those in LA) look at me like I’m crazy when I say I love being in Maine at this time of year. “But it gets dark at 4 PM and it’s freezing cold.” Yes, I agree, that’s true, but I kind of like that. My friends shake their heads and walk away thinking I’ve gone round the bend. But, no, I’m in my right mind. I do like this turning in. I like the shutting down. It feels to me as if the Earth is encircling itself with its own arms and settling down for a long winter’s nap. Well deserved I might add. After all, the Earth has been going full tilt for six months.

Maybe it’s my Celtic blood that attracts me to this time of year. In the Celtic year, the months between Samhain (Halloween/All Soul’s Day/The Day of the Dead) to Beltane (May first) are considered the dark months. The Celts believe that, in the turning of the seasons, death always precedes rebirth. The Celtic day begins at sundown, and the Celtic year begins at the year’s death or Samhain.

Here in Maine, we gather by the fire, or the wood stove, lift a glass and tell stories. We craft, whether it be stories or curtains or sweaters or wooden loons, or pots, or beer. We sink into the mysteries.

Do we seek visions in the firelight, in the smoke, or in a bowl of water – visions of our true love, visions that inspire hope, or visions that help us to identify our path in life more clearly?

Let’s align ourselves with the Creative Mysteries of life, death and rebirth. Let’s invoke the Gods for help in our creative projects. Let’s perform the Sacred Rituals and sing life into being. Let’s plant the seeds for our rebirth, focus our minds, and reconnect.

If you are interested in reading more about our Celtic ancestors, here’s a link: