I’ve been thinking this week about ego and self-esteem when it comes to our creative work.

Count me among those who tend to undersell their work. I get intimidated by other writers easily and I never think I’m good enough.

A little humility and a pinch of desire to improve go a long way in the arts, but they’re like salt and pepper: it’s possible to go overboard.

Or a better analogy: When driving, if you leave your foot on the brake pedal then you’re never going to get anywhere.

These last couple months I feel I’ve been driving around with the E brake on. I’m not so down on myself that I’ve been incapable of writing, but it’s been a battle.

And then a funny thing happened last Wednesday. Everything clicked. It clicked after a few hours of conversation with a colleague, Tyler. We talked about intimidation and how I should stop putting other people’s work on a pedestal above my own. He said nice, encouraging things, the way one might coax a bunny out of hiding.

The next day, I finished my first real short story draft of the semester. It needs a lot of work, but it felt good to get a whole new story down on paper again. My funk of self-loathing has lifted and I am full of ideas. I finished a weekly assignment that normally takes me four hours of groaning and procrastinating in half an hour, for example.

I know the slump will come back. Like a children’s book villain, The Slump always comes back. But I am reminded again of why I chose to make writing my priority this year: the sheer joy.

And it helps to be surrounded by people going through similar things. I am so grateful to have met such a wonderful group of people and to count myself among them.

I could have continued writing on my own, without heaving my whole life into my boyfriend’s Honda and moving four hours away from everyone I knew and then watching that Honda pull away towards a long distance relationship. But I wanted to utilize the resources MFA programs offer. And, yes, as much as my artist’s soul shakes with indignation, I wanted to have a degree that would let me teach at the college level. But more than either of those things, I wanted to be around people who would “get it” without my explaining “it” (many of them can explain it in better words than I, I’m sure).

I told my boyfriend after my first week of classes that I’d found my people. I think community is, perhaps, integral to making good art. We need other people to puff us up when we’ve deflated ourselves.

This Is Exactly What It’s Like

Friendship, in other words, is good for the soul. And the soul is what makes art.


Nobody Reads Anymore

The basis of all these blog posts, as some of you know, is my weekly response to my required introduction to graduate writing course. This week, we read about whether or not poetry is dead. And why nobody reads poetry anymore but everyone writes it. My response this week was about what was missing in all the discussions: the role of the internet.

So instead of putting up yet another essay, this week I’m just going to share with you a few internet things I feel are worth sharing.

First, there’s this NSFW music video from Bo Burnham. I watched Burnham’s show “what.” at a friend’s house last year and immediately bought his illustrated book of poetry Egghead the next day. Burnham is someone whose career was made on and by the internet. This music video for Burnham’s song “Repeat Stuff” was released just six days ago and I love the message. Remember, this is NSFW.

Though I don’t consider myself a poet, Billy Collins is a big part of why I applied to Stony Brook’s MFA program in the first place. Before I’d ever read Collins’ poems, I saw this Ted Talk from 2012.

A friend of mine got me hooked on Broodhollow, a horror comic by Kris Straub. I can’t describe this series and I can’t recommend it enough. You might remember Straub if you remember Candle Cove, one of the creepiest short stories I’ve ever read.

Finally, I’d like to remind you all that you can still pre-order the anthology An Unlikely Companion in which my short story “An Emptiness That Burns” will appear. Use the code KOLCOW-FRIENDS at checkout to receive 30% off your order. The anthology is slated for this November.

Look at all the different things the internet provides. Just this morning I was sent a link to a poem I hadn’t read before. The poem is “Meanwhile, somewhere in the state of Colorado” by Simon Armitage. It begins:

Meanwhile, somewhere in the state of Colorado, armed to the teeth
with thousands of flowers,
two boys entered the front door of their own high school
and for almost two hours
gave floral tributes to fellow students and members of staff
beginning with red roses

You can read the entire poem at Isabel Losada’s website.

Go forth and explore, my friends. New literature and experience await you.

Edit 10/01: In a previous version of this post I called Simon Armitage Stephen. My sincerest apologies for this mix-up.

My Prose Machine Feels Broken

I pick up my screwdriver. Phillip’s head. I carefully unscrew the plated metal guarding my broken machine. I lay this aside.

I pick up my hammer and my stomach flips and then drops. I tighten my grip on the wooden handle. It’s a weighty hammer. A weapon. The machine looks so delicate and carefully built. Like the inner workings of an old clock or the motor of a carousel. But when I built it, I used a hot glue gun and clogged up all the cogs and gears and pulleys. A rushed, sticky mess.

I crunch. I bang. I smash apart.

Now the machine rests in pieces. I drop the hammer and it clangs against the warehouse floor. I am wearing a blue jumpsuit and the warehouse has a single overhead lamp illuminating my mechanical mess. I crouch and sift through the fragments. The smithereens. Oh God, what have I done?

Here’s a part that isn’t too beaten up. And another. I don’t know what this bit here was meant to do originally, but it’s clear it no longer belonged. As I separate the good from the bad, I begin to see a different kind of machine emerging.

I will have to dumpster dive and crawl through junkyards to find the missing pieces. I will have to wander flea markets and yard sales and pick up whatever feels necessary. I’ll know these things when I see them.

This is a craft. When it is finished it is art, but in the middle, in the warehouse with its single lamp and shadowy echoes, it is a craft. It takes sweat and blood and tears. A smashed finger, a misplaced nail gun, and a lot of cursing. There are no instruction manuals.

But I am learning what I should be listening for when I rap on the side of the machine:

An answering knock.

Jazz and Literary Critics: Someone please get me a drink

As I write this I am listening to Unity Band, an instrumental jazz album which secured Pat Metheny his twentieth Grammy win. My boyfriend, Chris, took me to a Pat Metheny concert once. Chris was excited about the performance so I was too. I liked the albums Chris played in the car; I used to run a café that hosted a Sunday jazz brunch; I’ve been using jazz to help me write for almost a decade. I thought I liked jazz.

I do not like jazz. Read More »

God, Gold, or Glory: Why Get My MFA?

I always tell children who want to be writers that there are only two things they must do to be writers: read a lot and write a lot. “That’s all it takes,” I tell them. But I’m lying by omission. There’s something else involved in great writing, even beyond innate talent, that every book I’ve read about writing seems to acknowledge in one way or another.

On page 17 of The Triggering Town, Richard HugoRead More »

Use This Code to get 30% Off “An Unlikely Companion”

I am pleased to announce that my short story “An Emptiness That Burns” is slated to appear this November May 2015, in the anthology An Unlikely Companion put out by Spark.

You can pre-order the book now and use the promo-code “KOLCOW-FRIENDS” at checkout to receive 30% off your order.

This code can be applied to both individual copies or a subscription to Spark.

From the website:

Please note: unlike the broadly-accessible content of Spark, this collection is recommended for more mature readers.

An Unlikely Companion is a collection of powerful work hand-picked by editor Brian James Lewis from the slush pile at Spark: A Creative Anthology. Imaginative, gripping, and at times transgressive, these selections did not fit Spark‘s guidelines and goals—and yet, each was so compelling that Brian knew it had to be published.

The pieces in this collection are included by personal invitation only.

The first author invited to participate in this project was Travis Hubbs, a professor of English and a PhD candidate at Louisiana State University. His passion and enthusiasm for writing fiction inspired many others—and continues to do so. This collection is published in his memory.

The promo-code expires on January 1st, 2015. It cannot be combined with a donation to the Travis Hubbs Memorial Scholarship Fund, unfortunately, due to the website’s limited virtual shopping cart platform.

Choose which you’d like: the trade paperback and ebook bundle, just the ebook bundle, or the collectible hardcover and ebook bundle and then add the code “KOLCOW-FRIENDS” at checkout.