Blogs: Writing

what you say matters

    We are deep in social media, of course. 74% of adults who use the internet use social media sites! It’s what we do now: how we maintain friendships, meet people, have conversations, begin relationships, learn about news, undertake social change, and market our services and products. There’s a lot (A LOT) that can be said about this, from whether or not it’s good for us to what Big Data from social media tells us about ourselves.

    So we do social media, and it results in a whole lot of writing. Research from last decade indicates that people are writing more than ever before. If we’re going to do a ton of writing in social media, we should do it well!

    That could mean a few different things:

    Hungry for more books on how (or why) to do social media? There’s something out there for the beginner, for the optimist, for the contrarian, or the pragmatist.

    Kids aren't born knowing how to use a keyboard.  But in today’s keyboard-centric world, kids need to learn to type. Luckily, there are some good free online typing programs aimed at students.

    The article  Ed Tech Ideas: Keyboarding Sites for Kids lists many links to other free typing games.

    Need more help? Contact a librarian

    There are a lot of writers out there. Portland alone seems to have one slouching in every coffee shop or slumped on a bar stool or monotoning into a microphone... have you ever been to Wordstock? Willamette Writers? With so much competition for publishers’ and readers’ attention, what’s a person to do who has a story to tell, and wants to share it with everyone?

    The writer’s life is by no means easy; first there’s the writing part - -how to write the story? Where to find the time? Should I subscribe to Poets & Writers magazine? What’s that word for….? Do I need Facebook to be a writer? But if I’m on Facebook promoting my writing, when will I ever find time to write?

    Then there’s publication - -get an agent? Focus on small presses? Self-publish?

    And then the boogie men that infect the hopes and confidence and resolve of any would-be (or accomplished!) author -- self doubt, loneliness, writer’s block, disappointment, poverty, envy, obscurity. Too many barbarians at the gate! It’s enough to make a person ask, ‘is it worth it?’

    Of course, it could always be worse... you could want to be a poet.

    Sometimes we take comfort in the idea we’re not the only ones suffering for -- or because of -- a dream. That is, if you’ve contemplated giving up on writing, you’re not alone.

    Should you give up? Here's some company:

    Or should you keep going?

    “But the writing life can be such a lonely, solitary existence! How can I connect with others who feel the way I do, and feel like I’m not alone?”

    And even if you “make it,” and get your book published, it doesn’t mean you’ll be any more famous than before you got your work out there -- at least not during your lifetime! Can you handle that?:

    Check out these well-regarded titles you probably never heard of:

    And these works it would be laughable to call obscure:

    Local or community resources, for support, writing groups, education, and even workspace:

    Or maybe you just need to nurture your craft by getting away from your daily life long enough to think, use your imagination, to write -- to breathe! and maybe a requisite chore or two:

     -- by Kass

    Leonid Pasternak, from WikipediaDo you need an MFA? You’re a writer. You write stories. You have a novel brewing. You’ve published some poems in small magazines. Or you’ve sold an essay. Maybe you’ve self-published a chapbook, zine, pamphlet, or little book. Or an e-book! Maybe you write and write, and would like to do these things.
    Artists, including writers, might choose to pursue an Master of Fine Arts (MFA!) degree in order to become a professional in their field. It usually takes two or three years, and in many cases involves a substantial amount of money, which often means major student loans. An MFA in creative writing usually centers around a writer’s workshop, where students receive feedback on their work, and provide feedback on the work of their colleagues, under the guidance of a professor who is a published author. MFA students have mentorship, community, an ear to the publishing world, and perhaps most importantly, dedicated time and space to write. Funding and an opportunity to gain teaching experience by working as a teaching assistant are also sometimes part of the deal, but not always. 
    Do you need an MFA to be a writer? Well, you already are one, right? Debate rages on (well, perhaps rages isn’t the most accurate term - simmers? drags?) about whether it’s worthwhile for aspiring writers to pursue an MFA. Plenty of writers don’t bother.  
    Novelist Chad Harbach wrote an essay examining the social and literary consequences of a writing world (fiction, in particular), in which writers inhabit one of two systems: the world of MFA programs or the world of NYC publishing. This is published along with essays by contributors examining features of life from both sides in MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction.
    So, is an MFA right for you? If you think so, some guides to programs might be useful: the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) guide to programs, or the MFA Programs Database from Poets & Writers Magazine. In book form, there's also The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students.
    Perhaps an MFA program isn’t in the cards for you. Perhaps you might be be a better writer going under your own steam. Can’t you have mentorship, community and connections without the hefty price tag? Can’t you create your own reading lists and writing assignments, your own deadlines? Meet writer friends and share ideas and constructive criticism on your work? I’ll bet you can do these things. After all, you have the whole library at your fingertips!*
    Here’s a booklist for you: DIY Creative Writing MFA
    You might try working through an online Creative Writing course: there are quite a few free online courses offered by MIT OpenCourseWare! These cover different topics and genres, with courses about reading and writing poetry, reading and writing stories, writing the personal essay, genre writing, writing about race and border crossings… You can find these and other free (and for-fee) online courses on If you'd like some help finding a syllabus or other course materials that are a good fit for you and the work you'd like to do, please feel free to get in touch with us
    Especially if you want to do it yourself, local resources for writers are essential - they include classes, events, and writing groups. Here’s our post about some of them in the Portland area.  Also see our booklist of creative writing prompts and guides for ideas for creating your own assignments!
    Let's not forget that the whole point of an MFA program in Creative Writing is to do a huge amount of work in a focused, directed sort of way. MFA students read like crazy, from the masters to the innovators. They write like crazy, all the time, head down and pen moving (or, you know, keyboard clicking). They read one anothers' work and think intensely about how and why a great piece of writing works. They dig deep into the mysteries and ambiguities and theories of language and literature. Get to work! 
    *Sorry, shameless plug for library services. But seriously: everything you need to read is here, and plenty of resources for guidance about craft. We can help you borrow obscure poetry books via Interlibrary Loan, if necessary. We can connect you with suggestions for your reading list. We can even provide space for writing. If only we could help with the problem of time for writing.

    Will Cuppy'Just when you're beginning to think pretty well of people, you run across somebody who puts sugar on sliced tomatoes.' Will Cuppy is a master of the written word. Now, maybe your family doesn't put sugar on their sliced tomatoes. But if they do, like mine, then you understand the genius of this quote. 

    Never heard of Will Cuppy? Allow me to introduce you. An American humorist and journalist, Cuppy was best-known for his mock-scientific observations of nature. Born in 1884 in Indiana, Cuppy lived and wrote for many years in New York, before taking his own life in 1949. Writing funny but factual magazine articles was Cuppy's real talent. Many of Cuppy's articles for The New Yorker and other magazines were later collected as books, including How to Attract the Wombat, one of my personal favorites. I mean, who doesn't want to know how to swat a fly? This book will tell you just that, in an article in which Cuppy codifies the essentials of this simple activity in ten hilarious principles. These articles are not necessarily factual though they are equally not untrue. Cuppy writes short, darkly humorous articles, perfect for when one only has a few minutes to read, and needs a laugh. We also read them out loud in our house, and that is real hoot!

    Cuppy was reclusive and cultivated the image of a curmudgeon, but he had many friends in New York's literary circles. If you are a fan of writings from the golden age of humor (late 1920's-early 1950's), writers such as Robert Benchley, James Thurber, and S.J. Perelman, then I urge you to seek out Will Cuppy's works. Multnomah County Library owns several, and our friendly staff is always available to help you locate more Will Cuppy via Interlibrary Loan. Happy reading!




    A Room of One's Own by Virginia WoolfWhat do writers need? Virginia Woolf famously said that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (in the essay A Room of One’s Own), but of course that’s not all, and not for everyone (men, poets, playwrights…). Writers need time, and space to pursue their craft. Writers need support, which can take the form of opportunities to read aloud, or to hear other writers talking about writing, or a community of supportive critical readers.

    There are lots of organizations in the Portland area that offer resources for writers! Some are free, others are cheap (though not all). They involve various commitments of time. Here are some local organizations, roughly grouped  - but you’ll see that they are hard to categorize… 

    Writing groups, workshops, and classes

    The Attic Institute presents workshops, classes, and individual consultation about writing projects.

    Lewis and Clark Northwest Writing Institute offers classes for community members.

    The Mountain Writers Series presents monthly readings and writing workshops. The links section of their webpage connects to a huge number of other local organizations!

    The Multnomah Arts Center offers some wonderful literary arts classes.

    PDX Writers facilitates workshops and retreats.

    Portland State University has a few different graduate programs in writing.

    VoiceCatcher is a nonprofit connecting and empowering women writers in Portland.

    Write Around Portland offers free creative writing workshops in social service settings, and creates publication and reading opportunities for workshop participants.

    Membership organizations

    The Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) offers resources and workshops related to printing and book-making. They also have certificate programs in creative nonfiction/fiction, poetry, and comics/graphic novels.

    Oregon Poetry Association, Oregon’s oldest and largest literary organization, offers community, contests, and conferences.

    Oregon Writers Colony offers community, conferences and workshops, and the use of a beach house writing retreat!

    Rose City Romance Writers, the Portland, Oregon chapter of Romance Writers of America, educates, supports, and mentors published and unpublished romance writers.

    Willamette Writers hosts regular meetings for the exchange of ideas related to writing and craft.

    Reading series

    Literary Arts’ programs include Portland Arts and Lectures, Writers in the Schools, the Oregon Book Awards and Fellowships, and Delve Readers Seminars.

    LitHop PDX is an annual literary pub crawl featuring many readings at different venues.

    There are many different reading series in Portland! You could head out to hear writers read their work at the Mountain Writers series, the Spare Room series, the Loggernaut reading series, the Bad Blood poetry reading series, Burnt TongueIf Not for KidnapUnchaste ReadersSoft Show, or The Switch... you could catch a reading when the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (FWWA) Pacific Northwest Reading Series has a Portland event...  or you could see one of the many readings at Powell's BooksKBOO also maintains a list of regular readings in the Portland area.

    Conferences/Festivals/Big events

    Ooligan Press’s Write to Publish Conference aims to demystify the publishing industry for emerging writers.

    At the Portland Zine Symposium, zine and minicomic creators sell and trade their self-published creations.

    Wordstock is Portland’s biggest annual literary festival, featuring author readings, writing contests, workshops, exhibits and a book fair.

    Other stuff

    Oregon Authors is a great general resource for information about authors in Oregon! The site is a collaboration between Oregon Library Association and Oregon Center for the Book. It includes a great list of readers and writers groups in Oregon.

    Last but certainly not least, Multnomah County’s Central Library offers the Sterling Room for Writers, where writers can find a quiet work space in close proximity to all the resources the library has to offer. Interested writers must submit an application and be approved to gain access to the room.


    Portland has a new illustration and comics festival called Linework NW - it aims to highlight the dynamic energy of creators of comics, prints, graphic novels, and original art. The first-ever event took place on April 12, and we went in search of self-published minicomics and zines for the library’s zine collection. Portland’s Norse Hall was packed to the gills with art, comics, artists and appreciators. The atmosphere was super friendly and excited; I noticed a trend of folks getting their copies of zines signed with personalized illustrations. Of course, we found many wonderful things to add to the library’s zine collection! Here are a few of them:

    I Made This to Impress a Boy by Jeannette Langmead consists of lovely color comics about the author's life spanning several years during which she moves to Japan and back to the U.S., ends a relationship, and does some self-reflection.




    Mr Wolf #2 by Aron Nels Steinke is about an elementary school teacher in a charter school. In this volume, Mr. Wolf embarks on his second year of teaching.




    Cover image for Falling Rock National Park #1

    Falling Rock National Park by Josh Shalek is a series set in a National Park in the southwest. In volume 1, Ernesto the lizard introduces readers to Ranger Dee and various animal characters, then heads into the Uncanny Valley, where everything gets weird. We picked up #1, 2, and 3 at Linework!




    Cover image for Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever #4

    The most recent volume in the humorous series Henry & Glenn Forever and Everabout boyfriends Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig, includes an epic story about zombie mayhem, family relations, and the dark arts while guest starring Hall and Oates.



    Cover image for Abyss

    Abyss by Saman Bemel-Benrud is a moody comic about burritos, construction sites, and the Internet.




    Cover image for Cat People

    Cat People / Dog People by Hannah Blumenreich is a two-in-one zine - one side is Cat People, and you flip it over to read Dog People. It contains some true and not-so-true stories of famous people and their pets.




    Cover image for Never Forgets

    In Never Forgets by Yumi Sakugawa, a character recovers from facial reconstructive surgery, while her best friend and her parents have different reactions.




    Cover image for Comics for Change

    Each volume in the Comics for Changeseries celebrates a community organizer who is making Oregon a better place for everyone: Alex Brown, Polo Catalani, Walter Cole, Dan Handelman, Cheryl Johnson, Paul Knauls, Ibrahim Mubarak, Genny Nelson, Kathleen Saadat, and Wilbur Slockish. The series is written and illustrated by a collection of talented Portland comic writers and illustrators.


    Whenever I have to write something, whether it’s a research paper or an article, the first thing I do is keep track of my sources. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a really good fact, but not being able to remember where you found it!

    There’s two good online resources, called citation makers, that I use to help me. The great thing is, you can use them to keep track of your resources while you do your research, but they also help you format the citations, and generate your list of sources, or bibliography.

    Many students in Oregon use the OSLIS citation maker to generate citations. It allows you to chose between MLA and APA style guides. Be sure to read through all the instructions before you get started. You can’t save a list of citations here, so you’ll have to create your list all in one shot. 

    Easybib is a free service that offers you a lot more, and is good for high school and college students. You can save multiple bibliographies here, use their note taking system, generate a bibliography in Word, and generate citations for up to 59 formats of material, in MLA, APA or Chicago/Terabian style manuals. Watch the training video to learn more, and please contact a librarian if you need more help.

    Photo of Beverly Cleary from beverly cleary dot com

    One of the most popular and honored authors of all time, Beverly Cleary has won the Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw. Her books Ramona Quimby, Age 8 plus Ramona and Her Father have been named Newbery Honor Books.

    Beverly Cleary was born in McMinnville, Oregon, and, until she was old enough to attend school, lived on a farm in Yamhill, a town so small it had no library. Her mother arranged with the State Library to have books sent to Yamhill and acted as librarian in a lodge room upstairs over a bank. There Mrs. Cleary learned to love books. When the family moved to Portland, where Mrs. Cleary attended grammar school and high school, she soon found herself in the low reading circle, an experience that has given her sympathy for the problems of struggling readers. (1)

    Celebrate Oregon's beloved author and famous characters from her novels with the self-guided walking tour Walking With Ramona Description  & Map, published by The Library Foundation. The tour begins at the Hollywood Neighborhood Library, 4040 N.E. Tillamook Street, and continues through nearby neighborhoods, exploring the places where the events in her books "really happened." Visit the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden, a special gift to the City of Portland from Friends of Henry & Ramona. Cast in bronze by Portland artist Lee Hunt, the life-sized bronze statues of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Henry's dog Ribsy welcome young and old to Grant Park.

    Continue on through the park, scene of endless adventures: "He passed the playground where he heard the children's shouts and the clank and clang of the rings and swings. Henry didn't stop. He had work to do. He went to the edge of the park where there were no lights and turned on his flashlight. Sure enough, there in the grass under a bush was a night crawler. Henry nabbed it and put it into his jar."

    Sculpture of Henry;  photo by Beverly Stafford, Multnomah County LibraryRamona sculpture - photo by Beverly Stafford Multnomah County LibraryRidby the dog sculpture - photo by Beverly Stafford, Multnomah County Library

    We hope you enjoy this walking tour. Please be mindful of current residents as you pass by the homes where Beverly Cleary once lived.

    Beverly Cleary now resides in California but her influence is always local for us.

    Print: Walking With Ramona: 1. Description  2. Map    Copies available at the Hollywood Library


    1. D.E.A.R. : Drop Everything and Read
    2. City of Portland: Grant Park Sculpture Garden. Dedicated on October 13, 1995.
    3. The publication Walking With Ramona was made possible by gifts to The Library Foundation.


    Is writing by hand a lost art in this age of typing and tapping our words? For some of us who are old enough to have been taught proper handwriting in elementary school, but young enough to have been composing our written works on the computer for most of our writing lives, the state of our handwriting may have gone deeply downhill.  

    Does it matter? The importance of handwriting is a subject that’s certainly open to a variety of opinions. Portland’s influential handwriting teachers and authors Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay (creators of the Getty-Dubay italic handwriting method and authors of Write Now: The Complete Program for Better Handwriting) say that poor handwriting is like  “mumbling on the page.” In The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication, author Margaret Shepherd says that a handwritten note “says to the reader, ‘You matter to me, I thought of you…’” There’s certainly something to be said about the grace and character of handwritten words. You can read about the history of handwriting in Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, by Kitty Burns Florey, orThe Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting, by Philip Hensher.

    Indeed, there are resources for those of us who would like to improve our handwriting. Better Handwriting by Rosemary Sassoon is a brief, basic guide with practical tips. The aforementioned guide by Getty and Dubay has exercises for clear, legible italic writing. While you’re writing by hand, you might also enjoy making some fancy letters! Draw your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, and Make your Own by Tony Seddon, or Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design's Golden Age by Steven Heller might be fun. If you get really motivated, you could take a class at the Portland Society for Calligraphy.

    Handwriting, of course, is distinct to each of us. What does your handwriting say about you? If you’re interested in deciphering the meaning of the loops and slants, you might enjoy The Definitive Book of Handwriting Analysis: The Complete Guide to Interpreting Personalities, Detecting Forgeries, and Revealing Brain Activity through the Science of Graphology, by Marc J. Seifer. Or perhaps Your Handwriting Can Change your Life (by Vimala Rodgers)!


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