Exercises to help your students find inspiration for their work.

In “The Art of Reading Andre Dubus” (Poets & Writers Magazine, page 21), Joshua Bodwell describes Dubus’s talent for creating female characters. According to Bodwell, Dubus had an “uncanny ability to create female characters that seem as though they were written by a woman.” As an experiment in writing across gender lines, draft a poem or a scene for a short story in the first-person voice of the opposite gender. Consider, as you’re developing the piece, how writing as the opposite gender brings new challenges, surprises, possibilities to your work.

Bodwell also writes about the joy of discovering new writers—among them, Andre Dubus—in “serendipitous” ways. In a journal entry, record your own discovery of a particular writer, identifying when and where you came across the person’s work and how the circumstances of the discovery may have impacted your response to the writing.

In “That Which You Manifest Is Before You” (page 49), a profile of the novelist Garth Stein, contributor Scott Driscoll recounts several of Stein’s journeys, including a 900-mile bicycle trip through Canada that Driscoll credits as empowering Stein with “the disregard for adversity that has helped [Stein] follow his writerly instincts.” Chronicle one of your own adventures, describing not only the challenges of the trip but how the trip may have impacted your larger journey as a writer.

In the profile of Stein, Driscoll also discusses Stein’s use of a dog as the narrator of his latest book. Similarly, in “Moving as Brightness Into Brightness” (page 42), a profile of Sarah Manguso, Mary Gannon notes that Manguso penned a book of poems “from the perspective of someone who had already died.” These are unusual and risky choices, and Stein acknowledges that his canine narrator was initially a problem for some agents and publishing houses. Try your own hand at creating an unconventional narrator and telling a brief story from that entity’s point of view. You might experiment with the voice of a dead person or animal, or that of a historical figure or computer-generated identity.

In “The Permanent Prince” (page 10), Sarah Weinman discusses the enduring influence of Shakespeare’s work on contemporary writers, noting that two recently published novels—The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski and Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger—use Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a “narrative template.” Take one of Shakespeare’s plots, or even one of his famous characters, and reimagine the original story in a more contemporary setting. Try creating a story or poem around Macbeth, for example, or Juliet Capulet of Romeo and Juliet.

Ethan Canin, as profiled by Kevin Nance in “From Vladivostok to Gibralter” (page 36), and Robert Boswell, in his essay “The Practice of Remaining in the Dark” (page 63), seem to differ in their approach to developing fictional characters. Canin describes his strategy in this way: “I try to teach my students, ‘Don’t write about a character. That never works. Be that character, and then write your own story.’” Boswell, on the other hand, suggests that writers who attempt to craft everything, know everything, about a character in the beginning may “find it difficult to let the character break out of the imaginative restraints imposed by his constructed biography.” In a journal entry, consider your own approach to character. Do you, as Canin advises, fully immerse yourself in the alter identity and attempt to establish everything about a character early on? Or are you more likely, as Boswell suggests, to leave certain aspects of the character undefined? What are your tricks and strategies for character development?

Professional Practice

In “The Art of Reading Andre Dubus” Bodwell describes Dubus’ practice of recording the drafts of his stories in order to better hear and refine them. Record one of your own poems or stories, listening carefully to the rhythms and language. Describe in writing the results of this experiment, making note of the surprises or discoveries along the way.

In “Agents & Editors” (page 27), Jofie Ferrari-Adler interviews veteran editor Janet Silver. When asked by Ferrari-Alder about “one thing” writers should know about dealing with agents, Silver responds with this advice: “[Writers] should ask a lot of questions.” Read over Silver’s mention of suggested questions, and make your own list of ten to twelve questions you would pose to a new agent.

Check out this issue’s “Deadlines” (page, 67) section. Target three listings for submissions, prepare your entries according to the guidelines for each, and send your entries.

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