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Ten Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

January 17, 2017


Thinking too much about writer’s block often keeps a writer stuck rather than help them engage their mind in different ways. If you’re stuck, use your so-called “paralysis” as an opportunity to try something new. These are not “tricks.” Writing is work, and the only way to write is to write. Rather, these are ways to approach your writing from a new lens so that you can look at your writing as transitioning rather than being “stuck.”


  1. Address the blank page with Dear: ____________. Pick someone you’d like to address your writing to. Having an audience in mind helps when you are struggling to find your voice on the page.
  2. Find ten books. Write down the first sentence from every book. Pick the one that compels you most and begin writing from there.
  3. Take an old piece of writing and change the point of view.
  4. Write about a room that feels meaningful to you, whether real or imagined. Be sure to include all five senses when describing this room.
  5. Write about two characters who know each other well. Have them be doing something like moving a couch or some other task that requires a group effort. While they are moving this object, focus the conversation on something different.
  6. Write a list of five songs that conjure a particular memory from a time in your life and write about that memory.
  7. Write in your journal by hand. Don’t stop to change or erase anything.
  8. Go to a coffee shop or to a park bench and try to eavesdrop on a conversation. Once you hear something that interests or compels you, explore it on the page.
  9. Write down a list of ten titles for a essays or stories. Try working backwards to see if any of these titles provoke ideas for scenes.
  10. Find a photograph. Describe it on the page using strictly observation.

Kate Wisel, Assistant Editor



The Essay and the Critic

December 15, 2016

book-reviewUnlike our friends in fiction and poetry, nonfiction can feel a bit diffuse in the publishing world at times. There aren’t many presses dedicated to our genre, and those that do publish us tend to scatter us among other genres, or by subject (rare is the bookstore, for instance, that might shelve Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me in the same section). Essays and memoirs and cultural criticism, biographies and nature writing—nonfiction tends to spill into new places.

That’s one of several reasons good criticism of nonfiction is so vital. Serious readers of the genre need a way to place ourselves in context, both contemporary and historical, and to think of our work alongside writers engaged in similar pursuits. It’s not that reviews of nonfiction books are rare. Rather, it’s that a book of poetry or fiction might be reviewed by its literary merits, treated as art with its craft carefully studied. Reviews of nonfiction, in contrast, are likely to summarize topic while giving scant (if any) attention to literary qualities, or the philosophical questions of self, society, and world that often seem most urgent to writers.

Within the academy and within the publishing world at large, nonfiction is at a peculiar point in its long history. It’s being defined and reified, reconceived and undone, by every writer laying claim to “essay,” to “memoir.” Its movement into the future is in fact, a plurality of movements, each along unique vectors of truth, of the political, of form. Might the genre go the way of fiction and poetry, tied to Euro-American conventions, to the histories of the already canonized? Might it stretch to further flexibility, insistent of its own capaciousness, its line breaks, and hybridized roots? The best way to guess the course of our genre’s future is to pay careful attention to its present. It’s here and now. To look not only at who is publishing what but further, at what one writer thinks of another.    

And then, of course, there’s the simple fact that criticism is itself nonfiction. That a review, at its best, is an essay.

For these reasons, we’re amping up our reviews coverage at Punctuate. In coming months, look to our website for recent and forthcoming books of interesting nonfiction from small presses and larger publishers alike. We’re eager to nurture something like a home for the serious reader of nonfiction who wants to know what and who to read next. If you’re an author or publisher, we’d love to know what’s coming down the line from you as well—just email our Reviews Editor to get more information.

It’s good that nonfiction spills over. It’s good that our genre is capacious, contradictory, and always growing. Now let’s celebrate it by paying attention to where it might go next.

T Clutch Fleischmann, Reviews Editor


Dispatch from NOLA Downtown Music & Arts Festival

September 26, 2016

New Orleans’s Warehouse and Central Business District are the hottest spots for summer celebratory events, including the NOLA Downtown Music and Arts Festival, which celebrated its twenty-third year his August. This end of the summer cultural, musical, and artistic event is presented by the Cutting Edge C.E. Conference and the Music Business Institute (MBI), whose goal is to spread and broaden career opportunities to local musicians in the city. Artists and visitors flood the District from the World War II Museum, to the Contemporary Arts Center, and the Ogden Museum, as well as the historic hotels, famous street corners, and the oh so popular Saenger Theatre. These a locations are common destinations for everyone from business professionals to the everyday art lover. The event allows for musicians, artists, and the public to mingle in the most relaxed atmospheres.

Along with new artists, there were some fan favorites at this festival. One of the most talked about acts was the “Ain’t no party like a Chubby party!” featuring Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band. This band’s high energetic swamp funky zydeco sound blended enthusiastically with its ‘70s funk, rock and roll, blues, and that good-ole-school zydeco spice. Their music made even the shyest visitors move their feet. Another act fans couldn’t get enough of was the sultry sound of the illustrious Stephanie Jordan, who set a new jazz standard with her great set of pipes. Her performance included songs from Big Band Era with her own mix and style that highlighted her distinct and refreshing voice along with her beautiful poise. Another band, the electrifying Brass-A Hoil Gogo Brass Funk band, blended funk rhythm and blues and party Hip Hop to make everyone get on their feet and dance. Other favorite acts included Fire Bug, Grand Baton, Neckbone, Saul Paul, Gospel Soul Children, Davis Rogan, and the Black Market Butchers.

The festival would not have been complete without the other attractions, like food trucks, live films, shopping, and other unique presentations. Particularly, what draws people to the streets are the arts and craft vendors, selling everything from metal, wood, soaps, jewelry, leather, glass, beauty products, photography, ceramics, sculptures, paintings, handmade clothing, and accessories. The New Orleans Downtown Music and Arts Festival stretches from Andrew Higgins Drive and Diamond Street to Fulton Street and is a one of kind event that brings visitors from all around the world.

Tyrell Collins, Assistant Managing Editor



July 1, 2016


About three years ago, I began writing creative nonfiction, and in the first year, I wrote furiously. It seemed that each new essay achieved success in a new area that my previous essay had failed. I can remember the elation that welled inside of me. I’m really doing it I thought, I’m really a writer. Looking back on that work now, some of it is okay, much of it frivolous, and a few essays have good starts and simply require the revision and deference that almost two full years of grad school have taught me. However, one essay stands out in particular.

Amongst my files, there are actually several drafts of this one particular work, which is somewhat of a rarity of my fledgling writings. I would mostly write one draft and then edit it, make a few revisions, overwrite the file, and move on — this was enough to receive a higher grade on the revision in my workshops in undergrad. My final class in creative nonfiction really instilled in me what it meant to revise — that is, to re­write.

I’ve avoided admitting to the title of this initial accomplishment of mine that I’m particularly fond of. Even as I type it now, it makes me grimace; “Chopping Down the Dating Tree: Tiiiiiiinder!” Whatever could I have been thinking? Continue Reading


On My Own Writing

July 1, 2016


nichols-lake-photoAbout four weeks into my first semester of college, I decided to write about the issue most pressing in my mind: overwhelming homesickness. It wasn’t a conscious obsession in the way that everything else I’d ever written about was; I didn’t choose to focus every hour of every day either reacting to my transition or analyzing every detail of it. It was the first time in my life that I was going through something that caused such a devastating sense of loss I couldn’t escape from. The worst I had gone through so far was a really horrible breakup in high school, and I was all too aware of my fortunate life. I had never dealt with family issues or the deaths of anyone really close to me.

I felt ashamed to tell people that the reason I struggled to participate in class the first few weeks was because I was trying not to cry due to the fact that I was in Chicago instead of my small hometown in central Michigan, the place where my family, friends, and significant other were. It was a bizarre and surreal time, one that a lot of people, myself included, found hard to understand.

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Literary Autophobia

March 30, 2016

ms blog picRecently, a man I’ve been seeing told me that he hasn’t mentioned me to his therapist.

“Things are going well,” he told me. “There’s nothing to say when the feelings are good. It’s the problems that need talking about.”

And I know exactly what he meant, because this perfectly encompasses the dilemma I have with writing. When I am happy, when things in my life are going well, I don’t feel the need to express that happiness to myself. I can just feel it, and enjoy it. It’s when things are not going well that thoughts pile up, waiting to be spilled onto a page. But even then, my expression usually forms itself as fiction. I shy away from any personal writing more cohesive than some melodramatic repetitive complaints scrawled across the back pages of a notebook.

For me, editing is far preferable to writing and comes much more naturally. I enjoy editing creative nonfiction more than other genres. I love to soak up people’s stories; whether or not they end up being deemed suitable for publication, I usually find something beautiful in the honesty of personal narratives, real voices, something meaningful in the little glimpses into people’s lives. I think to myself, “Everyone’s life is made up of stories, and at least one of those stories is worth telling.”

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On Cooking and Writing

February 10, 2016

GerardimageI don’t cook. Not because I can’t, but because I believe there are so many people who are so much better at cooking than I am, that I’d rather pay them to create a meal for me, than muck around in the kitchen on the off-chance that I might create something half as good as a “real” cook.

I find I often don’t write for the same reason that I don’t cook. I love to read and after reading so many fantastic books by so many “real” writers I wonder, “why even bother writing when so many others do it so much better than I ever could?”

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