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Keeping an Open Mind

Keeping an Open Mind

By Jen Parks, Bluegrass Writers Studio

“I’m not a poet.”

Add that to the long list of things that I swore I’d never do: work in an operating room, run a marathon, become a vegetarian, go back to school. The list goes on. You would think that at thirty-four years old, I would’ve figured it out by now: that karma has a way of reminding me to keep an open mind, and that the path I have directions for isn’t always the one I end up following. I'm a vegetarian marathoner who works in an operating room, and am currently working on my second Master's degree.

When I started at Bluegrass Writers Studio eight months ago, I wanted to learn how to write a novel. Not a short story. Not a non-fiction essay or a poem. Novels and that’s it. However, if there is one thing that I have learned over the years, it is that you get out of something what you put into it. I approached the poetry and creative non-fiction lectures at the winter residency with the philosophy that even though I had no real interest in focusing my creative writing efforts there, I would still probably come away with some nugget of advice that I could use to apply to fiction. And while I did find this expectation to be, for the most part, true, I was not prepared for what happened next.

For the first time at the residency, an optional yoga class – led by my workshop instructor, Julie Hensley – was offered. At the end of the class, we were encouraged to take a few minutes to write whatever came to mind. Both times that I attended, I wrote poetry. When I told her that I had written poems prior to starting the program, she encouraged me to take a poetry workshop at some point. I replied with an incredulous, “You can do that? Even if you’re not a poet?” She replied that I could. I learned then that Ms. Hensley herself teaches both poetry and fiction, and that many of my fellow classmates regularly cross genres.

While I’m are not required to take courses in a different genre, I cannot help but see the benefits. I have taken many of the things that I learned at the residency about non-fiction and poetry – with regard to compression, syntax, sound, and volta – and have applied them to plot, sentence structure, character, and point of view. They have become invaluable tools that I now use when revising a chapter of fiction or when preparing to read aloud a piece of flash fiction.

Since the winter residency, I have continued to write poetry in addition to fiction. I have been lucky enough to find a fellow classmate willing to read my poetry and kind enough to offer me encouragement, as well as tips and suggestions for improvement. At my core, I still prefer the novel form. But for now, I’ll keep the “I’m not” statements to myself, and keep my eyes and ears open.

Contact Information

Kristen Thompson

Published on April 09, 2014

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