Sophfronia Scott, Author Writing, laughing, and loving

Ruminating on Grace

May 26, 2015 | Writing | Permalink

Ruminate Magazine Cover

Recently the editors of Ruminate Magazine asked me to be a contributor to its blog. Ruminate is a fine literary journal produced in Fort Collins, Colorado that publishes short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction, and visual art that resonate with the complexity and truth of the Christian faith. I’ve read and admired it for some time so I was thrilled when my essay, “Why I Must Dance Like Tony Manero,” was named a finalist for Ruminate‘s VanderMey Nonfiction Prize and published in Issue No. 33.

I’m excited to write for the blog as well because as my work progresses I’m noticing I have a lot of thoughts about faith and my spiritual journey that I’m sifting through on the page. Ruminate‘s request was a timely one. It’s nice to know this writing will have a home.

Here’s the link to the first essay, “The Definition of an Open Heart,” in which I ponder the meaning of grace. I hope you enjoy it.

Cheers,

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Talking Frat Boys, Books, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

March 19, 2015 | Loving Life | Permalink

That's Bruce Barber between me and Mark Oppenheimer, and Brian Slattery is on the right.

That’s Bruce Barber between me and Mark Oppenheimer, and Brian Slattery is on the right.

I recently had the pleasure of throwing in my two cents on cultural news of the week as a panelist for WNPR’s Colin McEnroe show. Mark Oppenheimer, a new friend and writer of a regular column in the New York Times, guest hosted the program from New Haven (it’s usually in Hartford) and invited me to join him. Hey, anytime I get to hang out with smart people and talk about the world, I’m all in. We covered those frat boys in Oklahoma (and the behavior of college students in general), and the marvelous new Netflix show created by Tina Fey, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which, surprisingly, I admire. Here’s the link to a recording so you can listen in. At the end you’ll hear me endorse new books by two Connecticut authors: The Listener, a novel by Rachel Basch, and The Politics of Promotion: How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead by Bonnie Marcus.

I’ve had a few people ask me about whether the show was rehearsed because, as you’ll hear, it runs quite smoothly. No “Um’s” or “Uh’s” to be found. But you can’t rehearse live radio. We knew the topics going in and that’s about it. You can’t really prepare exactly what to say beforehand because you have no idea how the conversation will flow. The best way for me to prepare is to know what I think about the topics so when I speak I can articulate a clear point of view. These were the 3 intentions I set for myself going into the studio:

1.) Be present and listen well so I can offer useful thoughts to the conversation.

2.) Support local women writers. (I knew I would have an opportunity to make endorsements.)

3.) Enjoy my time with my friends in the studio.

What difference would these intentions make? The first helps the host and the producers so they can do their job well of creating a good radio show. The second allows me to use this great opportunity to provide exposure for sister writers so more people can benefit from their excellent work. The third allows me to take care of myself and remember to have fun. I think I fulfilled all three intentions and I’m still buzzing with the good energy of having done so. I’m truly grateful. I’ll let you know when I have the chance to do the show again so you can tune in and even call in live.

Blessings and Best Wishes,

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Writing to Reach a Broader Audience

February 17, 2015 | Publishing, Writing | Permalink

If you’re on Twitter and a lover of books you’ve probably come across #LitChat, the popular discussion about books and their authors that takes place twice a week. Recently LitChat’s founder, Carolyn Burns Bass, asked me to be a guest host on the chat discussing what I feel are some of the important issues facing writers of color today. I wrote a blog post for her on the topic, “Writing to Reach a Broader Audience.” You can read it on the LitChat website by clicking here and then join us for the discussion on Wednesday, February 18, 4-5pm ET. Just follow the hashtag ‪#‎LitChat‬ on Twitter or use #LitChat’s dedicated Twitter feed channel at www.nurph.com/litchat. Feel free to chime in with comments and questions, I’d love to hear your thoughts. The excellent David Hicks, co-director of Regis University’s Mile-High MFA will be in the stream as well. I hope you can be there, I’m looking forward to it!

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Can Creative Writing Be Taught to You?

February 6, 2015 | Writing | Permalink

I allowed the little black arrow to hover over the big blue SEND button a moment or two longer before I finally clicked on it. I’d read my critique of the essay multiple times to ensure my points were clear and the overall tone was convivial and encouraging. I’d met the writer, a college student studying creative nonfiction, last summer and she recently reconnected with to me to ask if I would read an essay for her. Still, I hesitated to press down on the mouse. I knew my words would instigate one of two responses and I’m not casual about either of them. She would either “get it” and get to work, or she would run away aggrieved, crying indignant tears, and I would never hear from her again. It sounds melodramatic, to be sure, but trust me. One or the other does happen in some form—with guys too.

Some would say this is inevitable. Writers are sensitive souls and as such are more prone to take criticism personally and with great difficulty. True, many writers are emotionally engaged on a level beyond the normal populace, but I’m inclined to wonder—does a critique really have to hurt so much?

Regis University MFA
This is on my mind now as I join the faculty of Regis University’s Mile-High MFA, a new low-residency writing program based in Denver. Specifically, I’m pondering the question explored in the literary journal Boulevard in its Symposium, published in 2011, on “Can ‘Creative Writing’ Really Be Taught?” Obviously I think it can otherwise I wouldn’t be a teacher of writing, but I admit I also agree writing can’t be taught in the way we usually think about teaching—as a transfer of knowledge and skills. Here I’ll quote Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post albeit reluctantly—this is from a 2005 book review in which he trashes beyond belief Before We Get Started, an essay collection on writing by one of the best teachers I’ve ever worked with, Bret Lott. But this part, which has nothing really to do with Bret’s book, rang true for me:

“Yes, people who aspire to be writers are like people who aspire to anything else: They need help. Over the years some exceptionally good books have been written about the art and craft of fiction — I think in particular of Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners and Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings — but they deal with large issues rather than niggling details. They don’t say, implicitly or explicitly: Do as I advise and you can be just like me. They understand that serious writing done in the hopes of making literature is a mysterious process the precise nature of which is hidden within the individual writer’s heart and mind, and that this process cannot be transferred — least of all in a classroom or a writers’ colony — from one person to another.”

The key here is that process “hidden within the individual writer’s heart and mind.” This does exist, but I believe the problem is too many aspiring writers (and I mean beyond the undergraduate level) show up in the classroom with mounds of sensitivity and little or no awareness of his or her own process. Instead they look for someone to give it to them, which, really, can’t be done and sets them up for a bewildering experience. Which leads me to wonder: Are we asking the right question? Instead of having the MFA programs, workshops and writing conferences of the world work so hard to put forward a plausible response to “Can creative writing be taught?” perhaps more of the onus should be on the student to ask his or herself, “Can creative writing be taught to me?”

image by Chanell Marshall (4/17/10)

image by Chanell Marshall (4/17/10)

And this doesn’t mean you can sit through a critique without shedding a tear. This is about understanding your own creative process, and why you felt you needed to be in a room getting critiqued in the first place. Do you know your strengths and weaknesses as a writer? Are you in that place where you know you’ve taken the work as far as you can and now you need guidance to move beyond, to help you dare more on the page?

When you come to the classroom with all this in mind, you are ready to explore and what’s more, you’ll know when you’ve heard the critique that feels right because you know it will help. If you haven’t done any serious thinking about where you are with your writing, it will be like coming to the room with an empty heart and expecting your teacher to fill it. Of course such expectation would only lead to disappointment.

So what happened with the writer I mentioned above? She responded with excellent questions. For example, I’d pointed out how her essay had two narrative arcs, both disjointed and neither fulfilled for the reader. I also said if she wanted to, she could choose one and have the essay be only about that. She said she really wanted to keep both and asked me questions about structure and length that could help her accomplish it. I wrote back in full support of her choices and provided ideas to help her follow through. I also applauded her openness to allowing me into her process.

Everyone’s process is different. For many years I thought I wouldn’t get an MFA but there came a time when my writing and my life as an artist demanded this level of engagement. Perhaps I needed to come to this place where I was ready to learn. What about you? Where are you on this journey? Can creative writing be taught to you? If you ask the question and discover the answer is “Yes” then come find me at Regis. I would be honored to join you in your process, and eager to learn where you want to go with your writing.

Enjoy your work,

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Creativity Playdate: City Island, New York City

December 18, 2014 | Creativity Playdates | Permalink

This week: an unexpected creativity playdate. I drove a friend and her family to JFK International Airport and as we passed through the Bronx, I pointed out the signs to City Island, a tiny island neighborhood, 1.5 miles long, jutting out into the westernmost point of Long Island Sound. I said, “Have you ever been there? It’s really beautiful, like a New England fishing village hidden away in New York City.” On my way home when I came upon the signs again I realized I haven’t been to City Island in many years. When I lived in Manhattan I used to be a member of a cycling group that biked there on summer weekends. That’s why I knew of its beauty.

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City Island panorama

I also realized I had the rest of my morning free. So I took the City Island exit and spent an hour walking around and taking pictures. I’m glad I did. It felt like a snippet of summer vacation. I could smell the salt in the air and a bit of winter sun shone through enough to feel the warmth on my skin. I don’t know where, I don’t know when, but I know something of this experience will find its way into my writing. I’m glad I took the time. Here are some of the photos—I especially loved the homes with patches of beach in their backyards. I hope you enjoy the pics and that you’ll have many impromptu creativity playdates in the new year.

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