I’ve been working away on the novel this weekend, writing, but also organizing all the stuff I’ve accumulated over the past few years while I’ve been working on the manuscript off and on. There’s a good reason to work every day on a book until it’s done. Reacquainting yourself with the pieces of a big story, the lists and notes you’ve made, the hearts of those people you call characters, all that is time you could have been writing if you’d just stayed with it, stayed in your chair as Ron Carlson says. Do as I say—and Ron Carlson says—not as I do, if you can. Continue Reading »
This week I’m teaching at the Tennessee Young Writers Workshop at Austin Peay State University. TYWW is a program of Humanities Tennessee, the same organization that offers us the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville on the second weekend of October and Chapter 16–Tennessee’s excellent virtual center for the book. For more information on these programs, visit Humanities Tennessee’s website: www.humantiestennessee.org
This is a terrific workshop because all the young people who attend want to write. We don’t have the make them write. They are writing on their own volition, and not just in class. They write in the their free time. They write in groups with someone offering a prompt. They gather in clusters of like-mindedness and share their work for critique. They are thick-skinned (sometimes after a rite of passage for first-year participants) and they understand that their goal is to become a better writer every day, every time they pick up the pen, and that becoming a better write may require them to lower their standards and write badly before the good stuff can come. These young writers understand what it means to write toward their stories, to feel around in the dark for the things they need, the objects and gestures and lines of dialogue and the surprises their characters give them. The elements they find in the dark illuminate the story they are searching for or illuminate how a story they already know can be best told.
What struck me early this week is that these young writers wrestle with the same issues all writers wrestle with. Growing up or growing older doesn’t cure you of insecurity, a vocabulary curve, an unhealthy obsession with adverbs. Writing well is always work on some level, and it is work writers should embrace will all the enthusiasm of this crowd of young writers. They can learn a lot from writers who have achieved some success. But we can also learn a lot from them.
Go be enthusiastic about writing. Don’t fall victim to that stereotype of the tortured writer. Accept the joy of your obsession and go take joy in it, even if it sometimes brings you to tears.
One of my favorite exercises is to ask students to list as many one syllable words beginning with a particular letter of the alphabet as they can. Each of us has an active vocabulary (words that come easily to us in speech and in writing) and a passive vocabulary (words we know the meaning of but don’t use readily). As a writer you need as many words at your disposal as you can muster. This exercise helps remind the writer of words he or she knows but might not think of when writing a first draft. And many one-syllable words are good solid specific nouns and verbs. They work like bricks to build a strong image or sentence.
The next part of the exercise is to write a story with only one syllable words. Only proper nouns can be multi-syllabic. Try it. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish with only one-syllable words.
This week’s Scene Storm Word List comes from the letter C and all are one-syllable words:
I feel particularly fortunate and grateful today. But there are folks in the Nashville area who may not feel as fortunate at the moment. They are alive, but they have lost a substantial portion of their belongings and suffered extensive damage to their property. Some have lost loved ones. Nashville itself has lost some of its historical artifacts. While the city has patched itself back together for the short term, work is still ongoing for long-haul recovery. Continue Reading »
Change is always a shock at first. But change almost always brings opportunity. When we recognize that sizzle and spark of new energy, amazing things can happen.
Some of you know I’ve been on the Duke Writers Workshop faculty since the early 90s. I loved that workshop, it’s spirit, and the gifted teachers, students, and staff with whom I’ve had the good fortune to work. This year Duke University Contintuing Studies Program has decided to focus on professional certificate programs and cut it’s creative writing program. So there will not be a Duke Writers Workshop this fall. BUT NEVER FEAR! Our leader, long-time director Georgann Eubanks, has rallied and we are reinventing this workshop as TABLE ROCK WRITERS WORKSHOP, named for the striking geographical feature visible from Wildacres, the workshop’s retreat center home perched at the top of a mountain in the North Carolina highlands near Little Switzerland.
We’ll have the same great leadership, the same dynamic faculty, and lots of new energy sizzling around our new name and our rededication to making this workshop an outstanding week-long event that includes both nurture and challange for its participants. For more on this workshop, please read Georgann’s blog post at: http://tablerockwriters.wordpress.com/
That’s just one product of this new energy. We now have a blog!
Assignment: Look around for learning opportunities in the area of creative writing. Every writer needs to invest in his or her craft. Workshops are a great way for unpublished and published writers alike to push themselves to new levels of work. Do your reseaerch and come up with three writers workshops, festivals, or writing events that you’d like to participate in over the next two years. Then, make it happen.
As an award-winning poet, I never feel I know enough about poetry. I’m always trying to learn more, get a better purchase, push myself to new territory, try forms I’ve never tried before, or return to poetic forms to try again when success in that form has eluded me. I turn to other poets for their insights on poetry as well as the excellent modeling in their poems. Here are just three poets (in alphabetical order) whose commentary on poetry has directed my learning, spurred my deeper engagement with this genre, and urged me to consider poetry’s place in my work and in contemporary culture. Continue Reading »
Some readers and writers are intimidated by poetry or think they don’t like poetry because of the poems they were made to read in school. Metrical poetry can also be intimidating because of the time we spent in high school English class scanning the poems in our literature text books. While I love to read Shelley and Yeats and Blake and Dickenson and TS Elliot, I would hate to think my impression of poetry was limited to that experience.
My collection of poems, for instance, is in some ways a collection of teeny tiny stories. Yet many of those poems have a formal structure: sestina, pantoum, cinquain, tanka-senru-haiku combinations, and so on. I wanted to portray spoken language of a place and still use form. For me, in that book, if my form shows in the reading of a poem, it is like my slip is showing. Continue Reading »
For several days I have been listening to and singing theKyrieas performed by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, arranged by Father Guido Haazen. You may remember it from the end of the movie The Singing Nunstaring Sally Field. I’ve posted it on Facebook and Twitter. Kyrie eleison, a pre-Christian plea, is part of the Catholic Mass. Continue Reading »
Writers work in solitude. There’s no other way to get the writing done. But on occasion, a group activity is useful. Sometimes it’s a conference, sometimes it’s a seminar, sometimes it’s a workshop, sometimes it’s time away in a colony where the writer may work all day in quiet aloneness and share their new work with peers in the evening. If you want such a group experience this summer or fall, you better get on it. Do your research. And for some of these learning experiences, you need to prepare your manuscript submission ahead of time in order to get accepted based on your work, or get your work critiqued by the instructor. Look now, so you have plenty of time to get the full benefits of participation. Manuscript submissions are usually well in advance of the workshop.
Right now I’m resting between events. I can’t say as I’ve kept any resolutions today, but I’m having a fun time in Richmond! Tomorrow I’m going to practice eating oatmeal for breakfast at the complementary breakfast bar instead of sampling everything!
What great students and teachers I’m meeting at John Tyler Community College! Today I was at the Chester Campus and tomorrow I’ll be at the Midlothian Campus. The Literary Festival is part of “Minds Wide Open,” an art initiative to focus on mature women in the arts. That makes for some very rich arts programming! Let’s hearing for mature women!
It’s never too late and you’re never too old to pursue making art. In fact, make a plan to create some art this weekend, or at least resolve to live artfully this weekend. Let me know what you do to be artful.
Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance by Julia Cameron reminds me to do three basic things that I have always found useful as a writer. They are: Continue Reading »