You may have heard me quote my friend, novelist and memoirist Judy Goldman, when she talks about the most important question a writer can ask him or herself. It’s simple. “Did I write today?” Not how many pages, or how many words, Judy goes on to say, but just ask if you did it.
Well, I’m asking that questions every day. And just like eating whole foods and reading what’s going to make my writing better, I have to wake up with that goal firmly planted in my psyche, and I have to do my best to achieve it each day, even if some days I fail. Otherwise my muse will go find somebody else who doesn’t mind sitting at her keyboard typing or scribbling on her legal pad toward inspiration and eloquence. Continue Reading »
Hello everybody. If you weren’t in Harrogate, TN this weekend, at the Lincoln Memorial University Mountain Heritage Literary Festival, you missed a fine gathering. Listen to keynote musician Scott Miller sing “Appalachian Refugee,” which he sang for us on Friday night:
Here’s a scene storm word list from “Appalachian Refugee.”
Thank you to everyone who attended the festival this weekend and for making it such a success!
Well, the Gorilla is back and we’re dancing! My two weeks off turned into a much longer break. But the urge to blog is back, and just in time to talk about summer homeschooling for the fiction writer. Someone once said that a writer has homework every day of his (or her) life. So, how do you study? Who do you study?
This summer I’m going to study the short story. Even though I’m working on a novel, I believe the short story, like poetry, has a lot to teach the novelist about attention and compression as a formula for tension at the local level, the level of sentence and paragraph,the level of the very words you choose or don’t choose.
To explore this relationship of language and pressure, I’m going to reread and reread several story collections published not so very long ago and a couple that have been around a bit longer. I’ll read straight through some and dip down into others. The key is a regular diet of short intense stories I wish I’d written:
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 don’t know how to make a small pot of soup; my husband doesn’t know how to plant a small garden. While three 400-foot rows of beans means a lot of picking, and people are starting to run from us when they see us coming with sacks of yellow crooked-neck squash, all those beautiful vegetables will make for some good soup this winter.
What excess do you see in your life? What excesses do your characters have, either self-imposed or thrust upon them?
Assignment: Write a scene where a character’s excess comes into play.
Assignment: Write a poem about your excesses or the excess of someone you know.
Scene Storm Word List: Here are 10 verbs associated with gardening. Use the in a scene or poem that has absolutely nothing to do with gardening.
I’m delighted to send the Scene Storm Word List to you from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, TN. While I don’t officially become Writer-In-Residence until July 1, I’m here at the festival teaching a fiction workshop and pitching in any way I can, learning the ropes from the co-director side of the fence. I’ve seen how smoothly things go from the attendee/faculty side of things, now I know about all that work the staff does to make that smooth ride for the rest of us! Somehow I suspected as much. Continue Reading »
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 »
I’m busy at work today cleaning and sorting and trying not to lose any ground with my anti-clutter campaign, which I began at the first of the year. I’ve just gone through the house dusting and tossing and putting things in their proper place. I’m referring here to areas I’ve already purged several times. I still have not cleaned off the top of the refrigerator or the upright freezer. I’m short. The tops of those appliances don’t bother me–if I don’t think about them or don’t need something that’s artfully stacked on top of them. After writing this post I’ll enter into the Twilght Zone, a.k.a my office, and see what’s hiding in there.
Sorting and purging can uncover things you love that you’ve forgotten about—out of sight, out of mind. The act of sorting and purging can also inspire. Ideas may begin to germinate as you find notes and articles you’ve forgotten about, books covered with dust. Maybe you made notes on a good idea and they are buried in the hurry and rush of everyday living and stacking, or maybe notes were tucked into the pages of a book you were reading at the time. Sometimes our best future emerges out of our rediscovered past. Continue Reading »
Dancing with the Gorilla is on hiatus this week because I’m spending the next few days with my three lovely granddaughters. Not to leave readers high and dry with not scene storm word list, here is this weeks list a few days early, taken from my memory of some of my favorite children’s books. See you next week!
Today’s Five and Ten list comes from one of my favorite poets and a great friend, Michael Chitwood. Raised in Patrick County, Virginia, we hail from close the same stomping grounds, and met when we both lived in Chapel Hill, NC, where he and his family still reside. Chitwood received his BA from Emory and Henry and an MFA from University of Virginia, and claims George Wright as a major influence.
When I read Chitwood’s poetry, I hear the familiar sound, the intelligence, and the music of rural Virginia. Like novelist Larry Brown, Chitwood doesn’t not trade on stereotypes, but writes with respect about the lives of the working class. More recently his work has been more personal, as in my favorite of his collections, From Whence (LSU, 2007). His other collections include: Salt Works (1992), Whet (1995), The Weave Room (1998), Gospel Road Going (2002), and Spill (2007). He also has written two collections of essays: Hitting Below the Bible Belt (1998) and Finishing Touches (2006) Continue Reading »