Last week I spent my time in Provincetown, Ma., at the Fine Arts Work Center. I was there to attend a workshop taught by Pam Houston. But I think I was also there to see what it was like to get away and write. I’m considering applying to some residencies and I thought my time in PTown would be a good test to see if I was productive or if I would go crazy. Fortunately it was the former. Continue reading
I’m learning a ton from Pam Houston here in Provincetown at the Fine Arts Work Center workshops. One of the most important things is how adopting a form or structure for your writing can set it free. Let me give you an example. In Pam’s latest book, Contents May Have Shifted, she decided to write 144 chapters, each of them taking place in some location around the world. She is a big traveler and constantly collects and writes about moments that resonate with her. She calls these moments “glimmers.” As soon as she decided (and it was a process much more involved than what I’m describing here) to write the 144 chapters, she felt relief because she knew where she was going. She also decided that twelve of those chapters had to take place on a plane. There were other “rules” she imposed on the writing to give it form, but that gives you an example.
I arrived in Provincetown yesterday by ferry to attend a one-week fiction workshop with Pam Houston at the Fine Arts Work Center. We had orientation last night and a brief meeting with our workshop group, which is wonderfully small. She asked us to introduce ourselves, talk about a piece of writing we thought was success, give her one word that described our writing and tell her a song that we wouldn’t mind being stuck on a desert island with. Continue reading
I read this post from a friend of mine and was reminded of something John Cheever wrote in the forward to his collection of stories. He said, “My favorite stories are those that were written in less than a week and that were often composed aloud.”
At about the same time that a read that post, a poet friend of mine suggested reading my sentences aloud while composing. I’ve found that the technique works best when it comes time to hone and shape a sentence, not necessarily in the first draft. For me, the first ugly draft is about getting the ideas on the page as best I can. But at some point, I’m interested in crafting beautiful sentences that contain just the right words. That’s when it makes sense to start reading them aloud. Try it and let me know if it works for you.
Related Post: Sentences Are the Pack Mules of Literature
Photo: Wonderlane / Flickr Creative Commons
I’m a spare writer. I tend to write in scenes, moving the character forward through the action. But that kind of writing can go flat pretty quickly because I move too quickly past the details. Recently, I’ve come to love and admire Steven Milhauser’s writing. He has a gift for detail. In his short story, “The Room in the Attic,” I felt awe with his ability to capture the big and small of the world around his characters. Here’s just a snippet of the narrator, a high school boy, arriving at a house of one of his new friends. Continue reading
Lately, writing has gotten annoying. I’ve been thinking about craft so much and covering it in blog posts that when it comes to write, I feel stuck. I feel like I’m playing golf. There are so many techniques to learn and apply when it comes to the game. There’s a way to hold the club, to stand, to swing, to putt. One must know which club to use, which way the wind is blowing, how the ground slopes. Keep your eye on the ball, keep your shoulders aligned, keep your left arm straight, keep your hips squared. Argh! How can anyone make par keeping all of those details in mind?
I’m always so impressed with writers who construct amazing sentences comprised of exactly the right words. I try to do this with my own writing, but know it’s a talent that needs much developed. I recently asked my writing friend Kim Davis, who writes beautiful poetry, for advice on polishing my word-choice skills. She had some simple advice.
I love libraries. If you’re a writer, no doubt you do, too. So it’s wonderful to see that these buildings still exist — especially in the age of digital books — and winning awards for their architectural design. The Castro Leal Library in Mexico City is one such place. It recently won first prize in the institutional category in the 2012 Mexican Association of Interior Designers’ AMDI Awards. Simple strips of LED lights mounted on each bookshelf create a ethereal glow. What a beautiful place. For more images see the gallery here.