A year ago, I began volunteering at a retirement community teaching a memoir writing class to a handful of dedicated writers. I refer to these writers collectively as “my ladies,” because except for the occasional man who pops in now and then, the regulars are all women (above).
Most of them — perhaps all— have never undertaken a creative writing class before. But they show up each week, notebook in hand, and after I give them the writing prompt I’ve prepared, they turn to their notebooks uninhibited by the constraints of craft, and write away. I’ve yet to witness any signs of writer’s block. In the 30 minutes or so they have to write before we share, most of them fill several pages.
As we come down the home stretch of 2015, I have much to be thankful for. In September, I officially launched workshops for Fresh Pond Writers and a month later received my first acceptance for a short story.
That story, “Williams,” which imagines a future where Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams is awoken from his cryogenic sleep was inspired two years ago by an essay from the brilliant David Rakoff about cryonics. I’m not a big fan of baseball and didn’t know that Ted Williams had been put into cryogenic suspension until I read that essay.
More recently I wrote a story called White Bear, which was directly inspired by this poignant video by Rosanna Wan, “A Tale of a Sickly Whale.” There is also a song by Neko Case, This Tornado Loves You, that keeps working its way into my writing, though I’ve yet to figure out the narrative. It’s a work in progress.
I’m struck by how these pieces have touched me and inspired me to produce stories. I’m grateful for the art that has fed my own art and it makes me wonder if any specific piece of art has ever inspired you to craft a piece of writing.
Last night in workshop, we briefly discussed the idea of outlining a novel, especially after the first draft had been written. I’ve never written a novel before and much of what I’ve read about craft discourages outlines. But I think it’s important to stay open to methods that could potentially improve a story’s structure or plot. So the question for me lately is, Should I outline a story or not?
Thanks to all who showed up last Thursday night for Fresh Pond Writers‘ first networking event. McCabes on Mass turned out to be a pretty good spot. Good snacks, nice drinks and cozy atmosphere that wasn’t overcrowded or too loud. Some folks walked away with a couple of “new” literary journals and everyone who came submitted a writing tip in our TIP jar. Here are the submissions as promised:
Just $25 for a 10-week session with a handful of other writers. These sessions are for advanced writers and you have to apply first. But after that, it’s easy. Workshops start next week. Check us out. Fresh Pond Writers
Writing is a process. Not only the actual production of it, the sitting at the computer or legal pad and clawing down into unknown depths, but the living of it. The writer, like all writers, starts at the beginning. Here, there is only a small voice and little knowledge of the craft, save what she intuits from the books she reads, the classes she takes, her own work, which in the early days is terrible, just awful and stays that way for years, squeezing her heart of joy and her wringing her ego of self-esteem, until she believes she has failed, is a failure, must give up, and throw it all away, until … one day.
I love to read. It’s why I love to write. At the moment, I have piles of lit journals on my nightstand, collections of short stories and a couple of novels.
But I’ve discovered in the last few years that when focussing on my own writing, reading becomes a liability. Too much reading is bad for my art. I have the voice of the author in my head too often drowning out my own voice. Even after putting down the book, I have a difficult time getting that voice out of my head.
That’s one. A second reason to reduce my reading intake has to do with distraction.
I haven’t written a blog post in nearly a year. The reason? I have been writing.
Last September, I started a writing workshop via MeetUp in order to connect with local writers. Previous to that, I had been attending workshops through Grub Street and although I admire their programs, the cost is high. As a result of the workshop I started, I’ve met a bunch of extremely talented writers, but the best thing is that the workshops keep the fires burning. I’ve written more new stories in the last year — and also revised more manuscripts — than I ever have.
In this last year, I’ve grown exponentially as a writer. My prose is better but even more than that, I’ve come to a better understanding of who I am as a writer. I’ve been tapping into those deep, personal zones, the ones Robert Olen Butler calls “white-hot” places in From Where You Dream. The ones that scare you or feel difficult to broach. I’ve been working on staying there, unflinching. The idea speaks directly to what I wrote nearly a year ago in The Path Not Taken. That is, if you want to create honest-to-goodness art, you must slog through the mud. Actually, sit down in it. Dive.
So that’s where I’ve been. I’ll check in again.
Credit: Ruud Onos / Flickr, Creative Commons