Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Class Notes

Most weeks I send out class notes directly to workshop attendees. This week-- two birds with one stone and all that-- I'm going to post notes here at the blog. That way those of you considering signing up for the August workshop can get a feel for some of the topics we discuss.

To start off the meeting, I asked the group to talk about who, what, when, where, and why they read. And I was also really curious to hear HOW and HOW MUCH? I had a number of reasons for throwing these questions out-- I wanted to know if you buy into the notion (I certainly do) that to be a writer you must be a reader. I wanted to know if what you read reflects and influences what and how you write -- for me the answer is often yes as I devour memoirs (though I should note I also devour novels and I'm pretty much crap at fiction writing). As for the HOW and HOW MUCH questions-- these relate to the fact that in just the last twenty years our options have changed and increased considerably. There are theories about how reading short internet articles all the time (and hopping from link to link, and texting, and other "short burst" writing/reading) negatively affects our ability to do sustained reading. We also have access to audiobooks, e-books, Twitter novels, graphic novels... the list goes on.

In the bigger picture, these questions relate back to Session 1 when I asked you to really think about WHY you write? Dreams of fame and fortune? Revenge? Catharsis? A combination? Because you can't stop?

On a more pragmatic/business note, I read excerpts from a couple of articles relating to e-publishing. There's this one by Neal Pollack that recently ran in NYT Book Review. And here's one about how Susan Orlean is about to release what is known as a Kindle Single. Self-publishing is not the stigmatized hole of narcissism it once was (though there's still plenty of that) and e-publishing is rapidly coming up as a very legitimate (and far less expensive) way to publish your work.

I brought some show and tell-- an array of books to help you think more broadly about what a book can look like and topics you can cover. So, for example, I brought my copy of Beautiful Sheep, which I love, and which has very little text though the text that is included is super interesting.

I briefly touched on Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, which I just finished "audio-reading" after avoiding for a decade or so. (I wrote more on that topic over at my other blog.) The book, presented as a novel, is a stunning piece of work that reveals so much about war, Vietnam in particular. Beyond that, though, it is also a great writing guide-- O'Brien has a lot to say about how we present the truth, how and why we tell our stories. I can't recommend this highly enough.

We talked about Roseanne Barr's stunning recent piece in New York Magazine. I told you about how much I admire the obituary writer Douglas Martin (that link will take you to some of his work-- and yes, I really did send him fan mail).

And we talked about making TIME to write-- getting AWAY from all the distractions. This sent me down the tangent path and I told you about Secular Sabbath, a term I first encountered in a piece by Mark Bittman in NYT.

Here's the link I promised to share that one of you sent me, that addresses the question WHY some of us read-- it's certainly true in my case.

We also took time to share but, as you know, what happens in workshop stays in workshop, so I won't comment here about what was shared except to say, as usual, the writing was great and the feedback was also great and most welcome.

The writing prompt for the week, in honor of Tim O'Brien's book, is War Stories. I invited you to interpret that however you wish, whether it is referencing an actual war out there in The Big World, or a battle you have waged (or are waging) with yourself or others.

This coming Thursday is our final meeting for this session. Please let me know if you're interested in signing up for ongoing sessions starting in August (see the next post down). And please let your friends know about my next workshop for newcomers, also starting in August (also detailed below).

Thanks and see ya Thursday,

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