Tag Archives: writing

Wrapping up the Story a Day challenge

I did it! Foblack raspberryr each day of May, I drafted a story every morning. This means I ended up with 31 rough drafts, more than enough to see me through a summer and fall of solid writing.

It wasn’t as easy as picking black raspberries, but I’m so glad I did it.  Most of the stories are still rough drafts but I now have at least 10 viable starts to longer pieces. And yes, looking back, there’s a little bit of “chaff” that may never see the light of day. Uh, what was I thinking?

So how did I do it? In the beginning, I leaned heavily on writing prompts from other sources. One of my more finished pieces is based on a mythological story–a love triangle resolved through clever debate (Thank you, Fred White, author of The Daily Reader.). Another one is based on a prompt from Story A Day, Write a Letter (Thank you, Julie Duffy).  I also pulled out a few latent ideas of my own that I’d been hoarding. Many ideas, however, seemed to just spawn themselves, a freaky synthesis of my own experience and writing mind, if that makes sense. One idea ended up yielding two separate stories!

Having worked on longer pieces for so long, I was a little out of the habit of generating new ideas. So I found the discipline of this effort extremely useful. As they say, we first make our habits, and then our habits make us. Not surprisingly, the more you write, the more ideas you get.

I also managed to make a little jam (strawberry and early peach). And yes, as another reward, I’ll  be treating myself to William Trevor’s collection of last stories very soon. And for now, I’ll be revising, revising, revising….

 

 

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Find the “Write” Tools to Heal!

Last week Johnpaul built a ramp for our beloved Buster, whose legs are too short to jump into the truck on his own. Guided by a treat at his nose—and the cheers of his brother Finn—Buster quickly mastered the “mountain” like a champ.

This little ramp is so much more than a slab of poplar. It symbolizes what it takes to recover from a traumatic experience that might be holding you back. With the buster“write” tools, and the support of loving friends, you too, can easily triumph over the obstacles of life.

Based on research by Dr. James Pennebaker, “Write to Heal” offers 21 different expressive writing tactics (or tools) in an upcoming 8-week class at the Pittsboro campus of Central Carolina Community College beginning Monday, March 5, 2018.  A pen and notebook is all you need for writing in timed sessions on assigned topics.  Most importantly, you do not share what you write, it’s for your eyes only.  Registration begins in December 2017.  Just search for CCCC Creative Writing Program and click on “View the Online Schedule.”

Accomplished writer and workshop leader Mary Barnard, certified in 2016, has led 3 sessions for cancer survivors at Waverly Hematology Oncology in Cary and one session at CCCC in Spring 2017.  You can make a positive difference in your health and well-being by giving “Write to Heal” a try!  One cancer survivor said she used to dread coming to the clinic, but now she smiles when she walks in the door.

As a reminder, on Saturday, March 3, 2018, I’ll be leading a separate, daylong workshop on Flash Fiction at the same location. We’ll also be providing the “write” tools to turn your experience and ideas into memorable short fiction pieces. Every participant will leave with finished writing and a “do-it-yourself” kit of inspiration for future works.

Hope to see you at one of these events, or both!

 

 

Where Do You Write?

desk

Melville wrote from a bedroom in his Arrowhead home in Pittsfield, MA.

Where do you write? It’s a question that emerges frequently among writers. Next to the imagination, our own personal space is often the most sacred thing we have.

And the answer varies tremendously. Like Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor wrote from a desk in her bedroom. And although the Mount included a sumptuous library, Edith Wharton wrote from bed, with her little dogs curled up at her feet!

The ultimate introvert, Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote standing up from a podium in front of a blank wall, eschewing the distractions of the outside world. And although Carl Sandburg’s family ceded a front room with an expansive window to him at Connemara, he, too, preferred a smaller interior room at a desk turned away from the window.

As for me, I have tried numerous locations, including a little study in the front of the house, surrounded by the books of my favorite authors. As you can see from the picture below, however, Huckleberry Finn quickly appropriated this space for his own watch tower. And in spite of his literary name, he and I have very different job descriptions.

finnatwindowdog/dôɡ/: a domesticated carnivorous mammal that typically has a long snout, an acute sense of smell, and a barking, howling, or whining voice. It is widely kept as a pet or for work or field sports, unless that work includes writing.

writer/rahy-ter: 1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist. 2) Unlike you are Edith Wharton, a writer’s work space rarely includes a dog.

The same barking and whining that makes our dogs so charming does often, regrettably, interfere with the reflection needed to write. In spite of this fact, many a writer owned a dog (Dickinson, Lord Byron, and Wharton, to name just a few) and these canine friends enrich our lives tremendously. But that is the subject of another post, I am sure.

As for me, I prefer to write at our kitchen table overlooking a north window. Being a bit of a literary hoarder, I find it useful to have plenty of space to spread out notes, reference books, index cards, and the like. I write primarily from my laptop, and I appreciate the occasional glance at the natural world, and the little dark-eyed junco skittering across the fall leaves.

From where I’m sitting, I can hear the comforting hum of the dishwasher or clothes dryer, which reminds me that the “other” work of the day is nearly done. And of course, because writing requires much brain power and therefore frequent sustenance, being close to the pantry is always a good thing.

In addition to having a semi-permanent writing space, I also carry a little notebook wherever I go so that I can scribble notes as the spirit moves me. I’m currently consolidating all of these notebooks, cards, etc., into one bigger notebook so that I can more easily draw connections among assorted scribblings.

What about you? Where do you write?

finn at my feet

Despite our different job descriptions, we always manage to end up in the same space, however.

 

 

Poetry Workshop Just Two Weeks Away!

If you could see my dining room table, you’d think I’m a hoarder. The primary function of such a table should be eating but for weeks now, it’s become a planning station for the upcoming workshop I’m leading on Saturday, March 14 at the Pittsboro campus of Central Carolina Community Collegebluebird-2: Jumpstart Your Poetic Imagination. Scraps of paper, dog-eared books, and notebooks cover the surface, and frankly, I’d be ashamed for you to see it. That’s why instead I’ve posted a picture of a male bluebird in flight against the snow, caught by my husband on Thursday.

In spite of the clutter, I certainly feel like a bird in flight. I’ve been having the time of my life! I’ve been selecting poems by others to inspire us, and I’ll be honest, I’ve had to make some tough decisions. But I think I’m done. All poems are contemporary in nature, and go back as far as Emily Dickinson and Ezra Pound but some were published as recently as 2014.

From sad to joyous to humorous, these poems cover the seemingly simple fabric of life–from eating fruit to reading the news to observing backyard birds. But as we’ll see, these experiences are merely the lens through which we experience life’s complexities–love, death, loneliness, and hope, just to name a few.

The exercises are what I’m working on now and it is my hope with these that participants will understand (or deepen) what I’ve come to know–how the act of reading and writing poetry can help you feel more connected to the outer world. We’ll focus on imagery, have fun with random phrases, and stoke our imagination by making up stories about ourselves. Most importantly, and this is my greatest hope, we’ll have FUN!

I’ll close with a quote. While I’m not familiar with the writer, her words are timeless and set the stage beautifully for our workshop:

“Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.” ~Catherine Drinker Bowen, Atlantic, December 1957

Looking forward to seeing you on Saturday, March 14.  If you’ve not signed up, whaaat? It’s okay, it’s not too late. You can easily register today online or by calling 919-545-8044, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. M – F.

One True Sentence

Ashley3Yesterday, I had the honor of leading a writing workshop for the mentees and mentors in an exciting employee development program known as “Believe and Achieve” at the N.C. Office of the State Controller. I did so at the request of my own lifelong mentor, Sherri Creech Johnson, who directs communications for that department. It felt like old times when I also reconnected with David McCoy, the State Controller and former Secretary at the Department of Transportation, where I used to work.

David and I are pictured here with Angela Barrett, program participant and winner of the Writer’s Tool Kit, which includes the famous writing and style guide written by William Shrunk and E.B. White, along with other necessary items such as pencils, post-it-notes, and a very big eraser!

100_3968The kit also includes a coffee mug embellished with the names of some of my favorite literary classics such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and 1984. (And of course, it also included some chocolate!)

Angela won the Writer’s Tool Kit in a random drawing but she was also a star participant at the workshop. As part of our writing exercise, in just 10 minutes, she and her partner somehow managed to compose an elegant first paragraph that stressed the who, what, when, where and why of a hypothetical office renovation! Hats off to Angela and all the outstanding folks who so graciously honored me with their time yesterday. I write for a living but it’s far more than a vocation for me, so it is always a delight to spend time talking with others who share my enthusiasm.

Our workshop was titled One True Sentence: Ten Tips for Writing Fearlessly. It’s based on a quote from Ernest Hemingway, who once wrote: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So we talked about the idea that if you start with one true sentence, you’d be surprised how quickly the next sentence will come…and then the next…and so forth. We also covered some very common grammar quandaries and the importance of organization and reading.

Not surprisingly, we spent some time discussing the intangibles involved in fearless writing. These included having confidence in yourself, finding a hero, and working with others to collaborate and revise. As I’ve often reflected, writing can be a solitary journey, but it doesn’t have to be! This point was reinforced by my delightful “reunion” with Sherri, David, and Julie Batchelor  (Deputy State Controller and yet another NCDOT alum).

I don’t have the opportunity to see Sherri as much as I’d like but it’s amazing how quickly we caught up. And even though she didn’t know that I would be mentioning E.B. White (that splendid essayist and the author of Charlotte’s Web), she closed the workshop with a quote from the same man that magically summed up the day. With these words, I’ll close too, hoping that any writing you do connects you with old friends and ends up making the world a better place.

“It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”– E.B. White

More Musings From Flannery on Writing…and Softball!

Lately, due in part to the amazing short story class I’m currently taking led by my friend and teacher Ruth Moose, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the responsibility of the writer. Is the writer supposed to merely entertain? Or is she supposed to teach the reader something as well?

The reason I’m pondering is because I’m in the middle of writing a short story about a middle-aged man who is the self-appointed captain of a city softball team.  Entertaining the reader is easy enough as humor abounds in the circumstances. But the teaching part is a little daunting because if true, it implies that the writer should have a little wisdom of her own to share. Shouldn’t entertaining be enough?

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve embarked on an independent study of Flannery O’Connor, one of my most favorite authors. She died at the too-young age of 39 which makes her musings on the subject of writing all too brief. However, those that exist are all the more poignant because of their paucity. So, when I need a little help, I turn to Mystery and Manners, a collection of prose cobbled from Flannery’s lectures and the like.

The book is chock-full of wisdom but today I’m drawn to this statement in an essay titled The Nature and Aim of Fiction.”If a writer is any good, what he makes will have its source in a realm much larger than that which his conscious mind can encompass and will always be a greater surprise to him than can ever be to his reader.”

What I take from this pithy sentence is that yes, the writer may start with an aim to entertain, but the story that emerges may end up instructing the writer. In the same essay she writes: “It’s well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene. For him, the bomb dropped on Hiroshoma affects life on the Oconee River, and there’s not anything he can do about it.”

As I ponder further, Flannery’s comments strike at the heart of what it is like to be writer. It explains a lot about why we do what we do. Sure, we wish to record our impressions of a softball-obsessed control freak, but we also long to write stories that give meaning to such impressions and in our own way, make sense of the world. This is why, as Flannery also concludes, that writing is so difficult to teach; it’s constantly evolving, even in the best of writers. It’s not easy work but the pay-off is every bit as rewarding as hitting that elusive grand slam!

 

Interview by Creativity Expert Michele Berger

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by new friend, creativity muse, and fellow writer Michele Berger on her blog, The Practice of Creativity. Her thought-provoking questions inspired me to think more deeply about the journey of writing. And her generous praise (although undeserved!) reinforced yet another joy of the writing life—the wonderful people you meet along the way.

I just hope she takes me up on my offer to make her crepes one day! For more, read For the Love of Crepes and Crime.

This week will be a busy but good one. Tomorrow, I’ll wake up early with a panel discussion on website creation at the N.C. Writers’ Network Fall Conference and on Thursday, I’ll speak to the High Country Writers at their monthly meeting.

Somehow, I hope to sneak in two more indulgences: Mystery and Manners, a book of essays by Flannery and the latest Southern Living, which features one of the best collections of Thanksgiving recipes I’ve ever seen. Food and books, what could be better than that?

Here’s to the weekend; hope yours is a good one!