Awesome writing circle

Magic happens when people write together and then read what they’ve written. I know it sounds corny but it’s true. Take the raw materials from your life, weave a story, and experience the alchemy.

In last night’s MeetUp group at Rutgers Church, seven of us gathered and each had about ten minutes to read what we’d written. Then we briefly talked about the craft of writing. We went around the circle and read. We laughed and we cried. Just hearing our work out loud changes what we’ve written.

Sometimes a group can gather, as I’ve done too at a Wednesday writing group at the Interchurch Center. We each start with a blank paper and pen. And creative prompts are shared — inspired from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, or Dan Wakefield’s The Story of Your Life. This last book is the one I used at the International Women’s Writing Guild this summer.

me and mom
Here’s me and my mom at the summer conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild.

The creative prompts we wrote from then were:

  • I felt safe when…
  • My mentor or hero was…
  • My first job was…
  • I was really angry with…

Because this is the season of Thanksgiving, it’s always awesome to write about:

  • When I felt grateful, I…
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Writing at the Unconference

Today was the unconference #IndieCon at New Work City, my coworking space. When I got there, I learned that at an unconference, participants just sign up for the workshop they want to teach. On Thursday night, I had taught Blogging Basics so one of my coworkers suggested I offer a taste of that workshop in one of 30 minute sessions this afternoon.

I did. I had a wonderful group. I gave the bloggers seven minutes to write (then added two more). I offered “hungry for more,” as one of the creative writing prompts to pump the well and get the words flowing. So, in less than 10 minutes, this is what I came up with.

***

I’m hungry for more. I am looking to learn more, I’m grateful for the business I have, leading the workshops I lead, but I want to lead a writing workshop in the Amalfi coast, in a Paris cafe, or on a Guatamalan mountaintop.

I have a bad case of wanderlust.

At my Dangerous Writing workshop with the IWWG (International Women’s Writing Guild) last month, several of the participants had traveled to Natalie Goldberg’s workshop in Italy. One participant said I was a better teacher than Natalie, which blew me away. (Yes, I’m a competitive creative writing teacher!)

And, my student added, she would take an international writing excursion with me, because, besides being a good teacher, I would let her and her friends drink when we traveled together to the castle in Italy.

“Of course, I would let you drink,” I said. Curious about the most famous creative writing teacher’s motivation, I asked, “Why wouldn’t Natalie let you drink?”

“Because then we might become friends,” another of my students who had been on Natalie’s writing workshop chimed in.

Maybe Natalie wanted clear-headed writers. I understand. I know Cheever wrote his best stuff when he sobered up. And I know that the myth of the alcoholic writer is simply a myth, but still, on a writing retreat to Italy, I think we can imbibe.

I love the word ‘imbibe.’ It is such a buttoned-up word and yet the act of drinking is buttoned down.

I am hungry to button down.

I am hungry. Or maybe I am thirsty to imbibe.

***

Here are two photos from my day today. This first is from my early morning birding with Charles Chessler in Central Park. And the last is from my bike ride home from the Unconference along the Hudson River path.

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What my IWWG (International Women’s Writing Guild) workshop means to me

I just got great news. I’m going to be teaching at the International Women’s Writing Guild summer conference at Drew University. I’m going to lead a workshop on Dangerous Writing: Your Spiritual Autobiography from August 8 to 12. Yup, we’re taking our writing to the edge.

When I was 28, I wanted desperately to attend the guild summer conference, then held at Skidmore College, but my ex and I were flat broke. We were living in Inwood. He was unemployed. I was a temp. I was literally so sad that I couldn’t afford a week of writing that I lay in an empty bath tub, fully dressed and cried.

The next year I still couldn’t rub two nickels together, but by then, I was separated from my ex and willing to take risks to pursue my passion for writing.

I threw myself at the mercy of Hannelore Hahn, the founder of the guild, asking her for a scholarship and promising her that someday, as a scholarship recipient myself, I would give a scholarship to a deserving young woman writer like myself.

She agreed. For partial tuition, I happily worked the registration table.

That was, a-hem, more than 20 years ago. Off and on over the years, I’ve been able to attend the summer conference. I’m not quite yet able to give a scholarship, but I am able to give a heckuva workshop. Check back with me in 20 years.

Life’s funny, right?

Attending the guild summer workshop as an instructor is worth the wait. I’m just happy this year to be a part of it and not crying alone in the tub. (I hope!)

Check out the announcement about this summer’s conference (and register before May 15 for the lower rate.)

tulips
today’s tulips are amazing!

the path less taken

When we thought up the idea for Writers Boot Camp.

We came up with the business only a few months ago and already we’ve hosted a few workshops and a writing weekend.

meandering

We took the noncomformist path.

Kelly and I started our business, Boot Camp For Writers because I went off track.

I was in Portland with my work for United Methodist Women. I was early to my meeting. I rented a car and drove to visit another friend named Kelly in Eugene.

Since I was early I could meander. (Note to self: be early!). On the side of the highway, I spotted a sign that said Old West Museum in Brownsville. I took that country road.

I knew it was sort of crazy to leave the direct path laid out for me by the GPS. But I thought, “Heck, I’m so rarely someone who can meander.” Besides, I was in a great western state where, almost two hundred years ago, people traveled the Oregon Trail.

A detour in Oregon.

The museum was closed but I snapped a couple of pictures, posting them to Twitter and Instagram. Kelly @kellythewriter1 replied back, “Brownsville! You are in the boonies.”

I vaguely knew Kelly as a writer. I looked up her writing. I saw a section of her amazing memoir, The Trial.

We exchanged some Twitter messages and agreed to meet a few days later in Portland to talk about writing.

After my day at Powell’s bookstore, we met in a hip neighborhood, the Southeast part of Portland. (Isn’t it all hip?).

We sat at a cafe then walked around.

Kelly asked me if I remembered how I knew her, “Um, no,” I admitted.

“We were at the IWGG weekend together last year,” Kelly said. Kelly always gets the acronym wrong and that cracks me up.

“Oh, right!” I laughed. “The International Women’s Writing Guild.” (the IWWG!) We’d met at their fall workshop and luncheon at the National Arts Club.

Kelly and I gossiped about the changes that the guild was going through.

We agreed it would be fun to start our own writing guild. We’d gear it towards helping writers get published. We’d help writers get serious about and value their work. And we are!

Although our writing workshops are intended to get writers focused, our business started because, less than four months ago, I intentionally lost my way. I took the path less traveled. And by posting the story of my journey on social media (and here on my blog), I am finding my way.

Getting the most out of writing conferences

Gill and Coudal at the National Arts Club

Yesterday I was studying memoir with the International Women’s Writing Guild at the National Arts Club. It was a great group of women in New York’s most beautiful brownstone.

This morning I was journaling about how much I love writing conferences and being in community with other writers. I also love Twitter chats around the hashtags #blogchat and #wjchat (web journalist).

Writing is a solitary endeavor so communing with other writers online or in person inspires and energizes me. I fill my soul with other writers’ stories and feel less lonely and more courageous when I return to my writer’s desk to write my own story.

Here is advice on attending writing conferences:

  • Sit in the front, pay attention
  • When a volunteer is called for, raise your hand
  • When a question is called for, have one ready
  • Make one friend
  • Tweet one quote from the speaker
  • Tell someone about your big secret project
  • Share the struggle, share the joy — be honest

I mostly took my own advice:

  • I sat in the back, but I paid attention
  • When a volunteer was called for, I read something funny about marriage and work being overrated (got some nice laughs)
  • I made a friend who is heading to Abu Dhabi to report from a falconer conference
  • I tweeted, “Writers make the invisible visible” -Eunice Scarfe #iwwg
  • I told Judith Glynn about my secret project
I love IWWG women’s writing workshops because, beyond the juicy substantive information, i.e., Eunice shared a ton of unknown delicious memoirs, there is always depth, laughter and understanding among women writers.

The International Women’s Writing Guild is a fabulous group that has empowered me as a writer, by giving me mentors and a sense of belonging.

Reversals

In Poetics, Aristotle said — yes, I’m smart like that, quoting Aristotle — we move from ignorance to knowledge, from enmity to friendship, from neutrality to commitment.

Lynne Barrett taught this juicy class on plot at the International Women’s Writing Guild this week at Yale.

In stories, she said, everyone has to have a piece of the puzzle. No one character can hold the whole story.

Lynne gave us the timeline from the movie, Casablanca (which I’ve never seen) in which Bogart’s character moves from nonchalance to commitment.

The flashbacks in the story move the story forward. People don’t just ruminate on their past for no reason. The lover’s past (in Paris!) sparks an understanding that propels them to take action.

In all narratives, a reversal is necessary. Cinderella goes from low status to high status. I always taught this in my drama classes, that this is what makes for comedy — a high-status character becomes low-status — or visa versa.

This is why Lynne said the story of Spitzer is a better plot than the story of Schwarzenegger. He fell from the top, not when he’d left office.

But the reversal is not just “who’s up and who’s down.” A secret become public. A single person becomes married.

This class nudged me to reconsider the lame plot in my young adult novel from last year’s NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month).

When I mentioned to Lynne, I had a novel, written in one month, she said, “Yes, Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, wrote the book. No Plot, No Problem. No plot? Big problem!”

Incidentally, Barrett taught with my friend Dan Wakefield at Florida International University.

Book Proposal Questions

Melissa Rosati ended her workshop with these questions:

  • Is a book really the right first product for me? I love books. I have already blogged. So, yes.
  • What do I want the book to do for me? Make me a ton of money, earn me some street cred, get my distinct voice out there in the marketplace of ideas.
  • What is the relationship you want with your target audience? To empower people to share their ideas through writing. To inspire writing that leads to personal transformation. But, hmmmm, in terms of relationship, that’s a tough one. I don’t know. How committed does an author have to be to her readers? I’ll answer their emails, comment on their updates, teach workshops, attend readings, read their writing. But, let’s face it, all relationships take time. Do I have the time for another relationship?
  • If you do not have business experience, who are your trusted advisers? This is also a tough one for me. I do not like asking for help. I like being the helper. I’m not sure my peeps are business peeps.
  • What’s your budget? How much are you willing to risk? Ummm, $150 maybe?

These questions come from the workshop The New Rules of Book Proposals which I stumbled into late because the parking garage was literally a mile from the International Women’s Writing Guild classrooms on the Yale University campus. (And having a book published wouldn’t make the parking lot any closer.)

I wish I caught the beginning of the class because I have a lot to learn about book publishing.