The Band is Back Together!

Oh, hi there. Remember me? That person who used to blog and run a writers’ group and be semi-productive sometimes? Well guess what? I’m back!

Due to circumstances I will explain later in greater detail, I let my blog dry up into a sad little raisin and then I dropped it behind the couch. But it’s not unsalvageable. I am going to take that raisin, wash it off, and make it into something special!

And that very special raisin is a new round of the Lake Projects Online Writing Group, which starts…right…now!

Hey Writers Raisin

Let's Write Raisin

The game is the same (eight weeks of hard-core writing accountability — BOOM), as are many of the players, but we have some new-to-the-group writers among us, so please make them all feel at home: Alissa, Connor, and Joe. Welcome!

Each week, in addition to getting each writer’s project updates, we’ll have a short post on writing or productivity. This week, though, is primarily devoted to introducing the group and their summer goals. And here they are:

Aliena

My current long-term project is to actually start writing again. It’s been a very long time since I’ve written anything and I’d like to get back into the habit.

My week 1 goal is to write a scene. Any scene. Any length. It just has to be start to finish.

Alissa (new to the group!)

OK, so my big picture objective is not to let this story I’m working on for the short story farming memoir fade into oblivion. I think loosely, I’d like to just make progress on it, which is a lot more than I’ve done for the last two months. If you want me to define a goal more than that (I do not, but go for it!) I’ll say I want to write 20 pages for the next story chapter.

Short term, like first week, I just want to write for 2 hours on the piece.

Anne

Course re-writes: I need to review previous course versions (3 major course versions so far) and create a whole new set of assignment pages for the three-course sequence (set number 4)!

Bev

Goals, goals…What are my goals? Why was man born but to suffer and die? My goal for next week is to get a letter that I wrote months ago in the mail. Surely I can do that! (Don’t call me Shirley.) And then I am going to open up an old file of a letter I started long ago and WRITE SOMETHING. I will finish said letter before the end of eight weeks, swear to God!

Also I will do my weekly blog posts. And if I feel really, really brave, I will once again take up the task of finding agents and sending query letters for my memoir. (I can feel your bravery from here, Bev!)

Connor (new to the group — goals coming soon!)

Joe (new to the group — goals coming soon!)

Laura

My overall goal is to adhere to a writing schedule that I can keep consistent throughout and beyond the summer. Since I like using the pomodoro technique, I think I’ll frame my work using that instead of words, pages, or finished product. If I can stick to my tomatoes, I should be able to produce. (that pun was not intended but I just saw it and think it is amazing, so you’re welcome, world! [FYI I will continue to wield my power as czar of this writing group to shower you with terrible wordplay.])

My week one goal is to write one blog post (not counting this one) and to do three pomodoros worth of writing that are not for the blog.

Lisa (goals coming soon!)

Mike

Overall goals: finish revisions on an in-progress short story to prep for submission by end of June. Once that’s done, finish the first draft of a novella I started that is the expansion of a short story I wrote last year.

Week 1: Rewrite middle section of the short story.

Rachel

Overall goal: write a creative nonfiction short story. (Background: most of my published writing is academic or straightforward essays, and I’d love to challenge myself to write something more creatively and get out of my comfort zone a bit.)

Week one goal: decide on the topic, scope, audience, and word count.

Robert

My summer plan is 1,000 words a day, which I’ve been doing for the last few weeks, except for when I’m traveling. My goal this summer is to finish the draft of 100 Conversations. (Robert! I have a Louise Brooks book for you; thank you for reminding me!) I’m at 72,000 words, so I’m getting there.

My weekly goal is then 7,000 words.

Sarah

Long term goal: An MCC 101 course ready to be tested in August.

Week One Goal: Lesson (to include intro, content, resources, discussion boards, etc.) on Critical Thinking (probably I need to narrow that down [not right now, Sarah…]) and Edits on the lesson on Rigor.

 

Don’t those goals sound great?! I think they do! And I am excited to get started.

But before I go, I want to share a bit about something I hope will get me working more productively, both for my job as well as for my fun writing (ha! no writing is fun! [j.k. I love writing except for the 99% of it that I hate because it is so hard]).

Last summer I listened to an episode of Hidden Brain, one of my favorite podcasts, on something called “deep work,” a term coined by the writer and professor Cal Newport.

Deep Work

Newport’s definition of deep work is “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate” (Newport 3).

On the podcast, and in much more detail in the book, Newport talks about the tremendous value of deep work in a variety of fields, and also how difficult this kind of work is to achieve in a world that places so much value on immediate feedback and lacks acceptance of someone closing herself off for potentially hours at a time in order to concentrate fully on very focused, detailed work.

Newport’s book pairs beautifully with another book I recently read by Susan Cain, a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain’s thesis is that the many people prefer to work in quiet, sometimes isolated conditions and that these people frequently produce things of tremendous value; and Newport’s hypothesis is that the value of this kind of work will only increase in the coming years.

I feel validated and excited by both of these ideas and both of these books.

Now, how do we get the world to give us this space, this quiet so that we can do our necessary deep work as writers? Or, rather, how do we take it?

Because take it we must.

We’ve talked on this blog before about the importance of the habit of writing. It’s damn important. Whatever your habit looks like (daily, only on Monday and Thursday mornings, only on Tuesday and Wednesday nights after 11 p.m., Saturday mornings on the train, Friday afternoons in the office, for an hour in a park, for two hours on the roof of your kid’s treehouse) you need to figure it out and then stick to it. Take that time. Do not have access to your phone. Do not have your email accessible. Do not answer to anyone, for at least 25 minutes (one pomodoro). Everyone in the world can do without you for at least 25 minutes. Seriously.

And then, make that your habit, and when you take a break from all of your productive deep work, check out Newport’s and Cain’s books.

Until next week, you gorgeous raisin writers!

We're Back Baby Raisin

 

 

Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. New York:

Grand Central Publishing, 2016.

 

 

 

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Week Six Summer 2017 Online Writing Group

It’s week six of the Summer 2017 Online Writing Group — we’re closing in on the summer and on our project goals!

Here are our week six goals.

Week Six Goals:

Anne:

I need a Patriot Pass for last week, but I’m continuing with Gardner this week.

Bev:

Week 6: I am going on vacation and will keep a journal of my trip.

Cynthia:

This week, I have two goals:

1.  Continue with writing and revising my Library Assessment course group project of doom.
2.  Continue to find and annotate sources for my Law Librarianship course in advance of Thursday’s online workshopping session (nothing like a deadline to make me produce words)!

Laura:

I didn’t make progress on my creative writing, but I did some writing for my graduate class. This week I need to write another annotated bibliography, and catch up on my blog posts.

Lisa:

Last week was fun, but I got NO writing accomplished.
This week, I hope to write five pages.

Mike:

Week 5: Revised a few more pages of my short story, continuing with the third-person-to-first-person conversion I started last week. Realized I still had some logistical and motivational issues to sort out in the plot, so I started thinking through those as I revised (eliminating altogether some of the passages that had troubled/bored me the most upon my initial re-read).

Week 6: Complete revisions (ahem, again) while doing some research into antique reselling and siblings screwing each other out of family heirlooms, since that is the key backstory in my short story, and there’s just not enough detail there yet to make it fully come to life.

Rachel:

Admittedly I’ve been slacking a bit this week with writing group—but mostly because I’ve been writing other things, so that’s good, right?? (YES!) One of the essays I’d written last year (around the time of winter writing group, actually) is being published later this week, so I’ll cheat a little and say that was an accomplishment :/ This week is a little crazy at work and I know I’m going to have limited creative energy, so I’ll shoot to go through my old notebooks and flesh out some of the stuff I’ve written before, to stock up for my blog. Love that low-hanging fruit!

Robert:

This week wrote 4,153 words. Next week’s goal is 7,000.

Sarah:

Coming soon…

 

This week’s resource post is about listening: listening to the people around you and finding other resources to listen to.

I tell my creative writing students that good listening skills are essential to writers. We need to listen when others talk if we’re going to write realistic and believable dialogue; and we need to listen to what people say to identify what they’re revealing and what they’re hiding. We learn someone’s life story by listening to what they say, but we learn someone’s character by identifying what they leave out.

We also need to listen to the world around us because it’s our environment that provides the richest details for our writing: we just have to pay attention. Right now, there’s a garbage truck rolling through my neighborhood, picking up and dumping trash cans. The cans aren’t really cans at all, but thick rubber, and the sounds they make thudding back on the ground from the truck’s fork lift is an uneven thud. The truck’s brakes gives a dirty sounding wheeze whenever it stops in front of another house, and I can hear that it’s about three houses away.

We can also seek outside resources to listen to in the form of podcasts. I’m a huge fan of podcasts, and because they’ve become so popular in the past few years, there seems to be a series for everything and everyone. It’s not surprising, then, that there are tons of writing podcasts out there. One of my favorite reading websites, Book Riot, put together a list of good podcasts for writers.

Some series are long and some are short; some you’ll love and some you will…not love. But there’s something in there for everyone, so give them a listen!

Until next week, writers: keep your ears open and your pencils ready.

Write on!

Productivity: It’s Not Just For Robots!

This is the second go-around in our writing group for Rachel Kwon: she first appeared during the Winter 2017 session, and she wrote her excellent first guest post in January. I’m happy she’s back in the group summer (especially since she’s considering starting her own blog, and blogs are great!) and I’m thrilled that she’s here for her second guest post!

This is a guest post from Rachel Kwon, a member of this summer’s Online Writing Group:

I like to think of myself a semi-serious amateur writer (and a very serious fried chicken enthusiast, but that’s another story for another day), and while I am still shaky on the creative elements of writing—you know, producing words so earth-shattering that readers weep and call their mothers immediately thanking them for giving them life so they could read the work—there is one thing I know pretty well, and that’s productivity. Productivity and smashing a to-do list are admittedly less sexy than a well-written piece, but they’re still necessary.

So, how does one self-motivate and make time for writing, particularly writing for leisure, when there are so many other things competing for time and attention? I think a big part of it is simply creating structures and treating it seriously, even if it’s “just for fun.” I’ve found that these three things have helped me improve my writing (and also simply to enjoy it more):

1. Establish a routine…

I don’t think the details really matter that much, but for me, as a hardcore morning person I do my best thinking when the sun is coming up, so about a year ago, I started doing a thing where I would wake up, stretch, put on the coffee, and literally just start writing. Just 15 minutes or so, in my journal, sitting at my writing desk, about whatever was in my head. It was writing that I would just do for myself, but I found that by doing it regularly in this way, I’d come up with ideas for stories or essays that I’d want to share with other people, and it became easier to do that by just having a dedicated time to do it. (Our post about momentum last week really resonated with me, because I feel that having my routine is sort of like free momentum—it’s always easier to keep things going once they’ve already started than to start a brand new thing, and that’s what my routine has offered.)

Rachel's Writing Space

Rachel’s supremely covetable writing space

2. …but know when to stray from it.

Interestingly, early-bird-writing is the exact opposite of the routine I had for over a decade, which was 15 minutes of writing, lying prone on my pillow, before going to sleep. The circumstances of my life were different and I needed to wake up around 4:30 or 5 a.m. so I didn’t quite have that same zest for writing in those wee hours (or for anything—I don’t care how much of a morning person you are; there’s a very fine line between late night and early morning and I believe that line is around 4:30 a.m.). I also like to mix up the setting sometimes and write in the park or in a coffee shop or on the subway (not during rush hour, because then I would have to write into a stranger’s armpit, which is less fun). Some of my best writing has been scribbled on the back of a bar napkin.

3. Don’t overthink it.

Overthinking plagues me. I can’t help but obsess over the most seemingly trivial details. I used to be of the mindset that I should choose my words extremely carefully, and not write them unless I really meant them. That might be a good philosophy if I were using a typewriter, and a typo (literally!) or some imperfect phrasing really was a disaster, but these days I’ve adopted more of a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” mentality, and oddly enough, I find that I’m a lot more productive when I just write SOMETHING, anything, and then whittle it down to what I actually want to say, the way I want to say it. These days I spend HALF as much time and energy writing a draft of something, no matter how horrendous it is, so I can spend TWICE as much time editing. Someone once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “You don’t win the Tour de France by reading about the race and planning the perfect ride; you win by getting out there, riding every day, and making incremental improvements each time you do.” There is definitely an element of “just do it”-ness involved.

So, there it is. I have some other quirks that I think help, like my preference for Muji 0.38 mm black pens, but those are the high-level structures that I believe have allowed me to be productive with my writing. Now, I think it’s fried chicken time!

 

Thank you, Rachel! Now, go get some chicken.

And the rest of you, write on.

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If I dance fast enough, Rachel can’t eat me! (Image via Giphy)

Week Five Summer 2017 Online Writing Group

It’s week five of the Summer 2017 Online Writing Group — how you guys feeling? I’m feeling all write! (yes punnnnnnns!)

I offered up a Patriot Pass this week — some people were traveling and knew they wouldn’t be doing much with the short holiday week — so whenever you see it, please imagine those writers doing this:

giphy1

Actually, please imagine everyone doing this.

Here are our week five goals.

Week Five Goals:

Anne:

My reading of the Gardner book has been transformative. I’m continuing it this week.

Bev:

I am done with my course revisions! During week five, I am going to write a letter, because I haven’t since January.

Cynthia:

Patriot Pass!

Laura:

I did a little work on my new story. It wasn’t as much as I’d wanted, but it counts! Next week I’m going to keep chipping away at it. I got a great idea for another new story during my class this week and I’m going to keep it on the back burner. It might be a nice distraction next week, or something I can do toward the end of the summer.

Lisa:

Patriot Pass!

Mike:

Week four progress: Once I started revising the story in question, I realized how badly it was being served by the third-person narration I’d used (i.e. boring as shit). I rewrote about six pages out of the current twelve to first person, and I’ve been really happy with the effect it’s had on the voice. I also moved a few passages around and hit at least two scenes that need to be scrapped or rewritten altogether (as the change in voice wasn’t quite enough to fix them).

Week five goal: Finish revising the remaining pages of the story in its new first-party voice. I missed the contest deadline, so I will be reading some past issues of a few other lit journals to make sure the finished story would be something of interest to them.

Rachel:

I figured out most of the tech and logistical stuff behind launching my blog (I used to have one when I was a teenager and in college, and MAN, blogging has really changed since then!). I’d like to get a critical mass of posts, maybe five or so, before actually publishing, so this week’s goal will be to either select one from stuff I’ve written before (like my essay from last winter writing group, for example), or to write something afresh.

Robert:

This week: zero words.
Next week: goal is 7,000 words

Sarah:

Week 5 goals: I have to edit a new article I wrote on postmodernism and start another article, this time a case study because I need to change things up a bit. I started a 5-week graduate class so I also have some discussion posts to do. Then read, read, read as I pull articles for my course in the fall.

Ted:

Coming soon…

 

Because of the weird holiday week, I’m going to give everyone a couple of writing exercises from the book What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. It’s one of those staples of a creative writing workshop (from the ’90s…) and my copy is yellow with age. But it’s still a good resource for writers.

What If Cover

The exercise I’m going to give you guys for today can be used to supplement your current project — try just a background scene that develops one of your minor characters, something you don’t have to include if the style is too much of a contrast  — or it can be a one-off if you need some space from your current project and want to just stretch your creative muscles for a couple of hours. Here it is:

THE EXERCISE

Write a short story using words of only one syllable.

THE OBJECTIVE

To make you conscious of word choice. (Bernays and Painter 194)

For my academic writers, you can try this, too. Work on a part of your research, lesson plan, syllabus and make everything one syllable. See how you can simplify wherever possible.

What If Exercise 70

(Bernays and Painter 194)

Have a safe and creative week, and as always, write on!

 

Bernays, Anne and Pamela Painter. What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers.
HarperPerennial, 1991.

Week Four: Summer 2017 Online Writing Group

It’s week four of the Summer 2017 Online Writing Group and words are happening!

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Image via Giphy

Here are our week four goals.

Week Four Goals:

Anne:

I’ve changed course of little bit. Inspired by Laura’s post last week, I started reading John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. I have owned book for decades, and I even took it to Aruba last December / January to read, but I still haven’t read it. So that has become a priority for this week.

Bev:

Week Four goal: Finish course revisions. Period.

Cynthia:

This week will be devoted to gathering research and roughing out an outline of ye olde group project for Library Research Methods and Assessment. If time permits, I’ll continue to find and read sources for my Law Librarianship annotated bibliography project.

Laura:

I didn’t hit my week three progress, so my week four will be doing double-duty. I’m still looking for a good “home” for a short essay I wrote, and I need to start a new short story. I didn’t get the windmill blog post written, so that’s my job for this week as well.

Lisa:

Last week: Actually wrote about two pages!
Next week: Shooting for five more!

Mike:

This week was not productive. I made a few notes on the scenes I had planned and started the outline, but got distracted by work stuff. Towards the end of the week, it hit me that I had too many unfinished short stories floating around, so I decided to reconsider my overall goals and hold off on the new book for a few weeks.

Week Four: Complete a final round of revisions on a short story I’d workshopped over the winter and try to submit it to an Open Fiction contest that has a deadline this Friday…

Rachel:

I outlined some topics to write about for my book, and even started writing one of them. The idea I was thinking about for last week was to self-publish through a blog or something, and I think I’m going to try it. Lately, I’ve been trying to adopt a “done is better than perfect” mentality, which is hard because it’s the opposite of my gut instinct. Anyway, my new end-of-summer goal is to start publishing on a blog, and next week’s goal will be to figure out how to do it. (You know how I feel about blogs, Rachel! [I love them. I love blogs.])

Robert:

The last week’s goal was 7,000 words. I wrote 1,995 — I was out of town for three days.

This week’s goal, as usual, is 7,000 words, but I have four days of home renovation, so I doubt if I’ll make it. (Robert, you’re always ahead of the game, so do your renovations!)

Sarah:

Coming soon…

Ted:

I spent hours on this one sonnet, trying to capture an idea about courage. It seems so small, considering the time and effort and countless revisions. Anyway, that was my week three goal, to hammer and polish it to what seemed the right luster.

Week four goals are about re-entering a fiction work (a quasi-children’s fantasy) and finding that elusive momentum…

 

And thank you, Ted, for the perfect segue! This week I wanted to talk about momentum, specifically, keeping it. We’re in week four of our eight week session, and this might be the time you’re losing a bit of steam. You’ve made progress for almost a month, either by producing words and pages, ideas and outlines, or by letting your project consume many of your waking thoughts. And that’s exhausting.

Roo Sleeping

Roo is exhausted just listening to me type about it!

But even if you’re tired, you need to keep the momentum. And if you don’t think you have anything more to say right now about your project/s, then you can keep the momentum by revising.

Janet Burroway, author of an excellent book on writing that I use in my creative writing classes (and she’s appeared on the blog before), has five helpful questions to ask about your work as you’re revising:

Is the language fresh? Have you avoided clichés, familiar descriptions, and any unnecessarily abstract language?

Is it clear? Have you answered the journalist’s Ws: who, what, when, where, and why? Will the reader understand when scenes change, when time has passed, and when new characters are introduced?

Is it too long? Cut. Cut everything you don’t need. Cut adjectives. Cut words that aren’t moving things forward. Each word matters, so if you find one that doesn’t, get rid of it. (If I were revising this section, I’d delete everything except the first word: cut.)

Where is it underdeveloped? See below for an exercise to help you with this one.

Does it end? The ending does not need to be happy, nor easy, but it needs to happen. Your protagonist should change in some way, even if it’s small. She should accept something about herself; she should see the reality in which she exists; she should decide to act; or she should decide to not act. If none of this has happened, your story hasn’t ended. (Burroway 205 – 206)

Five easy questions to ask during any step in your writing process! The fourth question, about development, can be explored further with a writing exercise Burroway includes:

Burroway Try This 7.13

(Burroway 206)

Doing this exercise will help whenever you feel stuck or if you feel yourself slowing down. And if you need more help, get Burroway’s book and check out the excellent things she has to say about all aspects and genres of creative writing.

Until next week, write — and revise — on!

 

Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. 4th ed., Pearson, 2014.

 

 

 

 

Week Three: Summer 2017 Online Writing Group

It’s week three of the Summer 2017 Online Writing Group and you guys are getting it done. Nice work!

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Image via Giphy

Here are our third week goals.

Week Three Goals:

Anne:

I’m sure that we all know that this is a major asset. The perfect writing area, created:

Anne's Office.jpg

Anne’s newly organized writing space!

Are you asking: is that a active writing stool? Yes. Is that a giant 4G screen with the correct software installed although right now it shows a picture of a boat? Yes. Are those shelves full of writing books? Yes, and some family pictures. I think it’s perfect. The writing notebook is the next project, for when I can’t be in my writing space.

Bev:

This week, I got three chapters from the new textbook revised! Hooray! Also, I began researching agents and turned up two prospects. Sadly, I need to spend some time rethinking my query letter, which I will be doing this week in addition to researching more agents. And doing at least two more chapter notes and lectures.

Cynthia:

This week’s goal is as follows:

Collect research sources to supplement evaluation plan abstract for Library Research Methods course. Begin to collect resources for Law Librarianship annotated bibliography.

Laura:

I started a new story last week, so this week my goal is to keep working on it. I also need to write a couple more blog posts documenting my trip to the Netherlands, so I’m adding that in for this week as well.

Lisa:

Progress report: My trip interfered greatly with my progress this week. I wrote zero pages 🙂 (Yes, but Lisa, you spent quality time observing children in their natural vacation habitat, so you can count that as “research.”)

Next week: I hope to catch up and write five pages.

Mike:

Week Two Progress: Wrote about three more new pages of the book (against my goal of ten). I’m realizing my goals need to be a little more granular than “write x more pages.” I’m not having issues with what to write necessarily — since I’m working from a true story, I have the built-in crutch (if I’m not sure what to write next) to just tell what really happened. What has slowed me down so far is the impulse to focus on the individual scenes I’ve started and making sure they’re compelling. This week, I realized that the narrator’s voice wasn’t quite working. I switched what I’d written from third-person to first, and I realized quickly how easy it is to make a young Lithuanian woman in the 1930’s sound robotic, since the easy impulse is to take out all contractions and idiom from their language. I went back to a few books I love that have interesting narrative voices, whether it’s a non-English speaker or a contemporary of my narrator to make sure I absorbed what they did well. So Long See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell is going to be my constant companion throughout the next few weeks of drafting this out.

Week Three Goals: Complete drafts of two early scenes — one of which I’ve started, and one of which I have yet to start. Also, review some of the research materials I have on the story (a conversation I recorded with my dad a few months ago talking about his mother) as well as an online repository of info about the kind of Swedish ocean liner that brought my grandmother here (since the middle portion of the book will be on-board the ship).

Rachel:

Last week, I was supposed to learn more about the landscape of what’s already out there for my book idea. As I suspected, there are already some books out there around the topic that I’m thinking of, but none from the perspective of someone with my background. So this week I’ll start outlining the book chapters. I am also considering revising my big summer goal, but I think I need a week to think about it, so that will also be on my docket for this week.

Robert:

This week’s goal was 7,000 words. I wrote 6,815, so that’s good enough. My current total is 35,700 words.

Next week the goal is another 7,000 words.

Sarah:

Coming soon…

Ted:

Coming soon…

 

This week’s post is inspired by John Gardner’s book The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers.

In this book, Gardner argues that while “there are techniques — hundreds of them — that, like carpenter’s tricks, can be studied and taught” (8) there are no real rules of literary (non-genre) fiction. Writers must trust that they can tell the good from the bad, and this knowledge will come from two things: 1. practice; and 2. reading a lot. Like, a lot.

I have no doubt that everyone in this group is a good reader. We’re here, aren’t we? We’re here because we love to write and we love to read. But Gardner also talks about the benefits of a higher education for a writer, because it is in a college or university setting where a writer can encounter a literature course in which the professor leads the students through a close reading  of Macbeth, looking at each line, each word, and analyzing how and why Shakespeare made the choices he did, why he didn’t include stage direction, why he made the loss of the Macbeth’s child so subtle when making it clearer could have increased sympathy for Lady Macb. You don’t get that when you’re just reading it yourself.

Out Damn Spot

And why didn’t she just use this soap? I mean, it says there right on the label that it’s just what she needed.

Along with a great reading experience like that, though, might also come something else that Gardner argues is essential to a writer, and that’s the ability “fully understand the other side of one’s argument” (10). Because that same Shakespeare professor, or (more likely) another student in the class might argue that the three witches Macbeth encounters are really time traveling robots. Sure, okay. Let’s get into it.

It’s much more likely that in higher education, however, that you won’t engage in too many arguments about Shakespearean robots (though if you do, please, please give me a call and invite me to the conversation). But you will engage in robust debate about the contemporary relevance of the philosophical questions set forth in The Handmaid’s Tale; about the effectiveness of using multiple first person narrators in Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings; about whether it is better to use simple syntax (Salinger) or complex syntax (Woolf) for a slowly paced story; whether it’s a grotesque violation of the audience’s trust or a brilliant violation of genre when a writer does not reveal who the killer was at the end of a literary mystery novel (if you want to know who this writer is, let me know; otherwise, no spoilers).

And it is by examining and arguing about these things that will help you understand how other great writers write and how you, as a young writer, can mimic the greats — how you can set forth a philosophical question in a way that will transcend history; how you can frame a story within a story as a way of developing the character of the storyteller; how you can violate genres and expectations.

But because it may not be realistic for all of us to immediately enroll in a college level literature class, your homework this week is to read something and then discuss it with someone else.

I have two text options for you (though of course you can choose your own): one creative and one academic.

The creative text is a short story called “The Swim Team” from Miranda July’s 2007 collection No One Belongs Here More Than You.

No One Belongs Here More Than You

As you read the story, please think specifically about these three things:

  1. What is the story about? Why do you think that?
  2. Why doesn’t July use quotation marks for dialogue? Are there other writers you’re familiar with who use this style? Do you like it or not? Why?
  3. How does July tell the story? Does she use traditional first-person narration? Does she embed stories within stories? Why does she do the things she does? Do you like it or not? Why?

The academic text is a chapter from Michelle Fine’s 1991 book Framing Dropouts: Notes on the Politics of an Urban High School.

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Image via Goodreads

As you read Fine’s chapter, please think specifically about these three things:

  1. How does Fine incorporate creative writing into her work? Is it only in the passages she includes as references, or is it her style as well? Does she reference creative texts differently than she references scholarly texts?
  2. What kind of relationship does Fine seem to have with the subjects of her study? What about her writing makes you feel that way?
  3. What kind of relationship does Fine want to have with her audience? What about her writing makes you feel that way?

Anyone who wants to chat about the text they’ve read can do so in the comments on this post — have at it! What do you think? Why do you say that? And is there anything you can take from these writers and mimic in your own work?

Have a great writing and reading week!

 

Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. Vintage Books, 1985.