Claim Your Story

Writing Conference, Ashland, Oregon


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Writing tip: Read and write in equal proportions.

statue readingThere are so many rules out there about writing, thousands of books written by thousands of experts. Some contradict—outline, write by the seat of your pants. Write what you know. Don’t write what you know. Write for yourself. Write for the market. Never edit as you go. Never use fragments, never use run-on sentences. Never write in second person. Avoid first person. Never write in present tense.
My suggestion when it comes to sorting through the cacophony: Don’t follow other people’s rules or advice without questioning them. Some really smart people offer really bad advice and the internet is swarming with self-proclaimed experts.

When it comes to the writing life and success here’s a tip that especially helps beginning writers: Read and write in equal proportions.

There are so many things reading teaches us—the most important is how we should slow down and savor the author’s language and words for their raw power. It teaches us the impact of individual sentences and how we can build them to tumble out of control, meander, or stop us short with their brief and startling brilliance. We learn the many options available for viewpoint and distance and how a character’s voice rings true. Reading teaches us how to choose a few painstaking details to paint large canvasses. Sometimes it’s the exact color of an object, or a character’s bath robe, or a particular song convincing us of the story’s truth.

Or, we notice how an anecdote woven amid a larger world lends it veracity. Or, how small gestures whisper volumes about a person or betray the unconscious. For example, in Amy Bloom’s short story “Silver Water”, I’ve never forgotten how Rose at 15 is exhibiting the first signs of schizophrenia and her psychiatrist father doesn’t want to believe it is happening even as Rose begins licking the hairs on her forearm, first one way, then the other.

Close reading teaches us how to use ordinary moments to ground a reader in a fictional reality or the memoirist’s past. By dissecting the page you can observe how a writer implants tension in a scene.

While carefully reading dialogue we learn how regional expressions create authenticity and a sense of place; how characters sometimes hide their true thoughts and feelings; how dialogue can be a sort of choreography when difficult subjects are at hand; and how a character’s simple or poetic speech patterns create credibility for a living, breathing being.

Read from a questioning frame of mind. Ask yourself about the choices the writer made. Would you have done it differently? Why did the author stage a scene in a designer or use a particular word or set the story in December?

As for the advice about reading bad stories for a frame of reference–I don’t buy that logic. Save your precious reading hours for authors who inspire you.

 


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Registration is still open

 

Registration is still open for  Claim Your Story Writing Conference

April 12, 2014

Lithia Springs Resort, Ashland, Oregon

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“It’s hard to remember that this day will never come again. That the time is now and the place is here and that there are no second chances at a single moment.”
Jeanette Winterson


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Hotel discount closes on Friday, March 28th

I chose the Lithia Springs Resort as the site for Claim Your Story because it’s beyond charming and comfortable.  Mineral springs piped into a sweet bungalow is a slice of heaven in my opinion. It’s situated among gardens heavy on the wisteria and blooms and winding paths. So serene and inspiring.  We’ve also come to enjoy the professionalism of the staff and how they help with every conference detail and serve delicious food.  Please contact them to reserve your place for a discounted rate.

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Back in the day, this was called Jackson Hot Springs.

Jackson Hot Springs

 


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Inspiration

crayon tips blurred“Inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It’s made up of all those who’ve consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners – and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.”
~ Wisława Szymborska