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

keys, upright

“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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Robert Arellano Keynote speaker at Claim Your Story II on April 12

“Writing Your Edge” will challenge you to raise the stakes in your own creative life. Robert Arellano leads an exploration on the ‘state of the story’ at its cutting edge—and asks you to consider where your writing might benefit from visiting the uncharted boundaries. Selections from recent ‘breakout’ narratives will face off against timeless examples of literary innovation—including a few surprising classics from close to home in Oregon. Writing metafiction, creative nonfiction, or pulp originals like noir; building inner conflict, intensifying struggle, rendering atmosphere ravishing and raising the stakes—whether you’re discovering new territory in genre literature or rewriting the rules of the sentence, Arellano will offer pointers for where to go out dancing on the edge of narrative experimentation.

Robert Arellano earned bachelor’s and graduate degrees at the Brown University Program in Creative Writing, where he also taught fiction workshops for 10 years as a visiting lecturer. His stories have been published in Tin House, The Believer and The Village Voice and selected for recent anthologies like New Jersey Noir, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, and The Brown Reader. He is the author of six novels, most recently Curse the Names and the 2010 Edgar Allan Poe Award-finalist Havana Lunar. He is a 2014 Oregon Literary Fellow and Professor of Creative Writing at Southern Oregon University.

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