Boolah is DEAD!

He was great and all, but I killed him.

Head on over to the new, super-shiny, fully integrated nancyrawlinson.com website for EVERYTHING you need. Yes, literally all your needs will be met there. Plus more blogging goodness from me. Come check me out!

Flecks of Gold Panned Out of a Great, Muddy River

This is Ann Patchett in the afterward to Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face.

In the right hands, a memoir is the flecks of gold panned out of a great, muddy river. A memoir is those flecks melted down into a shapable liquid that can then be molded and hammered into a single bright band to be worn on a finger, something you could point to and say, “This? Oh, this is my life.” Everyone has a muddy river, but very few have the vision, patience, and talent to turn it into something so beautiful. This is why the writer matters, so that we can not only learn from her experience but find a way to shape our own. I’m not talking about shaping every life into a work of art. I’m talking about making our life into something we can understand, a portable object that has the weight and power of an entire terrain.

Writing Workshops for New Yorkers

I’m excited to announce that I’m launching my own writing workshops in the fall, starting the week of September 14. I have taken the best elements of all the workshops I have taught and participated in over the years and blended them into one engaging, rigorous combination. My workshops are a great way to get yourself writing again and are open to all New York based writers. I’ve even had writers make the journey from Jersey or Connecticut to join my classes (previously taught through Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop) in Brooklyn before.

If you live in or near New York City and you need some motivation, structure, feedback, encouragement, community, and good, solid, craft discussion, please consider joining me. I’ll also supply tasty snacks, of course (anyone who has been in my classes before knows I have a mean addiction to Kettle brand sea salt and black pepper crinkle cut chips, among other things…)

Here are the details:

  • These will be craft-focused workshops, open to fiction and nonfiction writers, limited to just six writers per group (so you get more individual attention).
  • You’ll get eight sessions, total, and we will meet every other week (so you’ll have structure and feedback over a sixteen week period).
  • Each session will last three hours and include some in-class writing and discussion of process (so everyone will engage with their work and leave with a goal).
  • Everyone will submit four times, a maximum of 25 pages (so you could produce and workshop up to 100 new pages).
  • Everyone will get a one hour phone or in-person consultation with me over the course of the workshop.
  • The price? Just $595.

I’ll be running two sessions. One will start the week of September 14 and one the week of September 21. That means I’ll have space for twelve writers this fall. I did an email to my current and former clients about a week ago and there are now only six spots left open. If you are interested in one of them, email me at nancyrawlinson@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to answer any questions and give you information on how to reserve a spot.

If a workshop doesn’t suit you right now, I’m still available for one-on-one consultations. Contact me at nancyrawlinson@gmail.com to discuss the options or check out my website, nancyrawlinson.com, for more information about my services and fees.

All this business development is making me reassess various aspects of my self presentation – including the name of this blog, which you’ll see has changed. Look for some more posts on what makes for a good workshop experience soon.

Funding the MFA: A New Approach

25 year-old Denis wants to attend the MFA program at Hollins in the fall, but can’t afford to go. Sound familiar? Denis’s solution, though, is new. He decided to do some internet fundraising. He writes on his blog:

Instead of asking people to loan me money for school, I’m now asking them to simply give me money. To that extent, I’ve created a fundraising page on fundable, and if you can spare $10, please pledge towards my goal. Since I can’t get a loan and there is no way my parents can pay my tuition, I’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers.

You can check out his fundraising site directly here. At time of writing, Denis only had $10 in contributions. Is this because his campaign is brand new (launched 7/13/09) or because there’s a recession on, or because this idea simply isn’t going to work?

There’s also this article, over at Publisher’s Weekly, about writer and blogger Dianna Zandt, who, after signing a deal for her first book that provided no advance, decided to “crowdfund” the money she needed to write over the summer. It helps that her topic is “…writing about the power of social media to shift perceptions and cultural values.” She’s been pretty successful so far, it seems – you can read her thoughts and feedback on the process (plus tips for others who are considering going the the same route) here.

What do you think? Are Denis and Deanna smart to try this approach? Is their initiative laudable? Do their requests for funds seem justified to you? And is this a sign of things to come?

Something Naturally and Abruptly Crawls In

Or: Why Daydreaming is Good for Your Writing Life.

This interesting article from the Wall Street Journal should make anyone (like me, for example) who seems to spend hours in unfocused thought feel a little better. A couple of quotes:

…our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts, a new brain-scanning study suggests.

And:

By most measures, we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments. Left to its own devices, our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.

A third? If all is going well, I’ll spend longer daydreaming than that, mate. There’s nothing like a good daydreaming session to make me feel productive. The brain mechanisms that this article talks about might also be the reason that I get great writing ideas when I run. As I’m plodding round the park, sometimes, admittedly, I’m listening to 1980s rave tunes and reliving my clubbing days. But other times, my mind enters a fugue state and, well, I just realize something. That scene I have been stuck on, about my grandmother? It’s really about my father. Aha. Of course.

Haruki Murakami, a novelist I admire, is also a runner, and his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, contains his own treatise on why running is good for the writer’s life. In this quote from an interview on the Runner’s World website, he seems to describe the same experience that I have had, and that the researchers in the Wall Street Journal article are talking about. Murakami says:

I try not to think about anything special while running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometimes. That might become an idea that can help me with my writing.

Our next challenge is to pay attention to that thing that has crawled in. Write it down. Follow where it leads.

Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?

There’s an interesting article over at the Guardian book pages from their literary critic, Robert McCrum, about the different types of writers that tend to get considered for literary awards. He draws from Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay, The Fox and The Hedgehog, as a way of classifying the types. (You can download the essay by clicking here), and read more about Berlin in this article in The Independent.

In fiction, Berlin’s famous distinction between hedgehogs and foxes, drawn from the pithy fragment attributed to the classical poet Archilochus (“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”) remains influential. Hedgehogs, in Berlin’s celebrated essay, see the world through the lens of one big, defining idea. They include Plato, Dante, Proust and Nietzsche. Foxes, who scour the landscape, drawing on a wide variety of experience and are indefatigably averse to a single explanatory idea, include Aristotle, Shakespeare, Goethe, James Joyce and, dare I say, Salman Rushdie.

McCrum doesn’t stop there, though. He also contrasts “history course novels” (such as those produced by Pat Barker and Ian McEwen) and the kind of “English course novels” that Martin Amis and Lorrie Moore write. Then, in nonfiction, there are the “mores” and the “differents.”

Mores are writers who, as the label implies, are immensely gifted and vastly superior to their fellows, but are conventional in their vision. Classic mores include Thomas The World Is Flat Friedman and Niall The Pity of War Ferguson. Your different, who might be a hedgehog or a fox, is a mould-smashing one-off, usually an original, and probably quite undisciplined, writer. Differents include Dostoevsky, Oliver Sacks, Naomi Klein, Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell and Atul Gawande. As readers, we may be better satisfied, in the short term, by the mores, but it’s the differents we remember, and who will probably have the lasting influence.

McCrum’s argument is that “foxes” and “mores” win more prizes than “hedgehogs” and “differents.” It would take more of an in depth survey than I am prepared to carry out to prove him right, but I can certainly get on board with the idea that we live in a fox’n’more orientated society, and it’s these writers who seem to earn the most money. We demand versatility from our writers, and breadth of knowledge. It ain’t easy being different!

MFA Lit Mags on the Chopping Block

Anyone about thinking about applying for an MFA in the next season (or, for that matter, those about to start a program) would do well to check out a couple of posts over at the Virginia Quarterly Blog about how the current publishing and financial shake-up is affecting university presses and university sponsored literary magazines. VQR editor-in-chief Ted Genoways reports that times are hard. LSU’s Southern Review is under threat of closure, as is Middlebury College’s New England Review, and other venerable titles — The Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, Oxford American — might have folded if not for emergency fundraising.

Genoways argues that these literary outlets are essential for academic depth and breadth, as training grounds for future writers and editors, as homes for innovative writing, and, not least, as valuable PR for the institutions that create them. “If not for Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, and The Oxford American,” he writes, “I would never think of Kenyon College or Washington & Lee University or the University of Central Arkansas. The excellence of these publications gives their universities a national profile.”

University sponsored lit mags are also MFA recruitment tools. LSU’s MFA website states: “LSU has an extraordinary English Department, and LSU Press has made important contributions to American poetry and fiction. The MFA program offers opportunities to gain editorial experience by working for our many magazines and publications. The New Delta Review, The Southern Review, and The Corpse . (If you are interested in editorial experience and would like to be considered for an assistantship at a particular review you are advised to make your interest clear in your application letter.)”

And if The Southern Review folds, LSU? Then what?

You can read the original posts here and here.