Tag Archives: Assessing Writing

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?

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!

Author Sells Royalties, Fights Troll

A few weeks ago, Tao Lin, poet, novelist, short story writer, and editor at 3:AM Magazine, moved into the futures business – offering to sell, for two thousand dollars each, six ten percent stakes in the royalties of his as yet unfinished second novel, due to be published next year by independent Brooklyn press Melville House. A full article about the venture can be found here, care of Publishers Weekly.

Interesting, I thought, and kind of smart. After all, if David Bowie can do it, why not Tao Lin? Make some money, get some publicity, and build an audience. A few days after I found out about the offer I went to check out Lin’s blog, Reader of Depressing Books, but I was too late. The offer had been closed. No matter — I probably wouldn’t have shelled out the cash anyway. Instead, I found myself drawn into some of the other posts, in particular one about how Lin had been flamed on the internet (by what he calls “a shit talking entity”) and so he was inviting his blog readers to chime in about what a good and honest person he is.

I’m intrigued. What is it that people are saying that could be so bad that he feels he has to mount such a public defense? Then I remember that I have heard about Lin before – on Gawker, no less – when I was directed, by a link, to this article from the Seattle based alt weekly The Stranger, in which Lin charts the various levels of writing greatness. I remember reading that piece and thinking — hmm, there are not many people I know who could compare Anne Tyler to a $9.98 Petco Gerbil and get away with it. I remember also thinking, there’s someone who is very clear-eyed about how this whole publishing world works.

So I hang out at Lin’s blog a little more and read more posts, and the comments left in response to those posts, and I deduce a few things. The first is that Lin has quite the following, and many of his acolytes leave comments that seem to be written in his own style. Ergo, Lin is already influencing people. Ergo, he must be original to some degree, and have things to say that others respond to. So what exactly is his style? Continue reading

Blurbmania

So first up, regular readers — yes, that means you mum — will have noticed that I haven’t been updating much recently. Been working my ass off, is why. Not my actual ass, mind, just my literary ass. My editing ass and my writing ass. My literary ass is in pretty good shape right now! Tight! I’m going to get back to nearly daily posts here soon, promise.

In the meantime, here’s three things that I have come across recently about blurbs. You know, those juicy little quotes from authors, promoting other authors. First up, Rebecca Johnson in Salon, sharing about her blurb-hunting woes. Choice quote: Johnson spots a potential target at a party and sidles up to her, intent on extracting a blurb.

“Hi,” I said a little too brightly. Was it my imagination, or was she already moving away from me? After a few forced pleasantries, I brought up the book and asked if she might be willing to read it. The expression on her face — part horror, part sneer — was exactly what I would have expected had I released a large fart and asked what she thought of it.

Then there’s Rachel Donadio in the New York Times, talking about a company that intends to sell blurbs. Oh, the horror! Donadio talks about “blurbing up” (Rick Moody on William Gaddis), “blurbing down” (famous writers endorsing students) and “blurbing the safely dead” (young neophytes attaching their names to prestigious classic authors).

Then there’s the great churning mass of lateral blurbing, where patterns are harder to discern and dangerous rivalries might lurk, with hard feelings existing among the blurbers themselves.

Finally, agent Nathan Bransford, whose blog I have come to truly appreciate, writes about blurbs in query letters. Bransford has a four tier system for assessing a blatent blurb. Read his post for more.

The general consensus seems to be that blurbs do not actually matter too much, unless they are particularly super-duper. One of my coaching clients, Anita Naughton, was blurbed by Tina Brown, Oliver Sacks and Sandra Bernhard. That’s pretty super-duper. Her book sold out three print runs. I’m not saying it was the blurbs that did it — the book happens to be funny, moving, and brilliantly written. It sold on its own worth. But if you have contacts like Anita did, and can work them, it can’t hurt.

Tom Kealey on MFA Programs

I’m working, working, working today — on deadline for a couple of things, so for now I’ll just cross post to this great interview with Tom Kealey, author of The Creative Writing MFA Handbook and main man behind the MFA blog.

Kealey offers lots of great things in this interview, but one of my favorites is this quote, from Doris Lessing:

Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust your own judgment, learn inner dependence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad.

Which is kinda like learning to identify and trust your own inner instincts, something I posted about a few days ago.

Assessing Your Own Writing

A commentator (OK, it was my wonderful sister, Anna) asked a very pertinent question in response to the last blog post: How do you know if your work really is a piece of shit?

Anne Enright says you must not to listen to that internal voice, but instead practice some “mood management.” You must “…wrestle [your emotions] down to something roughly the size of the page.” While I do think that this is solid advice, there are ways that you can, with some practice, learn to assess your own work.

These methods I’ll call developing your intuition, developing your powers of assessment, and building an external feedback loop. Continue reading