Tag Archives: Writing Craft

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.

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.

The Building Blocks of Story Telling

I’ll just sit back here and let Ira do his thing. Sure, he’s talking about radio and broadcast stories, but it’s all relevant. Check out parts II,  III and IV if you like this. Some quotes that I particularly like from part II to whet your appetite:

“It’s time to kill, and to enjoy the killing.”

“Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.”

False Memories

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine “…are closing in on the exact procedures for creating false memories in individuals in a wide variety of circumstances”

Scary! But fascinating! Read more here.

Update: Of course this idea is already at play in popular culture — hello, Dollhouse! Check out this excellent blog post about why this series is and yet isn’t and yet is worth watching.

Do Modern Memoirists Dream of Electric Memories?

Back in December ’08 I visited an exhibition staged by the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. This is when all the ITP students showcase their work. My NYS (New York Sister), Amanda Bernsohn, is a student in the program. Just for background, the ITP website describes the course as “a living community of technologists, theorists, engineers, designers, and artists uniquely dedicated to pushing the boundaries of interactivity in the real and digital worlds.”

To which I can only say: Yay! Looking at all the exhibits was like walking around inside a bunch of intelligent, creative minds. Now, I’m not an overly technical person, so much of the programming part of what these people were doing was totally beyond me, but what I found so fascinating was that they were all making interesting connections. Taking a concept from one area of thought and applying it somewhere else. Twisting ideas around to get new, more interesting ideas. And, along the way, quite possibly coming up with products that will be part of our daily lives in the near future.

Take Amanda’s project for example: Urban Windchimes. It’s so awesome. Check out the website for more info, but the basic concept is that, in our urban environments, people don’t always want to listen to other people’s windchimes. With this invention, you can place a wind sensor on your window ledge or fire escape and pay the chimes through your computer. There’s the possibility of placing sensors all over the world — ever wanted to listen to the wind on Mount Fiji? Or in the Bahamas? How cool would that be?

Then there were a few projects that were dealing, in one way or another, with memory. And this got me thinking about the connection between memory and technology, and how the digital revolution means we might well remember things differently in the future. This, in turn, has some pretty interesting consequences for future memoirists.

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Luc Sante and Flaubert: Language, Meaning, and Process

There’s a great interview with Luc Sante up at Guernica magazine. The interviewer, Suzanne Menghraj, weaves in questions about music and rhythm and solicits this great quote from Sante:

Rhythm in writing is […] a completely intuitive matter. I don’t really understand the process. It’s related to the substance of Flaubert’s famous letter to George Sand: “When I come upon a bad assonance or a repetition in my sentences, I’m sure I’m floundering in the false. By searching I find the proper expression, which was always the only one, and which is also harmonious. The word is never lacking when one possesses the idea. Is there not, in this precise fitting of parts, something eternal, like a principal? If not, why should there be a relation between the right word and the musical word? Or why should the greatest compression of thought always result in a line of poetry?” This is crucial stuff for me. I write intuitively, not knowing where I’m going, not knowing what the next sentence will be until this one has guided me there, and knowing how the sentence goes begins with my hearing its rhythm in my head, and then filling in the specific words. If the sentence is cloddish and clunky, it’s simply wrong—and not just wrong-sounding but wrong in its meaning.

I can’t think of a better reason for paying close attention to the construction and flow of every single sentence. Ugly sentences, the ones that don’t scan, the ones that the reader stumbles over? No less than a failure of meaning.

The instinct might be to fix the sentence: rewrite it till it flows. I’d suggest stopping and thinking and getting clarity on what it is you are trying to say before you do that. As Flaubert says: The word is never lacking when one possesses the idea. Find the idea and the words should, in theory, take care of themselves.

Ah yes, you say, but what if you don’t know what you want to say? What if the idea is elusive, impossible to pin down? Isn’t that one of the reasons why we write in the first place? To discover what it is that we feel and think?

To which I say: that’s what first drafts are for! Write it out in order to know it, to understand it (whatever “it” is here: story, idea, feeling). Then write it again, with this new knowledge having been dredged up and placed, to some degree, at the front of the mind. These two documents might have very little in common. The first enables the second, and the second isn’t so much a rewrite as a re-imagining.

That’s my thoughts on process for today folks, inspired by Flaubert, care of Luc Sante, care of Guernica magazine.

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