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I did it. I couldn’t resist. I gave myself the gift of a MasterClass with the amazing Margaret Atwood! MasterClass brings online learning to you from experts in everything from cooking (e.g. Alice Waters) to tennis (e.g. Serena Williams). They have a number of writers to choose from including R.L. Stine, James Patterson, Malcom Gladwell and Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood’s a writer I absolutely adore! Truth be told, she’s the kind of writer that if I met a trickster spirit and they offered me a deal like, “You can write like Margaret Atwood, but you’d have to give up a limb.” I’d seriously consider it. Well, yes, I know…never trust a trickster spirit! I imagine though you, too, have writers whose work you adore and strive to emulate.

I thought how can I pass up an opportunity to study with her? I decided I couldn’t. I plunked down about $200 for an “all access pass” (which allows you to have year-long access to the videos and lifetime access to all the materials + access to other classes). She has 20+ pre-recorded videos that explore a variety of topics including writing through roadblocks, structuring a novel, revealing the world using sensory imagery, revision, etc.  Also included is a workbook crammed with exercises, additional thoughts, reading lists, etc. The first few videos I watched I could barely concentrate because I was TREMBLING while viewing Margaret Atwood right there in front of me talking about our shared passion—writing! I broke out in glee blisters (OK, so there’s probably no such a thing as a glee blister, but you do understand my level of enthusiasm).

The videos are infused with her wit, humor and wisdom. I think the MasterClass presents a unique opportunity to study with world class teachers. [BTW, I’m not getting paid to say this!]

I learned tons—so much so I am still digesting it all. These three tips below have stayed with me and they might be useful to you, too.

1) “Story is what happens. Structure is how you tell it.” Master simple chronological storytelling before tackling complex narrative variations. In one of the lessons, Margaret Atwood riffs on the different ways one could structure the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

The story would be the same but you could tell it a variety of ways using a different structure:

–beginning to end; starting in the middle (e.g. “It was dark inside the wolf. The grandmother who had been gobbled whole couldn’t say a word, because it was quite stifling and full of old chicken parts and plastic bags that the wolf had eaten by mistake”); using time jumps (“Little was Little Red Riding Hood to know that in two weeks’ time she would be looking back at one of the most definitive events of her life.”); start with a flashback; tell it from a different perspective, etc.

I can see that while writing my first novel, my ambition exceeded my skill level. I didn’t know how to tell a multiple viewpoint story, some of which took place in the past and also involved a number of time jumps. I just wasn’t a skilled enough writer back then to pull that off. I finally did find a path forward by excerpting material in what became my novella, Reenu-You. It is still complex for a novella in that it has two first person narrators and uses journalistic devices (i.e. emails, commercials, etc.) to tell a layered story.

Can you apply Atwood’s insight to a piece that you are working on that feels too complex and isn’t working? Can you find a way to simplify the narrative structure so you can tell the story that you want?

2) Writers have to think about narrative order. Margaret Atwood says that writers have to figure out who knows what and when in a story. And, you have to consider what effect your decisions, about the order of what is revealed, will have on the reader.

“One question you can ask yourself, if you’re writing: Does the reader know more than the character, or does the character know more than the reader? Or do they both know the same amount? Because it’s going to be one of those three.”

-When the reader knows more than the character that can create suspense.
-When the character knows more than the reader that can create narrative irony.

Atwood said it took her three attempts to figure out who would tell the story in The Blind Assassin!

I’m the process of revising a mystery, so this insight has been highly relevant to figuring out when to reveal what detail to the reader.

What about you? Is there a story where you can play with the narrative order to create more tension and suspense in the story?

3)“Print out your work, read it aloud and while reading, use a ruler. Read slowly.”

This is how Margaret Atwood revises her work.

Now, I absolutely am a proponent of reading one’s work aloud, but I had never tried doing it slowly and with a ruler. Sounds simple, right? I had a story that I was prepping to send to a magazine and I decided to try her method —I used a bookmark as I didn’t have a ruler. Wow, was this a revelatory experience! I noticed everything, the rhythm of words, word choice, when sentences were too long or short. I loved this process and will use it for final revisions moving forward; it gave me such a bigger and richer perspective on editing.

Do you have a piece that you’re about to submit and think it’s ready to go? Try Margaret’s technique and see what you discover.

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Hi folks,

Wish me luck today as I am participating in the ‘Movable Feast’ event, in Winston-Salem, held by Bookmarks! Bookmarks is a literary arts nonprofit whose mission is to connect readers with authors. The Movable Feast event is one of their newer programs.

The event is basically like “speed dating with authors”! As an invited author, I will visit a table for 10 minutes, talk about my book/myself/my writing, then rotate to a new table for another 10 minutes and repeat. I’ll meet 10 tables in total and also will have a chance to socialize with folks before and after the event.

I’m 1 of 26 authors invited to this event! The audience has paid to be there (per table) and will be composed of book club members, their friends and the reading public.

I think this is going to be a very fun and very active event!

I’m very excited to talk about Reenu-You and to represent my wonderful press, Book Smugglers. I’ve got my pitch down and will make sure to leave time for questions. And, I’m looking forward to meeting the other authors in the lineup (some have been on the New York Times Bestsellers List!). Many of us will be attending dinner together after the event.

Bookmarks hosts the largest annual book festival in the Carolinas drawing 20,000 from 20 states in 2017; they host a Bookmarks in Schools program that reached 9000+ students in 2017; and they opened a nonprofit independent bookstore and gathering space in July 2017.

Fingers crossed, I will entice many tables to buy Reenu-You for their book club!

 

Affirmations-366Days#356: My growth as a writer is shaped by daily practice. I celebrate incremental changes in my work.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Hi all,

We are celebrating Labor Day, in the U.S., this weekend. Although this is not the official end of summer, because school starts back around now and many people cram in last minute vacations, it feels like the end of summer is here. I plan on writing a short post about how I leveled up in my writing and some of the things I learned from classes taken. But, here I share 5 affirmations that were quite popular this summer.  As most of you know, I have a passion project–I’ve been writing a daily affirmation and posting it here. I plan to keep it up all the way until the end of the year. It’s been a blast writing them and they act like rocket fuel for my writing confidence and joy.

In sharing these affirmations, I thought they might encourage you to reflect on your summer writing and what you might want to carry forward into the fall. Also, one of the techie things I did this summer was to start playing on Canva, a site that makes design easy for everyone. You can create designs for social media, blogs, cards, invitations, etc.  I warn you, it’s highly addictive!

first drafts-inspired

What did you start this summer? Are you taking something from a “baby” draft to a “toddler” draft? Are you working on the last draft of your project?

 

The imposter syndrome is a universal one among writers. Established writers can have bouts with it as often as emerging writers. We combat it through affirmations, having a writing community and persisting.

The imposter syndrome is a universal one among writers. Established writers can have bouts with it as often as emerging writers. We combat it through affirmations, having a writing community and persisting.

How has your writing community grown this summer? Have you met new writers that you're excited about getting to know personally? Have you connected through social media with writers who will become online buddies?

How has your writing community grown this summer? Have you met new writers that you’re excited about getting to know personally? Have you connected through social media with writers who will become online buddies?

Are you staying kind to yourself through the ups and downs of the writing life?

Are you staying kind to yourself through the ups and downs of the writing life?

There are so many opportunities to get our work into the world. If you're feeling stuck check out Duotrope or Submission Grinder for new place to submit your work. Subscribe to a new writing magazine that  features publishing opportunities. Ask others and read widely. Publication is a long and winding journey.

There are so many opportunities to get our work into the world. If you’re feeling stuck check out Duotrope or Submission Grinder for new places to submit your work. Subscribe to a new writing magazine that features publishing opportunities. Ask others and read widely. Publication is a long and winding journey.

Judith Stanton is a historical romance author, a former college professor and scholar. She’s obsessed with horses and generally, the natural world. I know Judith as a teacher through the wonderful creative writing program offered through my local community college in Pittsboro, NC. Judith is also a former women’s studies professor and when we get together, we can talk for hours. I’m so delighted that as we come to the end of National Poetry Month, Judith is sharing one of her ‘deer poems’ that I’ve come to adore.

judith

 

The Three-legged Doe

After long drought
the white oak drops
three times as many acorns
as in a year of good rain.
Under its spreading limbs
the three-legged doe stops to feed,
her right front leg sheared off
halfway between her knee
and hoof—victim of a car?
a stump hole in the woods?
or the black rocks in the stream
she crosses to get to my yard?

In the pasture I can spot her
two hundred yards away
shoulder sinking every stride
her stump touches ground
or the lurch when she bolts
with the herd full speed.

At dusk I see her
flanked by last year’s twins
and this year’s lone fawn
its spots faded by November,
its coat like hers turned gray.
He rams her udder hard.
She watches for hunters
lurking in the woods.

About this poem: I write fiction, 7 novels and counting, so when the leader of our writers group pressed us to write a poem for our blog for National Poetry Month, I walked out grumbling, “I’m a novelist, Al. I don’t write poetry.” The next day I saw the injured doe for the umpteenth time grazing under the oak tree outside my office. I embarked on Deer Diaries, an odyssey into writing about the wildlife I see every day on our farm. Amazingly, in the four years I worked on this collection, the deer, birds, bees, snails, turtles, wild turkey hens who grace my life lined up every few days or weeks to show their lives to me in a new light.

Deer Diaries is now a chapbook forthcoming this year from Finishing Line Press. Meet Judith here at her new website and check out her Amazon page here.

 

 

 

I discovered writer and self-described ‘resource maven’, Erika Dreifus, about two years ago. And, I can say without question that my writing life is better because of her. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I eagerly await her postings on ‘The Practicing Writing’ blog. Erika curates advice and information about publishing and the writing life. She also rounds up opportunities for writers that charge no fees and publications/contests that pay writers. I also subscribe to her excellent monthly newsletter. Her work is generous and sustains community.

Erika is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories (Last Light Studio), which is an ALA Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title for outstanding Jewish literature.

In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m delighted to welcome her to The Practice of Creativity.

 

Winter Haiku (2015)

By Erika Dreifus

I miss Boston lots
though as the snow falls and falls
I’m glad I’m not there.

About this poem: I go through phases—and I’m in one now—during which I try to write a new poem every day (or at least, every weekday). On some particularly frenetic days, I sometimes opt for haiku. Here’s a piece that I wrote during the winter of 2015, which you may remember as an especially harsh one for New Englanders. I used to be a New Englander myself, but I admit that I’m not sorry to have missed out on last winter in Massachusetts! Michele’s invitation to contribute to her blog happened to arrive on a day when my friends to the north were again posting snowscape scenes on social media. (Poor things!) Which reminded me of this haiku.

 To learn more about me/my work—and to subscribe to my free e-newsletter for writers—please visit http://ErikaDreifus.com.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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