Hey, writers…

This is a quick post. A sort of poll question, if you will…

What service or resource have you tried to find to help you with your writing, but have been unable to find, either on-line or in person? Or, another way to ask: What is something you’ve said, “If only I could find _x_ it would help me be a better writer!” but have been unable to find?

If something comes to mind, feel free to post it below, or send me an email. Ask other writer friends to chime in. I’m curious to hear…

There are no wrong answers. 🙂

I Give Up.

“I thought you’d already given up blogging,” some of you might say. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve been actively engaged in maintaining this blog, so your reaction is justified.

No, what I mean is, I’m giving up teaching writing.

This is a tough decision, because in the last few years, I’ve seen some really amazing things with my writing students and private instruction clients.

There have been people in my Legacy of Words classes that swore to me they couldn’t write a thing, and yet they hand me these pages full of lovely words that make me laugh or cry or sigh with contentment. I’ve had fiction writers whose eyes flare wide with that moment of recognition and epiphany, then come to me and tell me they finally figured out the ending to that story that’s been bothering them, or that they started a new novel and wrote seven chapters in one week.

So, I thought I was doing a good job. I thought my words, my encouragement, my excitement for the written word was spilling forth in ways that brought people along to their “next level.”

But I found out today: I’ve been doing it all wrong.

How do I know? I stumbled across a video titled, “How to Effortlessly Write the Perfect Short Story in One Hour.”

I’ve been ripping these students and clients off, apparently. I’m a charlatan. A scam artist. Because, I was working under the wrong set of assumptions. Here’s what I believed about writing fiction, which is contradictory to this new method:

1) Writing fiction is hard. The idea of “effortlessly” writing anything is foreign to me. Drafting is hard. Revision is hard. Getting feedback is hard, and knowing just what to do with the feedback is even harder. I don’t even make a shopping list effortlessly. Practice and evaluate and revise. Repeat. Repeat. That’s what it takes. If it was easy everyone would be doing it.

2) There is no perfect story, or novel. Naeem Murr is a great writer, and one of the best teachers I’ve ever had the joy of knowing. He told me, and I believed him, that there is no perfect work. That there is always something that could be done better. That even the best story will seem, to the writer, deficient a few years later, when he or she looks back at the piece and sees how the problems of the story would be tackled differently now. Which leads to…

3) Learning the craft of fiction is an ongoing, never-ending process. The best story you can write today is not the best story you can write. Next month, next year, in twenty years, this “best thing I’ve ever written” will seem a little stale, full of holes, naive, and clumsy. That’s because the more we write, the better we get, and the more we are capable of.

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But all three of these assumptions are destroyed with a title like, “How to Effortlessly Write the Perfect Short Story in One Hour.” There is no effort needed. There is no growth in craft, because you can’t improve on perfection. You don’t need years of practice and learning and synthesizing knowledge: it only takes an hour to be set.

I hope this guy is charging at least $30,000 for this information. If he’s able to do in one hour what an MFA program only PREPARED me to do, then he deserves it.

My apologies to those of you from whom I’ve bilked money. I’m chopping my snake-oil wagon up for fire wood and shaving off my handlebar mustache and cutting my plaid-striped carnival barker’s suit into strips to be used as prayer flags for the yurt where I am planning to retire and write, effortlessly, one perfect story every day for the rest of my life. I may take the day off, occasionally, for holidays and such. There is no reason to over-burden the world with perfect stories.

Don’t Forget…

My website, Words Matter Creative Writing Instruction, has information about my publications and creative writing teaching and coaching services.

My website, Words Matter Creative Writing Instruction, has information about my publications and creative writing teaching and coaching services.

Hey, I know it’s not cool to over-promote one’s self on his or her own blog, but I do, from time to time, like to remind people that I have a website which features not only links and information about some of my publications, but is also packed with info about my creative writing teaching and coaching services.

I always enjoy meeting new writing students and clients. Working with other writers, and helping them along the path to their own creative vision, is always a learning experience for me. Whether it is Legacy (personal history, non-fiction) writers or fiction writers, there is always something new I learn about the world, and my place in it.

So, I hope you’ll forgive this little moment of shameless self-promotion. And maybe, if you haven’t stopped by my website in a while, you’ll want to take a minute to do so, or to pass my information along to a friend.

Have a great week, folks.

Happy Writing!!

Community Is Important for Writers

To be honest, I’ve been pretty down for the last week or so.

As I’ve shared before, I have been teaching Legacy Writing classes via the Lifelong Learning Academy here in Sarasota-Bradenton. It is a great opportunity for me to share some of my knowledge about creative writing and meet some really great people. The most recent academic quarter, I had a class filled with writers who had taken earlier classes with me and were eager to keep their writing momentum moving forward. This was a great group of adult learners who had some really magnificent stories to share.

Near the end of the eight weeks of class, several of the students were fighting various illnesses: a broken knee-cap, vertigo-like symptoms, heart problems, and other medical issues.

And then, I found out one of the students passed away last week, only hours after our last email exchange. He was a student with a long writing background, and his work showed it. The selections he brought to class to share with the group were outstanding. I had been hoping that the two classes he’d taken with me were just the beginning of an ongoing literary friendship. I was looking forward to many years of chatting about writing and sharing work together.

And then, he was gone.

It wasn’t as if we were great friends. And yet, his passing has left me very sad. I wanted to know more about his life; I wanted to read more of his words.

Putting down some literary roots can help encourage and deepen your writing.

Putting down some literary roots can help encourage and deepen your writing.

Just last week, I was telling my writing students about the need for a writing community. We learn and grow best when we are surrounded by those people who can offer us a healthy balance of support and critique. One of the reasons I teach classes like the Legacy of Words class is because I gain more knowledge and experience in creative writing every time I teach. And, I gain new literary friends.

Tonight, I met a new writer friend. She reached out to me, having stumbled upon my website, because she is at one of those points all fledgling writers get to: she’s in need of her own literary community. We talked for an hour and a half, and I walked away feeling re-energized and excited having spent time with someone who has such passion for the written word.

It doesn’t matter if it is a client/student, a writing peer, or someone whose masterful knowledge of the craft I hope to learn from: having other writers to talk to, share with, help, and learn from is a key ingredient in my development as a writer. We don’t have to be in the same classroom, at the same coffee-shop, or even on the same continent, but putting down those literary roots so we can soak up the nutrients around us is a valuable thing.

I hope you are writing, and that the words you write matter.

***

As I finished this post, I was reminded of this line, from the song, I Don’t Want to Waste Your Time, by Over the Rhine. (Link to YouTube video version.)

But I don’t wanna waste the words
That you don’t seem to need
When it comes to wanting what’s real
There’s no such thing as greed
I hope this night puts down deep roots
I hope we plant a seed
‘Cause I don’t wanna waste your time
With music you don’t need

Read the lyrics to the whole song at Over the Rhine’s website.

A Little Shameless Self Promotion

This blog is not typically a “product” blog. I don’t endlessly sell items, though I do try to promote my own work and the writing of others from time to time.

This is a little bit of a departure. Not much, but a little.

There are a couple of events coming up for which you may find yourself looking for a gift.

Mother’s Day

If you've lost a loved one - a parent, spouse, even a child - you know the desire to have "one more day, one more conversation, one moment more" with that dear, departed one.

If you’ve lost a loved one – a parent, spouse, even a child – you know the desire to have “one more day, one more conversation, one moment more” with that dear, departed one.

I’m not selling flowers, cosmetics, or gift cards, but I got to thinking: Some of you may have someone in your life (a mother, aunt, grandmother, etc) who you have encouraged, over the years, to write some of her personal history. For over a year now I’ve been teaching Legacy of Words writing classes here in the Bradenton and Sarasota area. A Legacy of Words writing class is a great way for people to “get started” in the process, but some people either don’t live nearby, or they don’t want to participate in a formal, class environment. Earlier this year I developed my Legacy of Words Workbook to be used by would-be Legacy writers. It’s a good introduction and starting point to help someone get a start on their own efforts to leave a written legacy. And, Mother’s Day might just be the perfect excuse to give someone a copy of this workbook.

(For those unfamiliar: Legacy Writing is a literary form that draws on several other literary traditions: genealogy, auto-biography, family history, and memoir. Leaving a Legacy of Words is one way we can leave behind a piece of our story to children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings, and friends. This workbook is designed to help the individual, would-be Legacy writer, as well as to be used as a resource for my classroom series: Your Legacy of Words.)

The workbook (professionally bound paperback, with lots of writing prompts and space to write) cost is $15.00. You can learn a little more about the workbook at my website. Or, you can order it here, and have it delivered to your door, or shipped practically anywhere. (The product page also includes a preview of the book…)

Graduation

The book, Letters to Me: Conversations With a Younger Self, is available in both print and ebook editions. I'm very happy to have been asked to be a contributor to this book.

The book, Letters to Me: Conversations With a Younger Self, is available in both print and ebook editions. I’m very happy to have been asked to be a contributor to this book.

Sometimes an unassuming project takes on its own life. It isn’t that I thought of the Letters to Me project as something unimportant, but I will admit that it wasn’t something I thought of as “life-changing”. The editor of the project, Dan Schmidt contacted me and offered to include my take on the concept of “a conversation with a younger you.” It sounded interesting enough, and it is always nice to have someone seek out my writing. I’ve been involved in some other anthologies/collections, and I was happy to be a part of this one, as well. I purchased a dozen copies and shared them with some of my favorite young folks and people who regularly work with college-aged students. It was a good experience.

But recently I stopped by the Amazon page for Letters to Me and read through the reviews. I was very happy to see how well-received this collection of essays has been, and very proud to have some little part of that.

Head over to the Amazon page and read some of the reader response, and if you have someone in your life who is graduating, Letters to Me offers stories filled with compassion, insight, and humor from a variety of writers who know something about new horizons.

You can buy Letters to Me: Conversations With a Younger Self as a paperback book or an e-book from Amazon. Paperback, $12.99. E-book, $4.99

Leaving a Legacy of Words: New Article Focuses on Legacy Writing

One of my Bradenton-Sarasota writer friends, Juli C. Hilliard, recently wrote an article about individuals who want to leave a “Legacy of Words” by writing their personal and family stories and preserving them for children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

Alan Toy (along with Ginger and Lou Pavloff) was interviewed for Better Living magazine’s article about Legacy Writing. Alan and the Pavloffs were members of my first Legacy of Words class, and they have continued writing their life stories in the months since the class concluded.

Juli knew I was teaching Legacy Writing as a component of both my private writing instruction business, and the writing classes I teach at the University of South Florida campus via the Lifelong Learning Academy. We sat down at Starbucks (where we see each other most often, anyway) and talked about the Legacy Writing program. I also introduced her to three of my former students and she interviewed them about their experiences with tackling the writing of their personal and family history.

The full article was printed this week in the Better Living magazine. It was the cover story, even, as they featured a wonderful photo of Alan Toy, who was one of those students who often had that wide-eyed smile of a man both on a mission and dedicated to doing the hard work of writing. Inside, there were more wonderful photos of Alan and Ginger and Lou Pavloff, as well as some historical family photos from all three.

If you have a few minutes, follow this link to read Juli’s article (it starts on page 16-17).

NOTE: Next week IS Thanksgiving week, but I also have some big things planned for the blog…until then, Happy Writing!!

Fall In-Person Creative Writing Instruction

I will again be offering two courses through the Life Long Learning Academy at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Campus. Both classes run for eight weeks, on Mondays, beginning October 1st, 2012.

Mondays, 9 a.m. – Fiction Writing Basics

Mondays, 1:30 p.m. – Leaving a Legacy of Words

Each class is one hour and twenty minutes long, and packed full of creative writing goodness. If you are in the Sarasota/Bradenton area and interested, please register for the class of your choice (or, both!) sometime soon. These are great classes for fledgling writers, or for anyone who just wants a bit of structure to invigorate their writing life.

If you aren’t in the local area, but are interested in some creative writing feedback, instruction, or critique, I also work with writer’s one-on-one or in small, virtual groups via Skype or FaceTime…feel free to contact me with questions, or, for more info, you can always check out my website.

I slept a little better last night, and hopefully will be much more productive this week! I wish nothing but the same for you, blog friends. Happy writing!