Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Writing workshop #1

Getting Started

So you’ve got a great story. You know the characters, the details of their lives, maybe even the minutiae of what happens to them. You’ve talked about it lots of times over the years, telling it to critique groups, friends, neighbors, anyone who would listen as you refined the plot points and developed the hero.
But you haven’t written it down. It still exists only in your head. And therein lies the problem.
Writing is an art, and just like all the other arts, you create first and sell later. No one’s going to buy that blank canvas just because you say you’re going to paint a beautiful sunset on it. They’ll buy the painting of the sunset once you’re done. No one’s going to buy the music in your head that they can’t hear. But make a sound recording or write it on staff paper and it becomes something real. And saleable.
Same with that story you’ve refined in your head till your significant others don’t want to hear it anymore. The time has come to stop telling your story and start writing it down. It’s time to create.
NOTE: The terms “work” and “play” are nearly synonymous in an author’s life. We “work” at crafting a good story, yet we “play” with language in order to find just the right word. Throughout these workshops you’ll hear the two concepts used interchangeably. Remember, if you’re not having fun writing it, your audience won’t have fun reading it!

Where do you begin?
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

First metaphor:
These first few workshops are designed to get you thinking. To get the words out of your head and onto the page.
Some of what you throw up out of your head and onto the page will be wonderful, like a great spaghetti dinner. Other stuff will be puke.
This is a fact of creation. Accept it and move on.

Second metaphor:
When I was a kid, I came into the kitchen shortly before dinner one night to see my mother fling a piece of spaghetti at the wall. It stuck for several moments before beginning a slow descent. She watched it, beaming a satisfied smile as she turned off the heat under the pot of pasta.
Confused, I just had to ask. “What are you doing?”
“Checking to see if the pasta’s done. I read about it in a magazine. If it sticks, it’s done. If it doesn’t, it needs more boiling.”
For the next several months, I had the unwelcome task of wiping the wall down after my mother made spaghetti.

In these workshops I will encourage you to throw up an idea onto the paper, to play with it a while and see if it “sticks”. If it’s good, you’ll know. Like a large family dinner, the characters will talk, the action will move and the story will get written.
If it’s not good—well, you’ll know that, too.

Taking Inventory
Whether you’re a published author or just starting out, stopping to take inventory every once in a while is a great way to gain perspective and spark new ideas.
Step One: Gather together all the stories and scraps of stories you have already written down. Whether on the backs of napkins, in piles of spiral notebooks or computer documents scattered hither and yon, find them all. If you only have a few on the computer, print them out.
For those of you with lots of your stories on the computer, gather them together into one file. And make a back up.
Step Two: If your scraps are on paper, get out a ruler and measure the height of the pile. Those of you with digital files, look at the list in that folder. Talk about an affirmation that you’re a writer! Did you realize you had so many pieces?
Step Three: Choose three of the pieces and read them without editing. This is spaghetti you threw against the wall at some time in the past. What do you think of this now? Any new ideas sparked?
Step Four: If the ideas are starting, stop here and go write. Throw more words down on the page and see what happens.
Step FourA: Nothing’s happening? Pick another three and read through. If you get through the entire pile and nothing sparks, it might be time to start something fresh. And that’s next week’s workshop J .

My qualifications

The contents of these workshops are actually my accumulation of several years’ experience teaching creative writing in real-life classroom settings. Each workshop has been tried and tested several times. Additional workshops came from my work in Second Life where I gave many of these workshops in the virtual world (as Diana Allandale). This is, however, the first time I’ve gathered all the various workshops I’ve offered in both worlds and published them in one place.

The nitty-gritty

A new workshop will be posted every Tuesday. Eventually we’ll have the contents of a book about writing. At that point, I’ll collect all the workshops in ebook (and maybe print) form for those who would like it all bundled into one nice, neat place and offer it for sale.

You’ll see a new button below. If you enjoy the workshops and find them useful, please consider sending a donation my way. When the final product is ready to go, those who have donated each time will get a free copy of the ebook as a gift from me. I won’t dun you twice for the content.

1 comment:

Diana Hunter said...

I did this activity again this weekend and was amazed at how high the pile has grown. I last did it about two years ago. Then I had about an inch-high stack of papers and a list of about 10 digital stories that I'd started but hadn't gone anywhere with. The paper stack hasn't grown much, but my digital file has nearly forty story starts. I think it's time to finish some of them...