Monday, November 23, 2009

Our First Day of Writing the Publishable Novel or Memoir ongoing workshop, Cycle #2

Here we are on the Topanga deck, preparing to get down 'n' literary. I've vacated the sun-drenched orange rattan chair to shoot the pic. 

 Justine Musk wisely snags a shady papadam chair, the better to spin her suspenseful goth-urban tales of decadence, Leer jets, and mystery.

We kicked things off at 10am, with a 5-minute breathing meditation, selected for our group by Diana Winston from UCLA's Mindfulness Center. As always, her mellifluous voice and easy meditation helped us all get grounded and ready for creative action. In case you want to give it a try before you start writing, here's the link:
If you try it out, let us know here on the blog how it works for you!

Throughout the glorious day, punctuated by groovy food and libations, we cranked. We talked longterm workshop goals (everyone's aiming for full book drafts by springtime!); discussed the provocative prologue of our workshop text, The Secret Life Of Puppets by Victoria Nelson; workshopped everyone's first sets of 10-page submissions (everyone's insights and helpful suggestions were sharp, innovative and often spot-on); and we wrote an in-class exercise:  Write a scene with two characters having an argument. While the scene unfolds, let one of those characters do a task, yet fail at that task. Then add in a third character who is either a puppet, a robot, or a cyborg.

The exercise this time was inspired by a few things. On the one hand, it was an homage to the legendary Jim Krusoe, a fabulous and fabulist novelist who's taught and inspired many a writer in this our City of Angels. He often nudges his students to jazz up a boring scene by adding a third character to stir things up. Another trick he suggests is having one of those characters doing a task poorly. Then I added a spin inspired by Puppets, and suggested the third character be one of these magical creatures who're naturally invested with supernatural power in this world where the mystical religious urge has gone underground, into the Grotto -- and illuminates such figures with a displaced power.

In a matter of 15 minutes, each workshop participant jammed out a stunning scene. All were vivid, and naturally paced, full of drama, humor, and distinctly stamped by the writer's own voice. Once again, the magic of the in-class on-the-spot writing.

For this first post post-first class, I want to showcase one of those exercises. Here is Janet Graham:

And here is her rockin' exercise!

"The smell of horseshit was strong through the screens filled with dust and cobwebs.
She didn’t like the way it interfered with her view of things.  The wide backed Gaucho horses grazing in the dark green pasture, the occasional ranch hand crossing the frame with hoses and rakes in hand.  She makes a mental note to get them to wash the screens.

“I told you I didn’t want her to have one of those fucking things,” she says pointing to the life-sized Barbie standing in the corner with platinum blonde hair and a bridal gown on.  “Throw me the tape will you?” 

“I don’t know where it is,” he says looking through the mounds of wrapping paper on the bed.  “You’re being ridiculous,” he adds.  “It’s the one thing she wanted.  She asked for it.”

“It’s disgusting!” She gets up off the floor.  “It’s the one thing I didn’t want her to have.” She moves to the desk looking for the tape.

“She’s a little girl,” he says standing up.  “All little girls like Barbie.  What’s the big deal?”

“Where’s the fucking tape?” She throws things off the desk.

“It’s bad enough that you bought her a Barbie.  A life-sized Barbie!  But did you have to pick one with platinum hair dressed in a wedding gown.  What are we teaching her?  If she’s plastic enough, she might have a chance of growing up and getting married?”

Happy writing, everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Welcome to Writers on Fire ~ Unplugged!

Welcome to the newly launched Writers on Fire blog!  Get ready for sizzling stories from Writers on Fire workshops, plus tons of other writerly, travelicious treats. 

Tomorrow, we kick off Cycle #2 of the ongoing Writing the Publishable Novel or Memoir workshop which gathers here at my magical Topanga Canyon hideaway. We meet from 10am to 3pm on the covered deck, which looks out over the picturesque State Park. Guaranteed, this setting works wonders on people's well-being as well as writing. The setting is boho-rustic, and helps people shut out the distractions of this fair sprawl-city of ours. In good California style, we commence the day with a short breathing meditation to help us shift into creative mode. Of course we eat great food during the intensive day, which includes in-class exercises, workshopping of each person's bi-monthly pages, plus discussion of the ongoing reading (this cycle we're immersing ourselves in The Secret Life Of Puppets, by Victorian Nelson) We cap the rigorous day with a Prosecco toast to the imagination.

On the required reading:  Over the last 15 years of teaching, I've found that including a demanding text, usually non-fiction, somehow sharpens everyone's brains and leaks into the writing in the most sublime and unexpected ways. Ideally we choose a text that taps into the subconscious. That is also the idea of in-class exercises. Because almost across the board, when people unhinge their imaginations, they write better than themselves. And this experience informs their more conscious writing, too. The results are often spectacularly original and potent.

We currently have six stunningly talented writers joining us this cycle. I will post more about them in coming months, with their permission. For now, trust me there will be creative ferment aplenty on top of this bucolic hill. We plan to post more info about these writers, showcase their work generated during the workshop, and additionally link to their sites and blogs. Perhaps some of them will be inspired to create blogs during the workshop if they don't already have them!

There will be lots more to come in future posts, including invitations to upcoming retreats in other locations -- both here in the United States and abroad -- info about private writing coaching services, international coaching available through Skype, travel & writing exercises and tips, and much much more.

For now, thank you for joining the Writers On Fire - Unplugged! blog. Don't hesitate to contact us and tell us what you'd like to see here.

Your creative adventure tour guide,