Elizabeth Gilbert was once an "unpublished diner waitress," devastated by rejection letters. And yet, in the wake of the success of 'Eat, Pray, Love,' she found herself identifying strongly with her former self. With beautiful insight, Gilbert reflects on why success can be as disorienting as failure and offers a simple — though hard — way to carry on, regardless of outcomes.
See an inspiring TED Talk from Elizabeth Gilbert HERE.
"Writers ought to write and I take up my pen in the hope that it may loosen my spirit."
-- E.M. Forsters
Sharing and Critique
We kicked-off class today by sharing three more short stories. First, I am very happy that the students are writing more than just the bare minimum. Everyone seems engaged, enthused, and hopefully -- inspired! We will continue taking turns sharing our weekly at-home writing -- some weeks we may be able to squeeze in slightly more stories, or slightly less. I am keeping track of how many times each student has shared, and will make sure everyone has equal voice by the time we wrap-up on the 19th!
Second, the group is also becoming slightly more comfortable with the critique process. This is really difficult to master, and only becomes easier with time and practice. Hopefully, in the next four weeks we'll gain more confidence and be able to share more freely with one another. When you're trying to become a better writer yourself, it's not always easy to give another writer specific suggestions. Through this give and take process (give critique constructively and receive it graciously) we all can become better writers.
The next element of story-writing that we covered today was using specific detail to help control the reader's imagination. The more information you give the reader, the closer the reader's mental picture will be to the one you intended.
After a speedy grammar review (nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs) we read some examples of using and abusing adjectives and adverbs. Ultimately, "saying it" with fewer words that pack the most punch is strategically a better choice. We don't want to weigh down our readers with clunky and overloaded text. We also don't want to be too cryptic either! Using detail in just the right way is probably one of the most challenging aspects of writing, and I'll be giving each individual student more specific feedback on his or her pieces in the final two weeks.
Before moving on, everyone wrote one sentence that gave as much detail as possible (without over-using adjectives or adverbs). This was trickier than we thought -- some were spot-on, some were nearly-there, all were on the right track.
Writing Great Dialogue
We finished up the day by starting our unit on dialogue -- what it should sound like and when to use it. I gave everyone a handout which reviews some of the dos and donts of dialogue writing. They may want to refer to it if they choose one of the Dialogue Prompts from the homework sheet.
Next week we'll practice by writing dialogue in class!
Prompt choices this week are Specific Detail, Dialogue, continue working on any story you have started at home or in class, or start a new one. If you are writing one continuous story, just make sure that you are adding to it weekly.
See you next Monday!
Three Steps of Critique
We started class today by going over our objectives when critiquing another writer's work. I have no doubt this group will develop into a great circle of literary critics -- they just need a little practice!
Each week we will have three to four writers share their work at the beginning of class. If you don't share one week, you will automatically share the following week. You can read the story you wrote that week, or choose another that you haven't had a chance to share yet. We'll also take turns sharing our in-class writing, as well.
Remember, in critiquing another's work, we:
Plot Structure and Narrative Viewpoint
Next we reviewed plot structure and narrative conflict. Many students are probably familiar with these concepts but I provided them with a handout which they can use in crafting their future short stories. We took our invented characters from last week and gave them a major challenge to overcome. After writing for only a few minutes, the students came up with some great challenges for their characters. I appreciate how each student uses our in-class writing time -- some write easily and without hesitation, others take a few moments to gather their thoughts. Both approaches have merit and I encourage each individual to continue to utilize the one that works best for him or her. Our in-class writing time is meant to provide an extra challenge -- thinking creatively "on our feet" so to speak!
Then we moved on to talk about narrative viewpoint and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of writing in the first person vs. the third person narrative. We wrapped up class by starting another short story prompt. This time the task was to present the same story from two different viewpoints. Students can continue this story at home, or the earlier prompt involving their invented characters. Additionally, I gave everyone four more prompts -- two that focus on plot structure and two that focus on narrative viewpoint.
We spent a few minutes today discussing what each class will look like. Every Monday we will:
At our fifth class, I will ask the students to choose three of their stories and I will work with everyone individually to polish their writing. This will be done partly in class and partly via email.
For the stories we began today, please transfer what you have written thus far to a word processing document.
For this class, all short stories should utilize the following formatting requirements:
We also talked about how long our stories should be. This will depend on each individual's experience and comfort with writing. I do expect them to challenge themselves, but I encouraged them to focus on quality over quantity, especially in the beginning. At this level, all stories should be a minimum of one - two typed pages, but again, this will vary depending on the student -- any questions, just ask!
Creating Great Characters
Without further ado, we jumped into our first lesson: Creating Well-Developed Characters. To illustrate how interesting characters can be developed (in some cases very quickly), each student drew a random name out of a bag. You can have some fun with this by going to a web-site like behindthename.com and generate your own random character names! We drew some really great ones like Finnbar Fromm and Dand Hobbes. We took turns describing our characters -- what they looked like, their age, and occupation. We ended up with a fantastic cast of characters, and I hope that some of the students will consider incorporating these folks into their short stories this week! They also received questionnaires which they should try to use when developing all of their characters. They can finish filling them out at home, or create a new list for each new character. We discussed that while all this information might not be used in our stories, getting to know our characters more deeply will assist in shaping the story and helping our readers get to know the characters gradually as the story develops.
Show, Don't Tell!
Next, we talked about showing the reader what we want them to know, instead of telling them. Sometimes it's perfectly ok to tell the reader something -- maybe it's not that important, it's boring, or just background information you need to communicate. In short story writing we're going to be getting to the point more quickly, so it will be more interesting to read if we "show" instead of "tell." To practice this, everyone wrote at least two sentences that "showed" me it was a hot day, without using the word "hot." We had some great, descriptive sentences -- nice job!
At the end of class, I handed out a list of writing prompts. Some prompts address character development and some tackle showing vs. telling. Students chose one of the prompts and began a story. They should continue to develop this story at home this week, finishing it before Monday. Please don't forget to bring your typed short story to class each week! Alternatively, they can scrap the story they began in class and start a new one. For more ideas you can go to: http://www.creative-writing-now.com/short-story-ideas.html
See you next week!
You see me write a lot about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) around here, but NaNoWriMo doesn't start for another 211 days -- what's a writer to do?
Enter National Poetry Month, and you guessed it -- National Poetry Writing Month ( yes -- NaPoWriMo)!
In honor of this momentous occasion, I'd like to share a couple of resources to help get the poetic juices flowing:
1) NaPoWriMo.net offers a 30 poems in 30 days challenge. Much like NaNoWriMo which challenges novelists each November to reach a word count goal in 30 days, NaPoWriMo lists poetry writing prompts on its web-site each day in the month of April. For instance, the prompt for Day 1 was an ekphrastic poem (poem inspired by or about a work of art). This could be something like a sonnet or a haiku or free verse. The prompt for Day 3 (today) is to write a charm – a simple rhyming poem (think nursery rhymes!). You don't have to use the daily prompt -- just write! And when you're all done, if you publish your poems to your blog or web-site, you can share that with NaPoWriMo as well; they also feature Participants' Sites on their web-site.
2) The complete 10-week Poetry for Kids course lays out 10 simple poetry lessons that you can do once per week for 10 weeks or all at once! Some of the lessons:
Check them out! And, if you prefer for someone else to lead this journey into the poetic and the rhythmic, let us know -- we have a great class for you -- Poet's Corner!
Now go be brilliant. Come back, and email me your poetry. If I like it, I'll publish it here and on our Facebook Page.
This is a forum where you can ask questions about your writing projects. We'll do our best to answer them or post helpful links to get you pointed in the right direction. Occasionally we may feature exceptional pieces of writing, such as poems or short stories/essays. To ask a question or to submit a piece for consideration, please email your question or writing piece to: