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Tag Archives: Writing Workshops

A Peek Inside (Fort Bragg Edition)

[I hate it when I think I hit the Publish button only to find out much later that some how I didn’t.  This should have showed up hereabouts yesterday.]

I’ve been in Fort Bragg since Wednesday.


I’ll be headed home tomorrow.  To say that I want nothing to do with the return would be an understatement to end all understatements.  For the past few days, I’ve been able to slow down and live a life of leisure.  Back in the real world, I feel like I never stop moving and hurrying.  Not enjoying the moment because I have to get to the next “must do.”  My need to constantly rush drives my wife crazy, I know this.  It drives me crazy as well.  But there is so much that always needs to get done.  It’s how I’ve lived my life for the past couple of decades, but it’s one of the many things that isn’t a part of the real me.  For the last few days, I’ve had the opportunity to be me.

Hunting for lighthouses…




Vast beauty…


Waves crashing …



I’ve written a bit here and a bit there.   Made pizza in a new and different way.  Met some talented writers and made friends with a few of them.

But there are things I set out to do that I never got to.  Paint and explore some of this area in a deeper way.  Never quite got there.  Because, yes, there is still a bit of a hurry.  There are still so many things to do.  It’s back to life tomorrow.  But, that’s not right.  What’s back there isn’t actually life.  It’s grinding through the “must do’s” to get to the point where the time for “wanna do’s” finally opens up.

Some other random things from this week.

The workshop was great, but it wasn’t.  Three days sitting and talking about writing, hearing other writers’ perspectives on stories, is always interesting and inspiring.  I’m motivated to move forward on the things that have been holding me back.  But, for three days, it also felt like work.  I had to be up and somewhere by 8:00 and then spent the entire day there, while there were all of these other things I wanted to do.  Places to go, pictures to paint, words to write.  So, there was that.  I’m not sure I’ll do a formal workshop again.  Maybe I’ll come up with my informal King Midget workshop for future trips.  More flexible, more open, more free-wheeling.  You in?

I left for this trip with four books to pick from for my reading.  Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, recommended by a friend, and then by Peter Orner who led the morning workshop I was in.  Joyland, by Stephen King.  Yes, I have written that I’m swearing off of Mr. King forever.  But a friend assured me this was not typical King.  We’ll see.  The Housekeeper and The Professor, by Yoko Ogawa, and recommended by a co-worker.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, not just recommended by a friend but purchased by her specifically for me to read.  I also brought my Kindle, which has who knows how many books and shorts stories on it that I haven’t read yet.  So, I was fully loaded with reading material.

Which explains why I only got through Revolutionary Road and am only now starting on Joyland.  And also why I added more books to my reading list while here.  First I had to buy two more books by Peter Orner.  Had to.  It was a must.  Then I had to buy a book that includes three novels by Henry Green, the author that Peter insisted is an author like no other.  The collection consists of Loving, Living and Party Going.  What it doesn’t include is Doting, a novel Green wrote that consists entirely of dialogue.  I must read that.

I also wandered through a used bookstore and added a Faulkner collection to the stack.  So, game on.  I’m going to have to be a reading fool in the weeks ahead.

I’d like to go back to Revolutionary Road and just say this.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  It’s one of those books that just produces a WOW from me.  It is so good on so many different levels.

I think that’s it.  My little time away has been more than I thought it could be while being less than I had hoped.  But, ultimately, it was 100 times better than the alternative.


For Zoe

Right around this time, I started attending a monthly writing workshop conducted by Zoe.  An older woman who halfway through her life took a pause and enrolled in a writing program at Columbia College.  No, not that one — the Columbia University in New York.  This one.  In Chicago.  Zoe teachers her workshops in the style promoted by Columbia College.

I may not do it justice, but we spend four hours together, one Saturday each month.  There are readings from other writers to provide for discussion of a particular method of telling a story.  Last month was model telling.  This month was dreams, memories, and fantasies.

At some point, we began to … well, I think of it as pulling words out and throwing them out for consideration.  Clear your mind and say what the first word is in your mind.  Create a place where that word fits.  Move it to the side, clear your mind, and then say the next work that pops into your head.  Create a place where that word fits.  Move it to the side, clear your mind and do it again.  You get the idea?

In all these months, and it has been somewhat off and on, I’ve struggled with a little bit of dissatisfaction about the workshops.  You know me.  I’m a point A to point B to point C type of person.  I need to feel like I’m progressing, that what I’m doing contributes to that movement forward.  I wasn’t feeling that way about these workshops until today.

Zoe said something that was so simple and basic.  It’s one of those moments where I felt like smacking my forehead and saying “doh!”

Those word and visualization exercises were never meant to just be done within the comforting confines of the workshop.  Instead, they are something we, as writers, should be doing regularly as a part of our writing process.  Spend five minutes seeing what words pop into your head. Write them down.  See if they have a place in what you’re working on or prompt you to begin something completely new.

And then another thing happened this afternoon.  The last third or so of each workshop is spent writing.  To create an opportunity to write, each of us visualize a place — it could be a scene in an existing story, a scene in a planned story, or something totally new.  Then, we begin to fill that scene in.  Who is there and what are they doing.  Identify an expected object in the scene.  Then identify an unexpected object.  Identify an expected smell and an unexpected smell.  Identify a near sound and a far sound.  And, finally, identify something that is about to change in the scene.  And, if you choose, take all of that and write it.

My last post was about how my writing energy has gone to blogging for far too long.  Today’s workshop brought me back into fiction.  My scene creation was about the scene that beings the final chapter of The Irrepairable Past.  It got those fiction juices flowing again.  I now know how I’m going to begin that chapter and with that in mind, I’m pretty sure I can write the entire chapter.  There’s the little conundrum of the three or four chapters that proceed it that I haven’t quite cracked, but …

I’m excited about this story again.  Since the workshop ended about five hours ago, I’ve been back at Sullivan Bay in Henry’s world.  It’s the kick in the pants I needed.  The spark.  Time to go write.

Thank you, Zoe.  I learned a couple of things today.

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