Archive for Creative Writers’ Workshop

Guest Post: The Charming Light Box and a Literary Fetus

This guest post by Creative Writer’s Workshop member Kim Chamberlain, who is steadily making excellent progress with her memoir. Kim is a music teacher, clarinetist and jazz singer with lots of great stories. Kim can be reached at chamberlaind@bellsouth.net.

My writing coach’s words from a month ago reverberate inside my head: “You have four long weeks to get a lot done.”

Now, my deadline looms at midnight. In my basement writing room, twenty-seven chapters, hiding inside 2 large binders, remind me that I’ve got Writer’s Block.

Light Box by Kim ChamberlainI can write. A lot. I can quickly churn out another chapter for my memoir, sending it on its way to Wayne’s Thursday night writers’ group.  I recall the ending of my group evaluation at our last meeting weeks ago:

“Consider choosing five chapters that anchor the plot best, and start building structure from there,” Wayne suggested.

Five. Yeah, right.

The glow from a nearby lamp radiating off the top of Wayne’s pate inspired me to ponder the reflective quality of human skin. My mind meanders down a trivial trail into a thicket of distraction.

His mouth continued to form words. “Why not start by identifying the setting, characters and theme?”

I wonder if Wayne’s crown feels silky or maybe a little bumpy. That Yul Brenner look requires a nicely shaped head like Wayne’s.

Ann, the first published author among us, chimed in. “It may be difficult to pick five, but I learned a lot by doing the same thing.”

Back from her year-long sabbatical, a time spent publishing her book, Ann has plunged into her second work while still finding the time to promote the first one. She manages to simultaneously write new material and present workshops requiring airline and hotel reservations.

Will I even get to the editing stage?

Ann flashed a wide grin. “Just spread the chapters all around on the floor like I did. You’ll figure it out.”

She had a point. I earned my Masters in Library Science in a maelstrom, broadcasting my handwritten notes, rough drafts, markers, and pens upon a wide table in the library. The debris always managed to write itself. But writing memoir was different.

I imagined a hurricane of papers scattered haphazardly on my already cluttered writing room floor. I pouted and replied, “Well, I’ve put all 27 chapters in 3-ring binders.”

Wayne’s timer trilled, and everyone folded up their notes on my work and passed them to me.

Wayne smiled, “Good work, Kim. Karen? You’re on.”

A masterful weaver of imagery, Karen often apologizes for not producing enough. Yet her book is organically forming itself.

“I didn’t get much done,“ she confessed, as I unfolded her 2000-word entry of the week and contemplated my commentary next to hot sauce stains that I’d added at lunch earlier in the day: “Brilliant as always! You’ve accomplished so much!”

Enjoying a mini-sabbatical herself, the soon-to-be online published Hana checked in through Wayne. We learned that while she drove her son to a soccer tournament, her characters frolicked in her mind, concocting the next plot twist.

Wayne wrapped it up. “See y’all next month! Do good work!”

Flanked by my fellow writers, I stumbled toward my Subaru, noticing one benevolent star at the far end of the plum-hued sky. It was a hopeful sign.

As soon as I pulled into the carport, I made a beeline for my basement writing room.

I’ll start tonight!

It wouldn’t take long for my chapters to come together and form an embryonic entity, the way primordial organs adjoin in utero. By July, there’d be a memoir, a literary fetus. At group, everyone would coo, “Look! You can see all of its parts, and there’s a cute little ending. How adorable!”

Still warm from group, I hole-punched the group’s notated papers and snapped them into Binder 2.

Better start fresh in the morning.

FullSizeRender 9That was a month ago.

I’ve gotten a lot done over break, but I haven’t touched my memoir.

First, Dave and I spent four days with our son at his future college. Exuberant student representatives plied us with window decals, plastic coffee cups, T-shirts, and brochures. Time had to be spent to sift through it all.

Next, I succumbed to my thrift store addiction. Rather than heed Wayne’s words, I made things from purchased wooden boxes, bric-a brac, knick-knacks and picture frames. Whenever I’d sit down at my writing table, my creative brain focused on crafting.

Hmm. If I remove the glass from that picture frame and put it inside that wooden box, I could make a nifty case for my clarinet reeds.

The hours ebbed into lost time, yielding unique folk-art masterpieces and charming light boxes.  My writing room is ablaze.

I did work on my memoir just a bit. One day I cleared a place at my long folding table, and I skimmed a few chapters from Volume 1. Jotting down the main characters, setting, plot, and themes onto index cards, I realized that some of my work belonged in the “reject” folder.

The next day, I slammed volume 2 onto the table with a thud. I froze. I fell asleep.

Hours dribbled into days until I had less than 72 hours left.

Volume 2 just sat there—a Stonehenge monolith—impenetrable, looming and impossible. Rather than turn to another craft project for diversion, I realized that worry and grief work just as well.  I was seriously nutting up.

Last Friday evening with three days left on the break, my husband and son found me plopped on the couch, as intractable as my binders.The Chamberlains, photo by Tom Marnell

“Do you want to come with us to a show in Marietta?”

“You guys go and have a good time. I’m going to work on my writing.”

I listened to the truck pull out of the driveway and reached for my son’s gaming remote. I turned on the TV and scrolled down to You Tube.

In the search bar, I typed in “The Illuminati and UFOs.”

Five more minutes and I’ll go down to the basement.

I scuttled deeper into the sofa.

Wow, I didn’t know that ex-Presidents are working for some new world order!

The television droned on. I dozed off then jolted awake to fuzzy images of naked billionaires sacrificing goats at secret rituals deep in the California woods.

Goosebumps erupted on my arms as a male voice warned, “Wake up, people! The signs are all around us!”

The weekend vanished with only hours left.

I heard Wayne’s voice in my head, “You have four weeks…”

Forget about the chapters. Write. Just Write.

That’s what I did.

Now at the deadline’s midnight hour, I finished this and emailed it to the group. On Thursday, they’ll tell me they still have faith in me. Then on Friday, I’ll fling twenty-seven chapters onto my writing room floor and see what happens.

Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Kim and David Chamberlain.  Photo of the Chamberlains by Tom Marnell, mineeyeshavescene.com.

Client Success: Author Ann J. Temkin Blends Christianity, Judaism & Memoir

Ann.Temkin.Sandstorm.final“My inspiration for this book is both my love of God and my own long, winding spiritual journey,” said Ann J. Temkin, author of the newly released Sight In The Sandstorm: Jesus in His World and Mine.

A self-described half-breed—the child of a Jewish father and Protestant Mother—Ann expressed her need to bridge her Jewishness and Jesus’ Jewishness. “Even though the historical context on place and spiritual heritage is acquired from research, it’s also in my bones and has a universal aspect,” Ann said.

An ordained protestant minister who is both a former Catholic nun and licensed therapist, Ann’s book brings Jesus and his companions to life within the rich context of turbulent 1st century Palestine. The political, socio-economic, and religious conditions of the Jewish people living under Roman rule provide moving and meaningful insight into Jesus, his life, and his teachings. Stories from the author’s life are intertwined as the combination proclaims a message transcending time and place about human struggle against oppression and a path to liberation. Sight In The Sandstorm illustrates the power of an extravagantly loving God, a God on the loose in the whole world then and now.

“While conducting research on 1st century Palestine during the last 10 years, I kept being told I should write a book. I was also told the same thing about writing a memoir.” Eventually, Ann felt she needed to honor her research and explore the Jesus story, but she wanted to write a book both accessible and relevant for general audiences of any spiritual background as well as those with none.

She joined my Creative Writers Workshop and shared her written stories with other members from a variety of backgrounds with positive results. She dabbled in memoir, too, also positive. Then, she took the challenge to see how the two could mirror one another in a broadly reflective way, and she began to play with braiding stories together.

Ann.TemkinThis came easily or Ann. “Integrating aspects of theology, various spiritual and life perspectives…well, I do that all the time. It’s central to who I am, as is passing it on for others to consider.” She achieved her goal of showing how Jesus has been influential through reflection and affected her life as both a Christian and a Jew. This illustration is offered to readers to apply to their lives to whatever degree.

“I love writing,” Ann explained. Though she has published in academic journals and written professionally, writing a popular book was a new mountain to climb. After a year in the writing group and a year of personal coaching through revision, final edit and production, Ann said with a confident smile, “That tape used to run in my head a lot, the one that snipes ‘Who do you think you are?’ Now I have the answer.”

Sight In The Sandstorm: Jesus In His World and Mine by Ann J. Temkin is available in Paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

Author’s Focus Group Gives Clarity For Completion

“I was at that stage of feeling ‘this book is just embarrassing!’” Ann J. Temkin said after completing major revisions on her first book, Sight in the Sandstorm: Jesus in His World and Mine.

I suggested I facilitate a focus group. She agreed, adding, “My greatest fear Is not that they will hate it—which would mean it had impact—but that they would just find it uninteresting, not moving, not new—a waste of time and effort.”

Focus GroupIn the book, Jesus, profoundly human and Jewish, is viewed within the context of the world in which he lived. Stories with fleshed out biblical characters braid together with tales from the author’s life in a vivid, compelling account.

We ended up with a pair of focus groups. One included the three women she worked with as she developed the first draft in my Creative Writers’ Workshop. They represent different faith backgrounds from childhoods in the northeast and midwest regions of the US, as well as east Africa.

For the other group, we wanted people of different ages and genders who did not know her. Invited were a Jewish woman, a man in his 20s of conservative Christian faith, and another in his 60s raised in a Southern Baptist church who later left the church to combine his beliefs with new thought teachings. Ann was surprised when they all accepted.

The rough manuscript was delivered to members three weeks in advance with a list of questions, including: Is the book interesting? How did you react to the different exposition of gospel stories? Was there any confusion of time or place? Any inaccuracies? And did the braiding of historical tales and my life stories work?

“The experience was very good,” Ann said of the process. Though I facilitated both groups, she felt free to be active, even asking after much positive feedback, “Since a lot of effort, time, and money will be required for me to publish this book, is it worth it?” As she had through each two-hour meeting, Ann remain neutral, poised for the truth. She beamed as each group affirmed a passionate “Yes!”

After concluding both sessions in five days, I could sense her happiness, as well as the weight of the new input she received. As her coach and editor, I had no doubt she could handle it.

Ann deeply appreciated the generous gift of time and effort these busy individuals gave in preparing, contemplating and sharing, even writing insightful comments in their manuscripts. She took each person’s remarks very seriously.

“I’ve made quite a lot of changes to help flow and clarity, and I’ve completely rewritten two chapters that were too heavy on content without enough life to them.” And from their suggestions, she also created her title.

Now, there’s one more read-through for each of us, then perhaps minor revisions. While I copy edit for publication, Ann will complete work with designer Laura Nalesnik on the cover from a vision she received in meditation.

“I never get visions in meditation,” she exclaimed telling me of her cover idea.

And she’s never published a book, but now, with clear focus, she will…soon.

Sight in the Sandstorm: Jesus in His World and Mine by Ann J. Temkin is available in softcover and e-book.

Contact Wayne to facilitate a focus group for your book or writing project.

Love/Hate: Writers on Writing

5 Writers Respond to Dorothy Parker

On Writing’s Beloved Struggle

The members of the Creative Writers Workshop were asked to view the image and write a quick, honest and heartfelt response.  At 100 words or less, they could edit this, if needed, but not over think it.  Here are the results —

dorothy.parker.1

Typing is a cumbersome, antiquated mode of transmitting words onto paper.

Did Dorothy Parker mean to say, “I hate typing? I love having written?”

Writing is to the book, as dancing is to the dance.

‘Having written’ permits the writer to proclaim, “I am a writer.”

If I asked Dorothy Parker why she hates writing but loves having written, she’d reply I haven’t suffered the bi-polar nature of writing:  A mad churning out of words, or comatose waiting for inspiration.

If I got to hate writing, I’d quit. Let the writers do it instead.   –Kim

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I laughed out loud at this! Dorothy Parker, as usual, says volumes in a few words. It makes me wonder how much she must have struggled with writing and rewriting to whittle things down to the economical sentences she’s known for—not one word is wasted. It reminds me also of another quote by a famous writer: “Sorry this is so long. I did not have time to make it shorter.”  Making it shorter and making it better comes after first writing sloppy or bad, which most of us hate to do! Shitty first drafts everyone, shitty first drafts.    –Karen

Note:  “Sorry this…” by Mary Jackson in the New English Review and attributed to Blaise Pascal, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, etc.  “Shitty first drafts” by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird

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I need to conquer this Goliath within me, this giant writer that rules over me.  Actually maybe not, because then that will be self-destructive. Maybe I’ll just harass her into a malleable acquiescence, use her to release my creative juices, go on dates with her, coax her into the silences of my soul, to find the words resting there and release them onto the page.  Because if this Goliath keeps ruling me in the same way, then no one will ever read my stories, and the pent-up energy will find other less satiable channels of expression.    –Hana

dorothy.parker.2

I actually don’t hate writing at all – once it starts it’s sort of like what I imagine body surfing to be. Getting a start can be tough, especially if writing a book, can’t help thinking about the overarching storyline.

Don’t know about loving having written. Sometimes pleased, sometimes not, sometimes anxious about something in it, like “did I paint someone in an unfair light?” Today looked for the first time at all my chapters. Not going to look too hard, or I’d begin reworking, finding all the gaps that need filling, etc. Well, have to start putting something on paper for tomorrow – one of those times beginning a new part – always the hardest to get started!   –Ann

Dorothy.Parker.by.Kris.Heding

This irritated me.  Then I thought if I were DP, that nimble, clever broad, I’d rather be at the Algonquin with creative types loudmouthing and cackling, my brain firing on all cylinders, one hand gripping a cocktail while the other fluttered punctuating my voiced assaults.  In solitary with those fingers pounding keys, brain all alone, would be an utter bore.

I enjoy every part of writing, including talking and laughing about it.  Wish I could’ve met Mrs. Parker.  I’d ask ‘Can you really be that good at something you hate?’ then be on guard for the exploding wisecracker.   –Wayne

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Algonquin Round Table members

Please share your response in 100 words or less.
Consider joining a Creative Writers Workshop for all the fun and creative expression of the Round Table without the smoke, booze and attitude (at least in the room, though whatever happens on paper is celebrated).  Groups are forming now on evenings and weekends.  Each is limited to four writers.  Email me with your intention.

 

“Typewriter” — Dorothy Parker Facebook fanpage
“What Fresh Hell Is This?” — Libby Fife
“Book Page Collage” — Kris Heding