One Down, One To Go

I’ve finished the work for one of my classes and have one more paper to write by next Friday. Keith Abbott asked that we write an essay on what we learned during the workshop. Here’s a short version of what I wrote:

The most (but not only) constructive lesson that I got out of the Building Blocks class was the practice of typewriter yoga ?. Since I use MSWord on my laptop instead of a typewriter I’ve taken to calling my practice Word yoga ?. I sit of my laptop with MS Word open for thirty minutes on a daily basis. I have managed to be fairly consistent with this practice. There was one week during the semester when I neglected doing Word yoga ? and that followed the completion of a first draft of a new and exciting story. After several days of not writing I remembered that the purpose of Word yoga ? had not been to write a new story, but instead to develop self-discipline and a daily writing practice.

I’ve also begun a sitting meditation practice for thirty minutes a day. For me these two practices support one another. I’ve increased my sitting meditation to one hour a day and will increase my Word yoga ? by thirty minutes in December.

The monologue assignments were valuable to me. In the first monologue assignment I investigated a character that became part of a story. I had not written monologues before and the process is intriguing. Now I regularly use the monologue as a way to generate story ideas. I will start with an idea for a character, then I will interview ? that character using many of the questions from the handout Sam Shepherd’s Monologue List ?. I ask the character about himself and the people in his life. Sometimes I ask him or her to tell me a story. If nothing else it keeps me writing during Word yoga ?.

The assignment that was most educational for me was writing the different dialogues: sympathetic, controlling, intimate, grammar specific, etc. This assignment gave a new perspective on writing where I had more control over my what my writing did. Rather than writing only from my murky unconscious, this assignment gave me a technique for writing with intention. There are still times with I want to let my unconscious guide my writing, but it is invaluable to not be confined to that one mode of writing.

Reading David Mamet’s Where to Put the Camera? ? also gave me a new perspective from which to write. Starting with an arrangement of emotions I was able to create beats ? and scenes ? to tell a story. This sort of conscious ? writing is new to me and I am excited to continue developing my literary skill-set.

Before this class I was already a fan of Alice Munro. She knows how to tell a story. I have read and continue to read her stories. Reading and going through Fits ? was valuable for understanding Mamet’s technique and how it might be used. But there is something much bigger going on with Munro. I believe her teaching ? is still bouncing around somewhere inside my head.

Reading Baer’s Hell’s Half Acre was a fantastic element in the course. It was empowering to read a book by an alumnus of this program. The writing itself offered valuable teaching. Before now I had never read a novel with the idea of learning how to write one. The past several years I’ve been focusing on short stories in my writing and in my reading. But I am considering approaching the novel form and reading Baer’s book was a helpful introduction.

What I noticed initially was the pace of the first several chapters, which was breathless. But around the seventh chapter he slowed the writing down considerably, allowing the thoughts and internal monologue of the main character to meander through the pages. I recognize that if he had started with that slow pace I would not have been interested in reading the book. By the seventh chapter I was interested and did read the slower sections, which had their own rewards such as insight into the psyche of Phineas Poe.

While Baer’s novel was in the horror-thriller genre, the characters and the story had genuine depth that transcended genre. There is a lot going on in the writing, along with tempo and structure I was intrigued by Baer’s accessible use of language.

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