Five days flew by at Manhattanville College after last Monday kicked off the 29th Annual Summer Writers Week. This year, I attended the workshops for the second time. I was excited to attend the first speculative fiction writing seminar offered on campus but somewhat sad to think that many of the former classmates from my MFA program had already moved on. My anticipation for the class elevated even more when I discovered that the workshop would be led by award-winning sci-fi/fantasy writer, Nnedi Okorafor. Then, my somewhat-sadness lifted as I registered on the first morning and saw Shane Cashman, a fellow blogger with a keen eye for tattoos and photography. Things looked good for the week and got even better as afternoon sessions churned out some great ideas and inspiring moments. After five days of intense work and sharing, I walk away from Manhattanville with a pocket full of great writing lessons.
Read Your Writing Out Loud in Public
At both the editing and sharing level, your writing should be read out loud. When you can hear the canter of your prose, the prose will improve. If you don’t have an audience, try a voice reader program downloaded from the internet. My one classmate said it is very helpful and entertaining as the “human” voice reads your words like a robot bedtime story. When it was my turn to read aloud, I stood up in front of faculty, peers, and Neil’s videocamera to read an excerpt from an old story I began four years ago. The old characters jumped off the page and though my tongue stumbled three times, I still managed to earn an emphatic “woot” from one faculty member. At Mville, readings are emphasized for good reason. Being in public is part of a writer’s life. You have to connect with readers and let loose the world you’ve created for followers and strangers to witness. You share ideas with other writers, learning how they present their work and internalizing how to do the same with yours. Editor-in-Chief for the Inkwell Journal, Tanya Beltram read her poem “Bendicion” and with the first line, I was in tears. This is the level to which I aspire. I don’t want politely attentive audiences but captivated, spellbound listeners. It was a defining moment, an experience that for an author can be a trial by fire.
Don’t move from chapter A to chapter B. My instructor Nnedi and a published peer in my class, both purported the importance of writing non-chronologically. Jump around. Leave white space. Write new scenes and drop them between old ones. It felt like such a chaotically beautiful writing process that seemed to make sense. Both said that eventually the bits and scraps would fall into place. Then after months of 60 minute writing sessions, a first draft will appear. It sounds like such an organic process that I am looking forward to diving into. I’m not sure why I’d never thought this way before for my fiction especially since my travel stories are often non-chronological and written out of order.
Daily Discipline in Writing
I thought I had some discipline especially as both a travel and SEO writer. Turns out, I need more. It seems putting in 10 hour writing days isn’t enough. Structure and compartmentalization is key when working on different genres of writing or multiple projects in general. Three teachers advised me to think of my fiction as a separate entity or job apart from my travel writing. Therefore, I have to parcel my time. Fiction, travel writing, blogging, and blog-related work…they all need attention and time-slots in the day. The only way to fit it all in is through discipline. I’m conjuring images of Mr. Miagi now, telling me to get my act together. But it’s a new strategy that I‘m looking forward to utilizing, especially as World Winder and its client base grow.
Summer Writers Week was a rigorous 5-day marathon of thinking, composing, sharing, and revising. I loved every minute and take away much good advice that can’t fit on this post. While writing was an obvious goal for all the attendees, it was also a connecting link between aspiring and published writers whose love for the craft make us automatic friends. As a result, the writers week is also about positive camaraderie. You better believe that as Neil and I travel through Iceland, Italy, and Croatia, I’ll be putting this good writing advice to work.