Category Archives: Classes

On Writing and Writing Classes

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Today’s guest  is Noel Robinson, a recent addition to Autobiographical Writing in the Napa Valley. Noel’s essay presents  the cunundrum of incorporating craft into your authentic writer’s voice and the challenges of writing for yourself versus writing for an audience.  Is writing worth it?  Find out Noel’s conclusion. . . .

 

Writing

 

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by Noel Robinson

I want to write, however I am always struggling with deadlines, arcs, and two pages, double-spaced limits.  I can’t always stop myself from self-editing as I write.  Too many adverbs, that’s a weak verb – use an active verb that describes fully the moment, change it up – your audience needs variety.

I accept the challenge of writing.  It makes me feel alive.  I am doing something important.  I am having my voice documented if not heard.  I hear it.

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But! The problems with writing—when is a piece ready to be examined?  Does there have to be an arc every time?   Can I quit stressing and feeling pressured by getting my story out?

I want to express myself.  I love being creative.  Maybe I am in an advanced level class and need to wait, start simpler, and enter the writing world of critique when I have a backlog of pieces.  I started writing in a journal seven months ago without any thought to taking a writing class.   A book inspired me to explore the topic – this would be fun to do in retirement.  I do not have a plethora of essays to draw on for revision.  Everything is “square-one” fresh with me.

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I love the class—the instructor is an editor that is devoted to her writers. This is gold.  The writers are supportive of each other.  This is a precious meld of people, strangers really, which comes together to support me and each other (can’t use that word again – I just used it in the previous sentence.  Oh no, don’t use the word “just” it’s an empty word.  I am sure I used the word “waste” in a previous paragraph…no – I don’t see that I did.)

I need gestalt applied; I use the rules and guidance, however it’s never enough for me. I need to know why I am using that rule and where that guidance is coming from.  I have to process and walk around the entire project to know where I am.

008_036_arc_building_2-128I struggle with the “arc.”  I know what it is (yet I feel there are many ways to approach it.) I have two weeks to write my piece that needs to be two pages, double-spaced.  I feel the pressure to get it right, to nail the feelings and insights; to dig deep and express the nectar of truth. Yes, I am a perfectionist.  I have been placed in a situation where I want to show I learned the craft and respond to all critique on my next piece.  This is a stress to me and in the future may quell my appetite to write.  I may go back to journaling and keep to myself.images-18

I have experienced the journals, memoirs, and autobiographies of others and been deeply touched—responded to their voices with emotion, understanding, and growth.  Writing is powerful.  I am empowered by the writing of other authors, and I am in awe of the things I produce.  I have things to say that surprise me.  I have a plethora of ideas, thoughts, new truths (screw the repeated word.)  Words have given me insights into my own life.

I am interested in continuing this venture.

images-13I can tell a story.  So what? Is that enough?  I respond in the negative; everything has to have a purpose, a reason to exist—really? If I gain pleasure out of writing, that is good.  If I never share it with others—that is good, too. However it feels selfish to deny others the things I enjoyed. (Catholic guilt!)  I can tell the story out loud to friends, family, and acquaintances.  I can write my thoughts in my journal. Reading my written words to others for the purpose of gaining skills in the craft of writing is terrifying.  This is what I signed up for—I wrestle with why I did this to myself.

I am joyous when I write something that tells my story and acknowledges my experience. Why?  I don’t have an answer. . . .

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I change a piece of my writing, remove dialog and see how this changes the story. Oh, it helps to rein it in at two pages. Is this the only way to learn about the craft of writing: to do the assignment and worry about figuring out the arc or meaning later?

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I need to stop arcing!  Just write the story and let the reader find his or her own arc.  That is valid, however I don’t get anything out of it.  I want to be prompted to surprises, new insights; to me this is the joy and importance of writing.  I guess I just answered my previous question.

Do I write a story, make it interesting? Leave out the feelings, emotions, relationships, analyzing…?  Do I write like a scientist: present the facts in such a way that the reader can’t help but draw conclusions?

Is writing for the audience?  Can it be for me?  Why do I pressure myself by participating in a writing group?  When I tell a story verbally, it is just the facts.  The listener knows by my non-verbal cues, expressions, and tone of voice what the story means to me.  They enjoy the stories I tell out loud. They “get” the nuances, absurdities, and comedy.

I take my writing a step further on purpose.  I tell the reader how I feel, how I was changed, why this experience was important to me.  Am I just drilling in a point that is obvious?

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I have come close to quitting this class on a weekly basis.  This is too challenging, my writing isn’t at the level of the class, and it is too hard.  Then I read something or hear someone else’s story I think, Oh my, this is huge.  Stories need to be shared with others no matter how hard or challenging or scary.  I read a few sentences in a memoir recently and was crying—sobbing—at one point, at the description of the Father’s interactions with his daughter.  I have had a different experience than this daughter and I notice the contrast.  I feel the deprivation of being raised by my Father instead of by hers.  It is important to me to recognize this difference. It is my experience and it was different from the writer.  I needed to hear that there are differences in order to make connections to my own life story.

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Filed under Classes, Essay, Students, The Writing Practice

Part 2: The Soda Canyon Store stood like a beacon at the bottom of the road.

 

Mary Jane Stevens continues Miracle at Soda Canyon, her harrowing tale of uncertainty and terror on the night the Atlas fire started.

…continued from March 14th—

Later, Bob would tell me his incredible tale of his experiences that night.

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mercurynews.com

Bob said he felt a little better that he knew they had been located, but they were still very much in danger.  The wind was loud, the sky dark and the smoke was suffocating. In the wee hours of the morning the wind buffeted his bare face, ears and hands when he got out of his truck.  He was anxious to get off the mountain.  When would help return?  Would help come in time?  Everything he saw proved his situation was grim. The black velvet sky was now clouded with smoke and sparkling with glowing embers, some very large, swirling in the howling wind. He prayed those embers would not land on a roof starting a fire that would create a chain reaction taking all the homes down. Ghostly clumps of smoldering scrub dotted the nightscape in the distant periphery, surrounding him like threatening wild animals ready to pounce and devour everything in their path.  An ominous orange glow at the horizon was the most terrifying sight of all.  Would the wind shift again and send the fire over the homes and directly toward Bob?

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Of the entire group of vehicles only three joined the convoy.  Bob wondered why there were only three.  A week later we found out at a party for fire survivors. Before he reached the evacuation area helicopters had evacuated all the people from the parked vehicles. They weren’t able to return to rescue the others because the high winds and smoke made it too dangerous to fly.  Only Bob and the occupants of the three other vehicles had been left behind.

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sodacanyon.org

Bob joined the end of the convoy.  He wanted to get off the mountain, out of harm’s way.  That involved driving through the edge of the fire.  Slowly, they worked their way down, swerving around the glowing detritus in the road  while trying to steer clear of burning branches at the shoulder.  Embers were flying through the air around the convoy.  He said it was a bone-chilling sight when at the steepest part of the road Bob looked out over the canyon and there was fire as far as he could see.  Below him, and on either side of the road, the inferno burned everything in its path.  It looked as if no structures remained standing.  He could see only blackened trees silhouetted against the orange of the hissing, spitting, undulating fire following the road.

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Everything was on fire or already burned.  Then he saw one structure still standing: the Soda Canyon Store, a beacon at the bottom of the road on the corner at Silverado Trail.

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Filed under Classes, Fire Season, Students

Tell It Like It Was

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@memoirmusic

Why write it? Why illuminate your innermost self and risk potential pain of ridicule or criticism? You ask yourself this, over and over, even as you name your secret places, confess your transgressions, light up your dark desires.

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Thanks Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens

Perhaps you reveal your wild and strange garden because of that gnawing, burrowing inner gopher. You know the one—nibbling the tendrils of your memories and digging through your synapses in his blind foraging. You know the dark feeding will stop in the light of your pen.

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ramweb.org

 At first you write to expose the bully, the crazy parent, the mean sister, the pain-giver. That may be your catalyst, but will revealing trespasses against you trap the hungry rodents like a hunting cat, pouncing on those unseeing beasts, dragging them from the dark and laying them at your feet?

In the end the revelation is you.

images-5        Writing your memoirs? Creating a family legacy?

                      Looking to publish your story?

Join the Rianda House memoir writers:A forum for craft, critique and positive encouragement.

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This group welcomes beginning memoir writers as well as more experienced writers who wish to explore their lives through the written word, both creative non-fiction (memoir, personal narrative, essay, autobiography) and poetry. Writing craft is discussed in the group and writing topics are suggested. All participants are encouraged to share their work in class.

Mondays 3:00-5:00 at Rianda House 1475 Main St. St. Helena Free

#70755 (Pre-registration at Rianda House) Feb 6-May 22 (no class 4/10)

 

Resources:

http://namw.org

http://www.judithbarrington.com

http://shewritespress.com/

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Filed under Autobiographical Writing, Classes, Memoir, revision