Yikes! I see that September has nearly flown by (the days grow short when you reach September) but I offer three things as excuses for abandoning this websketch for the entire month – an out-of-town family wedding, the beginning of a new writers workshop, and a big push to get the first full draft of my novel-in-progress completed.
But enough about excuses. Time to get back to work here.
Riding on the City of New Orleans.
The first piece of news came to me this morning as I browsed one of the many on-line papers I read regularly. And the news was good. Amtrak – yup, that’s right – has awarded 24 writers’ residencies which give the winners free tickets, food and accommodations to write aboard trains that cross America.
I come from a railroading family and have made several cross-country trips as well as shorter runs including traveling alone when I was about nine-years-old on trains engineered by pals of my engineer grandfather. I don’t think nine-year-olds can travel alone these days.
I wish, oh how I wish, I’d known about this Amtrak program last March when they were taking applications. Not that I’d have won – they had more than 16,000 entrants – but because it would have warmed my heart. Trains are wonderful places to write with word-inspiring scenery of all kinds right out the window, interesting companions (and potential characters) and the gentle rock and roll one gets when riding the rails.
I don’t know yet if this program will be offered again, but for now here’s the website with more information about it. And I say, thank you, Amtrak, for thinking of us. http://blog.amtrak.com/2014/03/amtrak-residency-for-writers/
Onward – the workshop.
Teaching a writing workshop is always a joyful experience for me. In fact, after one workshop, a woman who had attended told me she could see the joy when I talked about it. This time, I’m in an entirely new place – a stranger here myself – and I had no idea what to expect. But the local library was interested, so I offered a four-week memoir workshop.
The first week no one, not a single person, showed up. This was something new for me. I decided we should just cancel, but then I received an email from an interested person who apologized for missing the first session. As one who spent time in the theatre, I believe if there’s even one person in the audience, the show must go on. (I’ve actually performed in a play that was done for a single person in the audience. But that’s a different story.)
So the show went on. One person is not a workshop, but two people can be. And two people came this week. Maybe next week there will be three. Either way, the joy is back.
And further onward – patience is required.
I mentioned finishing the novel-in-progress and as I do that, I have a caveat to offer. Don’t rush the end.
In the creative writing world there are two kinds of writers – those who begin with a lot of structure and know exactly what’s going to happen, where, when and to whom before they get the first words down on paper, and those who are “organic” writers. I’m in that camp.
Organic writers usually begin with a character and a general idea of what might happen to this character but nothing specific. The story unfolds as we write and each unfolding brings new possibilities. We are the writers who surprise ourselves with characters who seem to come out of nowhere and events that we could not have foreseen.
We are the writers who use the word “but” to full and good advantage. Try it. Start a straight declarative sentence (Bill was on his way to the bank…, Georgia got in the car to pick up the kids…, I stopped at the market as usual on my way home…) and then add the word “but” and see where it takes you.
“But” is the writer’s U-turn. And interesting things can happen with it. Be open to whatever that is.
So, as an organic writer I never know quite how I’m going to end a novel until I get very close to the – uhm – end. Which I did a couple of weeks ago. And I’m forcing myself every day now to mind the caveat: Don’t rush the end.
I know how to make this work and the job at hand is to do it gracefully because the end of a novel or story has to fit with the rest of the piece and – more than that – it has to be earned.
You can’t just write, “So she married the prince. The end.” Nope, not unless you’ve carefully laid out ahead of time the steps toward marrying the prince and why it almost didn’t happen, etc. Even organic writers do this, but they don’t do it ahead of time.
My shoulders are tired this week from pulling against the metaphorical writer’s restraints as I keep myself from plunging ahead too quickly with what used to be called the Redbook Wrap-up, everything tied up in a nice little bow, often by some fortunate and barely believable stroke of coincidence (it turns out that the funny old doorman is her long-lost grandfather). Please.
In literary fiction, you can expect – and live with – some loose ends…not too loose, but not neatly tied either. Leave some space for the reader to wonder. Now back to work.
P.S. The wedding was wonderful. The beautiful bride was my granddaughter, the first of her generation in our family to marry. Everyone I love was there and happy tears were shed. The best kind.