Summer writing musings

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I spent a lovely week in Mallorca, Spain, which is, in many ways, a place I consider home. I only lived there for a year, primarily to study Spanish, but it is a land that has haunted and inspired me for the last 16 years. Indeed, the very first novel I wrote (and completed, but will never see the light of day) is largely based on the year I spent on this island. A current project I am working on is also set in Mallorca, and it is a piece I hope to finish fairly soon. The green mountains, the turquoise sea, the ancient buildings, the sounds of graceful Spanish and sharp Catalan–all these and more are what draw me back to this small island again and again. Through words, I long to capture its beauty and magic.

Closer to home, I spent a week at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, which I consider another “home.” It was six years ago when I first attended that workshop as a shy, young-ish writer. I had just finished a novel (see above), but besides my husband, no one else knew I was a writer. I didn’t even know I was a writer, and even at my first writers’ conference, I hesitated in identifying myself as such. I believe I used terms like “hobby” or “experimenting.” Six years later, halfway through my MA in creative writing, I’m still reluctant to call myself a “real” writer. It’s easier to call myself a student when I’m nowhere near published. Yet, coming back to Antioch, I felt empowered and recharged. I felt like a real writer. Surrounded by fellow writers, I drew strength from the creative energy buzzing through the campus.

Practical stuff: I had the pleasure of attending Crystal Wilkinson’s afternoon seminar. In her class, Crystal taught us about the importance of verbs in our stories, how strong verbs lead to strong scenes. She offered many revision tips. One which I’ve already used is to go through a story or chapter and look for just one element to focus on. It can be something as simple as circling all the verbs or highlighting all the dialogue. It could be identifying where a scene begins and ends, which many times leads to discovering a piece lacks definite scenes. There are many approaches to revision, and Crystal offered the ones that have helped her writing.

The phrase most bantered about at this year’s workshop was “reading as a writer” (courtesy of Francine Prose, no doubt). I noticed less recommendations of craft books and more suggestions to read Novel X because it has excellent dialogue or Memoir Y because it has clear narrative arcs. As I’ve looked through my notes this past month, I have come up with a list of recommended books based on my writing needs. Among the books I’m reading or plan to read are: Hemingway’s The Nick Adams Stories and Stephanie Vaughn’s short story collection Sweet Talk.

As far as actual writing goes, this summer I have concentrated on revision of a novella, and the two edits I have done have completely changed the story’s direction. I’m taking some time off to let it rest and see what I should do with it.

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