Lighting the Match

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I went to my first writing conference this past weekend — something longer than the Saturday or Sunday afternoon workshops I’ve been attending. This one was hosted by the Hub City Writers Project in Spartanburg and held at Wofford College. Just walking back onto a true college campus made me feel all smart again, something like, “Oh yeah, I graduated from one of these places.” But being there, even though it was just for Friday evening and Saturday morning, had me feeling like I was in another world. I sat in a small classroom around a table with about 13 or 14 other writers and just soaked in advice and oozed descriptions, metaphors, similes, and memories.

The fire under my ass was finally lit.

There was such a relief, a comfort, in remembering, “Hey, this is what I’m supposed to be doing!” I welcomed words back into my head and onto the page, rekindling my favorite friendship.

And I don’t want it to stop. I learned techniques and listened to advice that I’ve heard somewhere before, but just clicked with stories I’ve been working on, and I thought, “Oh! That’s what I’ve got to show.” It’s more than a light bulb; it’s the freakin’ Bat Signal shining in the sky.

My instructor was Judy Goldman, author of The Slow Way Back and Early Leaving. I liked her immediately because she likes quotes (as in quotations, not quotation marks). She was laid back and nurturing. She had valuable exercises for us (as opposed to my most recent workshop experience), and we students got to know each other through sharing what we wrote. She really created a learning environment that felt safe and noncompetitive. Here are the top bits of info I took to heart:

  • As I said, she likes using quotations, and here are two she gave us: “Fearlessness in the face of your own ineptitude is a useful tool to have.” (Michael Cunningham) and “Writing is a series of mistakes that you correct.” (Tony Kushner)
  • If you’re not failing, you’re not risking enough. Push the boundaries of what you think you can do.
  • Each character has his/her own agenda, and it’s my job as the writer to understand that motivation and convey it to the reader. What is he/she yearning for? It’s the intensity of that yearning that creates interest in the character’s plight and makes someone want to read the story.
  • Just write. Goldman isn’t one who believes that you have to write every day, but she does believe in creating a schedule and making an appointment with yourself to write. Along the “just write” lines, don’t worry about editors or agents or publishers. Just get your story on the page.

Again, I just can’t express how valuable I thought the whole experience was. I felt like I was kind of wandering, and someone said, “You’re not too far from where you need to be.” And turned me in the right direction. I can’t wait to go to another one.

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