Most days I spend at home alone. I like uninterrupted writing time and avoid the phone like the plague. But sometimes, it can be really invigorating to socialize with other writers. This month, I spent a week with One Story Magazine’s Summer Writing Workshop. I’d taken two of their online courses recently: Write a Short Story with Hannah Tinti and Become Your Own Best Editor with Will Allison.
I got to work in person with both Hannah and Will during this summer’s week-long, in person workshop held in Brooklyn at the Old American Can Factory.
Here are some key takeaways, which I knew but liked being reminded of:
1. Avoid adverbs like the gruesomely, rapaciously devouring plague.
2. Stick to “he said, she said” — no bellowing, chortling, or moaning your characters’ dialogue.
3. Write about what obsesses you, even if it’s embarrassing. Ann Napolitano gave this lecture, and it was a good one. I sat there thinking about my surreptitious reading of the gossipy, crime-soaked Daily Mail on my phone, wondering if my next novel should be about missing babies.
4. Have your characters interact with objects with all their senses.
5. Let it flow. Silence that inner critic/editor when you write your first draft. Get a full draft on the page before you start to rewrite. (This reminds me of how many times I rewrote the first page of my historical novel before I ever got to the end. I had the mistaken notion that it had to be perfect as I moved forward.)
I came back with new friendships, new books to read, and new motivation. At one of the evening panels, author Jonathan Lee mentioned that he spends anywhere from 100-400 hours on a short story. Even though I’ve spent years writing/rewriting a story, I’ve never counted up the specific hours writing, not thinking about, the story. But I don’t think I’ve ever spent several hundred hours on a story, even the ones I’ve published. I came home motivated to do more.
And that’s why I like going to writing workshops. They’re a reminder that there are wonderful people out in the world who care about dramatizing human lives, in all their messy glory. That rejection happens to the best of us. And that spending days alone with words and stories is a darn good way to spend my time.
‘Course, family and friends are awfully good to have around once the work is finished for the day.