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With only a week until my first Stonecoast residency I figured it was time to read Ursula Le Guin's essay "Prides: An Essay on Writing Workshops". Although Le Guin admittedly comes down on the side of supporting workshops, she does so with some reservations.

She explains that although workshops have their advantages, they have some significant dangers. One of the less harmful dangers is that people often go to a workshop thinking that they will learn how to write. When in actuality, learning how to write is done outside the workshop as you cycle through writing new drafts and writing new stories.

One of the more dangerous problems with a workshop arises when a student or an instructor brings his ego with him to the workshop. Le Guin even goes as far as to say workshops should come with a warning not to "feed the ego". Why? Because egos don't serve any educational purpose in this type of setting. In fact, it interrupts the process of learning, especially if it is the instructor who brings the ego to class. Egos often serve to undermine confidence, show favoritism, or destroy the dreams of others - none of which are justifiable actions within any educational setting.

Another danger that Le Guin points out is the "eternal returner", otherwise known as workshop codependency. This is primarily targetted at people who haven't written a thing in years, yet they continue to go to workshops, submitting the same piece time and again, and telling others what this famous person or that famous person said about the story. Essentially, this is a waste of time for everyone if that workshop attendee doesn’t get down to the business of writing new material.

But there is good news! Le Guin admits to being a workshop junkie. One of the most valuable assets of a workshop is the experience that the instructor brings to the table. According to Le Guin, "Maybe nobody can teach anybody how to write, but, just as techniques for attaining profit and prestige can be taught in the commercial and establishmentarian programs, so realistic expectations, useful habits, respect for the art, and respect for oneself as a writer can be acquired in work-centered workshops."

In addition, workshops help to you learn how to practice the craft of writing. This is done through exercises assigned by the instructor, reading and critiquing of other students' manuscripts, learning how to take criticism, and learning how to work together as a group of writers. The best workshops are those where everyone works hard together. "This is such a rare and valuable experience that it's no wonder good workshops almost always spin off into small peer groups that may go on working together for months or years," says Le Guin.

Although you may not "learn how to write" at a workshop, you will learn "what it is to write". She describes the workshop as a pride of lions gathering around the waterhole for a drink. I can't help but to agree with her on this point. And, yes, "it is something to have belonged, even for a week, to a pride of lions."

As an aside, to my friends who attended the Viable Paradise 10 workshop: Thanks for being my pride of lions.
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If you're interested in checking out an author who is an absolute pro at world building, you've got to read Katharine Kerr's Deverry novels. Kerr is arguably one of the best world-building masters within the genre of epic fantasy. If you want to write fantasy and you have never read one of Kerr's novels, you should go out and read at least one of the Deverry books today...and you should probably start with the first book, Daggerspell.

One of the things that I like about the world Katherine Kerr creates is that it is multi-dimensional. What I mean by this is that Deverry, Eldidd, Bardek, and the Westlands don't feel like they exist purely on paper. She brings her world to life by using prose with a pulse, prose that is filled with detail rich content about the land, its people, and their concerns while leaving out the sterility that comes with many SF/F novels in which you feel as if you've just been spoon-fed information.

However, I think I should give you fair warning that Kerr uses a unique timeline, which orders events by their importance rather than by their temporal sequence within a novel. Once you get used to this unique structure, the overall story arc takes on a much richer and deeper meaning. But since I'm only talking about world building here, I'll put the "time line" discussion off for a while.
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posted by [personal profile] e_underwood at 06:06am on 28/06/2007 under , ,
I haven't been posting much in my LJ recently because I've been writing like a bat out of hell. With Stonecoast looming in the near future (next week!) I seem to be struck by inspiration.

Over the last couple weeks, I have written 3 new first drafts. Plus, I have 2 other first drafts that were done about a month ago. I figure this is a good way to start the program since I'm a slow writer. I hope they don't mind that I've been stockpiling first draft stories for about two months so that I can use them in the MFA program. I can't imagine that they would mind.

The great thing about having finished this fistful of stories is that I feel really productive. For the first time since I have started writing, I truly believe that I can produce at least two decent short stories per month; maybe more if the muses strike!

Now, it's time for revisions and getting these guys in shape to give to my mentor ... and then send them out into the big bad world of publishing. Wish me luck!
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posted by [personal profile] e_underwood at 09:06am on 22/06/2007 under ,
Clearly, they come from my car.

This morning while driving to work and listening to Hawai'i '76 by Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole, I came up with another story idea. Of the last 10-12 significant story ideas that I have had, nearly all of them came to me while in my car to or from work.

I'm not sure why my car out of all the cars and all the places in the world should have become this mobile nexus of story ideas, but I'm sure glad I've got it! The scary thing is that I'm going to start commuting to work via the local commuter train, and I'm not sure what this will mean for my future creative juices.
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The road to Stonecoast

One of the things that I am going to do with my Live Journal account is to document my time spent at Stonecoast. I want to capture the experience to remind myself of what I have been through and to share it with others who are curious about this program.

With my first residency looming close, only two weeks away, I thought it was time to capture the experiences that have brought me this far along the path to receiving my MFA. This post is longer than my average Stonecoast related post because it seemed silly to capture all of this pre-Stonecoast “stuff” in small bits and pieces.

And the saga begins … )
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posted by [personal profile] e_underwood at 03:11pm on 18/06/2007 under
I just finished the first draft of another short story. The whole thing is pretty solid, except for the opening.

I just couldn't figure out how to start the story. So, I began with the first scene that I was able to fully picture in my head. After that, the writing went smoothly and quickly.

I wonder if the reason I couldn't write a "beginning" is because I was trying to force a false start to the story. I'm now beginning to think that the first scene is all the beginning that I need, but I'm still hung up on the idea that it needs a beginning because I've never started a story like this before - in the middle of a conversation from which all of the action is spawned. (I guess you could say that it's a "cut the crap & get to the meat" beginning.)

Does anyone have any thoughts on beginnings?


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