Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Writing the story worth writing

I originally thought of titling this post "Writing the story worth sharing," but decided to change the word "sharing" to the word "writing.

Most writers have vast stores of story ideas tangled in the lint of their metaphorical pockets. And certainly there is the possibility of a rich vein being discovered when properly and wisely mined. The trick, as usual, is in the quality of work a writer does to shape their story into something worth telling.

What do I mean by "worth" telling?

And who am I to judge whether something is "worth" telling or not?

Exactly the point. I'm not qualified to tell any writer whether or not their story is worth telling? Only you can decide. 

We'll be spending time in class (and here too) over the next two weeks talking about how to choose the "best" story to write, and then begin preparing ourselves to write that story worth writing in the most interesting and engaging way possible. 

To get you started -

  • As a writer, what do you think about when there's nothing to think about?
  • If you could be one person or thing besides who you are, who or what would you be?
  • If you could live in any time besides the time you live in now, when would it be, and where?
  • What one subject are you most passionate about? Something that makes you angry or excited or scared or...just thinking about it?
  • When was the last time you felt deep emotion about something? When someone hurt you, or made you feel intense feelings of love? Something spiritual? Physical? If you were sharing this experience with someone, would you share it sitting down or standing up?
Looking forward to learning together about how to write the great stories within us.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What Do You Want?

This question is the beginning of dramatic possibility.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about this from all of my characters' perspective.

✬ What do they want?

✬ Who or what is stopping them from getting what they want?

✬ How can I make what they want mean everything to them - and to the reader?

✬ How can I make their struggle to get what they want as interesting as possible?

✬ What can I do to break a character's heart?

Or as Mr. Vonnegut put it, "Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of."

Triple bingo, Kurt.

I especially like how David Mamet* put it:







(*If you read the whole story, which you should, be forewarned that Mamet is a bit of a potty mouth.)

And I ran into this the other day, in a photograph at the Orem Public Library of all places:

1. I WANT...
2. BUT...
3. SO I...

Take it away, Leonardo: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Leonardo DaVinci

So before beginning any story, long or short, I first ask myself these questions on behalf of all my story critical characters. Over and over and over.

Once they refuse to let me change their answers, I know we're ready to go to work.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

If You Must, You Will

One of the few memories I still have of my time in film school was when we had a guest lecturer come and talk to students in one of my screenwriting classes.

He said two things that I've never forgotten -

First - sometimes the only way to force yourself to write everyday is to literally walk directly from your bed to your typewriter (yeah, it's been awhile since I was in film school). Even stopping by your nearest bathroom was forbidden.

Who says there's no price required to make great art?

The second and for me more important thing he taught us was captured in this simple phrase: "If you must, you will."

For me, this meant simply this: If I HAD to have something - if getting it was as essential as the air I breathed, if I couldn't live without it, I would find a way. Thus, if I HAD to write, I would write. I would find a way. I would do whatever it took to BE a writer until I BECAME a writer.

For years that thought and the truth it contained swirled around my small and grasping mind. I knew it was true, but I would not know it.

And then I decided to change.

This week in class we'll be talking about writing goals: Why they matter, and how to set and achieve them.

We'll also be learning about the enormous difference between "being good" and "getting better" goals, specifically as they relate to improving as writers. Here's a little tease for those reading ahead.

I realize goals can be unpleasant, both to think about or to try and reach. But as we'll soon learn, all great writing is designed.

It's no different for those aspiring to know the writing life. Be>Do>Have.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Writing: Art, Craft, or Both?

Each Thursday after our weekly writing class, I'll be posting excerpts from our discussion for anyone who may be interested in what we talked about.

Last night we spent some time talking about whether writing is strictly a talent, or if it in fact a craft; meaning it is something anyone can improve in.

I lean whole-heartedly to the side of craft. Otherwise this whole writing class idea would be a fluke. Hmmm....

Like all other fine arts, writing is something that requires both talent and work to develop. But even those with only a hint of talent, but who are willing to work hard, consistently, and according to a well-designed plan, can improve measurably.

During class we discussed the following relevant questions:

  1. Is writing a talent, a craft, or both?
  2. Can creative writing be taught?
  3. Can a creative writing class help me?
  4. Can this writing class help me?
  5. How will our class be structured?
Here is a thumbnail summary of what we discussed for each question -
  1. Is writing a talent, a craft, or both?
    Talent is overrated – work is the real secret. But what kind of work? We’ll learn how to design our work so that we see better yield.
  2. Can creative writing be taught?
    The jury is still out. However, it can be encouraged, which is the real value of meeting as a group to develop a craft.
  3. Can a creative writing class help me?
    The analogy of the aerobics class…we learn by absorption. Although I can’t get fit merely by sitting in a chair and watching other people work out, I can be more motivated to begin working out if I’m in the same room as other people doing so. Success is contagious.   
  4. How can this writing class help me?
    You’ll largely get out what you put in. If you show up, do the work, bring stuff to workshop, provide feedback, and apply what you are learning, you absolutely will become a better writer.
  5. How will our class be structured?
    Class will include opportunities to share examples we've seen during the week of both good and bad writing. We're calling this "Someone wrote that!" We'll also have "Wins of the Week" so people can share victories. We'll answer questions and review experiences from take-home assignments. We'll then have a 30-45 minute lesson, followed by two hours of workshopping class members' writing projects.
Other odds and ends: For those that want to try class for November-December, they can pay $50 for the five classes we'll be holding on the following dates:

November 14th
November 28th
December 5th
December 12th
December 19th

Please contact me at sleye1stories@gmail.com with any questions.

Finally, here is the poem we concluded class with. Great advice for all writers.

Advice to Writers
Billy Collins

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New weekly writing class coming to American Fork

I am very excited to announce that, starting this November, I will be teaching a weekly creative writing class in American Fork.

So excited!!

Sponsored by the American Fork Arts Council, I invite all aspiring writers, regardless of age or experience, to plan on attending and participating in this exciting new class.

On Wednesday, November 7th, I'll be holding a free, one-hour class about the art and science of creative writing. The free class will be from 7p-8p in the Historic American Fork City Hall, 31 North Church Street, in American Fork.

On the following Wednesday, November 14th, I'll begin teaching regular classes from 7p-10p each Wednesday night at the same location. Students can choose to pay $50 per month or $15 per class if they choose not to attend weekly. With the holidays coming up, both November and December will have abbreviated schedules with subsequent lower tuition, with a full schedule and full tuition being effective starting in January 2013.

The first hour or so of each class will consist of a lesson and writing activity. The second and third hours will be an opportunity for participants to workshop projects they are working on. Feedback from myself and class members will then be offered.

Participants won't be "required" to bring material, although that will certainly be encouraged. Sharing work you've written with others can be a daunting experience. Daunting is good. But I'm committed to making students feel they are in a "safe place," where they're free to fail and make mistakes - both required for any writer wanting to improve.

If you have questions or would like more information, I invite you to email me at sleye1stories@gmail.com

I'll be using this blog to post supplemental class materials in addition to blog posts on writing-related subjects.

I can't wait to get started. I love to teach, and I love to help those who want to get better. I look forward to helping you. 

I also want to express special thanks to Caleb Warnock, who has had such an influence on my writing and teaching. In more ways than I can even number, this class would not be possible without him. Thanks, Mr. C!

It has been my privilege for the past three years to work with many wonderful students as they've developed their writing skills. I look forward to working with many more. Here are some very kind comments from a few of the students I've been fortunate enough to work with...just so you know I'm legit ;-)

“Scott has provided a great deal of feedback for me on my first young adult novel, Fatal Threads. Not only is he a superb writer in his own right, but he is a willing and caring critique partner. Every recommendation for edits provided by him has been thoughtful and accurate (whether I initially could admit it to myself or not). Scott picks up on the subtleties often missed when we are too close, or too attached, to our own work. I would recommend Scott to anyone, period, and definitely to anyone looking for honest feedback from an expert in the craft of writing.”

“I have had the privilege of working with Scott for three years. He has been extremely instrumental in helping me strengthen my manuscripts to the point I was offered two contracts on the first MS I workshopped with him. We are now working on the third. Scott gives his all and is very insightful. He has a gift for plot holes and helping writers go beyond their original vision to make a much better product. Scott would be a great asset to any company.”

“I cannot say enough good things about Scott. I came to Scott wanting to improve my writing skills. I had first joined an online critique group and received comments on my postings, instructing me in basic writing craft. One reviewer said my writing was very tedious to read. Scott has spent a lot of time with me over the last year. I still post and receive critiques from the same online critique site. Nobody says the writing is tedious now. The change is remarkable. Scott has been very patient and instructive. He knows how to write and possesses talent and knowledge of the craft. I tell him when I don't fully understand his comments. He patiently replies. And, most importantly, can explain exactly why he is right. Thus far, whenever I take his comments and try to utilize those in a re-write, the writing is always better."

“I worked with Scott as a student of his in an online writing class. When he finally took over the class, I started to realize just how much I had missed before -- he provided some of the most on-target, practical guidance I had ever received as a writer. Thanks to his assistance, I made enormous progress in my own writing and am on my way to finishing my first manuscript. If you need help with your writing or are looking for an excellent teacher for your class, you should look no further than Scott.”

See you November 7th...and again on the 14th!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Malcolm Gladwell's Secret Sauce

Loved this video...and double-loved the lesson it teaches if I'm wise enough to learn it:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Draft: Great Resource for Writers

The New York Times has a wonderful on-going feature titled Draft on their website. My current favorite is a series written by Constance Hale.

Her most recent posts have included the following titles: Desperately Seeking Synonyms, Make-or-Break Verbs, The Pleasures and Perils of the Passive, and Sentences Crisp, Sassy, Stirring.

There's lots of meat offered for any writer to chew on, regardless of their background or level of experience.

We live in an amazing time...