The winner of this week’s book giveaway of Jodi Paloni’s linked short story collection They Could Live with Themselves is Dale Kleinheksel! Congratulations, Dale. I hope you enjoy it!
The topic of the Writing Workshop has always intrigued me in a deep way, so much so that for my graduating lecture at Vermont College of Fine Arts I prepared and solicited an in-depth survey to my MFA colleagues, which I then compiled the results into a lecture titled “Engaged, Thoughtful, Creative, and Weird: An Examination of the Writing Workshop.”
Here, my friend and MFA colleague, Jenna McGuiggan, who graduated a semester ahead of me and thus wasn’t in attendance for my lecture, shares her brilliant workshop guide covering some of the same topics I addressed in my lecture. Jenna’s guide is geared towards the creative nonfiction workshop, and I highly recommend her sage advice on the topic of staying grounded in critiquing the craft of the writing and not veering off into unhelpful territory.
It’s easy to read a memoir or essay and feel as though we know the author, even though all we really know is what the writer shared with us on the page. This false sense of familiarity is one thing when we read published work by authors we may never meet. But in a creative nonfiction workshop, this faux intimacy becomes a slippery slope.
We all know that writing workshop can be an emotionally charged environment to begin with. Add in stories of personal trauma, and you’ve got a veritable Slip‘N Slide of intense moments and awkward interactions just waiting for you to lose your footing.
How can you keep your balance and avoid any more uncomfortable moments than necessary?
Make this your mantra:
Writing workshop is not group therapy.
(Say it with me.)
(And if it helps, you can sing it to the…
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There is so much I love about this, so many gems of insight.
Dancing Elephants by Heinrich Kley
What nobody tells you as an artist is that every project starts at the beginning. Not just the blank page, the empty stage, but that you have to re-establish your credentials and your quality every time. You can coast on reputation a little, but it doesn’t last long if you don’t deliver.
What nobody tells you is that praise—a standing ovation, a good review, your teacher’s approval—makes you feel good for a day, but one line of internet criticism from a stranger reverberates in your skull forever.
Frankly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.
(I tried to feel bad when that critic killed himself the next year, but I didn’t.)
What nobody tells your boyfriend is that writing 3000 words in a calm, soothing, supportive environment still leaves you too tired to call home at the end of the day. So does…
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Ah, Paris! The City of Love. Visiting has long sat at the top of my bucket list. A notion both lonely and seemingly unattainable. I’m not quite sure why I have longingly dreamed of Paris. Is it the romantic allure of boat rides along the Seine? The venerable architecture? The exquisite food? The pleasing finesse of the French language? Finally experiencing it, I’d have to say “yes” to all that and more.
My “normal” life centers around a fairly basic existence in a rural environment on the fringes of wild, pristine nature. My water comes from a creek. I have a composting outhouse, no toilet. My bathtub/shower lives permanently outside. The sun furnishes our electricity. I have no cellular service at the house. Sometimes I can be home 7-10 days without leaving. And now for a three-week stint, I find myself (with my family) on a trip to four countries (Belgium, France, England, and Scotland), navigating train and metro lines, a foreign language I studied minimally thirty years ago, sights and sounds unlike any I would find near my humble little hovel in the woods.
From inside and outside the flat where we are staying on the top floor of a five-story building, I can see the Eiffel Tower, the iconic symbol of Paris, standing regally against the sky. As I write this from where I sit on my bed and glance out the wide open window, there she stands so close and beckoning that I can see clearly some of the detail of the wrought iron lattice work. From the moment I arrived and stepped out on the terrace, which wraps around the building of this corner apartment and boasts a 180-degree view that gazes above quintessential Parisian rooftops in the center of the city, it took all my restraint not to yell from the top of my lungs: “I’m in Paris! Oh my god, I’m in fucking Paris!”