So it begins! Our summer workshop will step through the process of a writing project. We’ve got eight weeks to create a book object. That means by August 17th, each of us will have created from start to finish a book that we can give as a gift or keep as a souvenir of our time together.
That object may not be a professionally published and printed full-length novel. It might more closely resemble what people call a “zine,” and such an object is still a piece of art. More importantly, you will have practiced a process that will be repeated and repeated over the course of your writing career and might eventually result, if you so aspire, in a published book.
With some new faces in the workshop, we started off with introductions. Names, towns of residence and our favorite aromas. Some highlights included: fresh strawberries, hoppy wort before its fermented to beer, “spent brass and cigarettes,” and engine grease.
Before we got too comfortable and settled in, I threw everyone their first exercise. This exercise consisted of several rounds of “American Sentences,” Ginsberg’s bastardized/Americanized take on haiku. These are sentences of exactly 17 syllables. Write a few!
RULES AND GUIDELINES
We read two pieces of writing in order to understand our “rules” for the workshop. When we write in response to most prompts, we follow the instructions in Natalie Goldberg’s “First Thoughts” chapter of Writing Down the Bones.
To further solidify our understanding of why we try to keep our pen moving when we are first writing, we also read Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” from Bird by Bird. If you worry about quality on your first go-round, you’re interfering and not trusting your process. Our brains are often clogged with shit and it has nowhere to go except onto your page when you first sit down to write. Let it go. Revision is an important part of the process.
Our goals are three-fold for these eight weeks. First, we will practice our routine and find out what works for each of us. Second, we will practice choosing, focusing, and completing a project. Third, we will implement revision as part of our writing process.
We will be using the Camp Nanowrimo website during the month of July as an accountability structure. If it helps you, use it, and if it doesn’t help, don’t use it. The great thing about Camp Nanowrimo is that you can set your own goals and units (instead of 50,000 words). If you’re busy you can set an achievable amount of time as your goal, which is what I recommend. All of us could contribute five minutes a day to writing, if we were to commit.
If you’ll be joining us at workshop go ahead and sign up on the site. This task will be the first of your “assignments” for the week. Create your profile (fill in as much or as little as you like), create details for your project (task 2, more on this in a moment), and send me you username, so I can invite you to our Bixby Library Writing Workshop cabin.
Your third task to complete this week is to commit to writing. Set a reasonable amount of time per day (five minutes is something we can all do) and commit to writing that much every day in July. Yes, it’s a busy month for all of us, and five minutes is still something you could squeeze in.
Once you’ve made this commitment, prepare your routine. It is much easier to ensure that you reach your goal of writing everyday if you incorporate a routine. You could do it at the same time of day, in the same place, after performing the same tasks in preparation. Pick a place in your home where you will write. Clean this location, make it a special writing shrine with an inspiring quote or picture or object. Keep this location clean for the whole month. Use it when you need your routine. (It is perfectly acceptable if you write elsewhere, too.)
SELECT A PROJECT
This second task for the week is where your unique taste and inclination come in. You can choose anything you’re interested in working on. It could be a novel, an essay, poems, memoir. It does not need to be a full-length book-type project. In fact, I recommend against biting off a huge project if you don’t have experience with shorter forms first. How many people write a good novel if they’ve never written a good short story first?
Figure out a title, a description, a genre/format (i.e. poetry, science fiction, personal essay), and be ready to tell us at workshop next Thursday. The important thing to remember here, if you’re having trouble, is to just pick something. We can adjust the details later, you can entirely change directions. For now, though, listen to your instincts and go with what you want to work on.
PROJECTS AND PROMPTS
Any writing you do comes from a place based in your experience. Inevitably. You are your experiences. All our prompts will attempt to harness a piece of you, and those piece will be raw material to use in your project.
Scent is strongly associated with our memory. The sense can powerfully evoke our recollections. Sense of smell is this week’s writing prompt. We used ground coffee in our workshop, but you could perform the prompt with anything that has scent. It is often most powerful when someone else prepares the object to be smelled, so you are in suspense of its identity.
Prepare to write. Open a notebook, uncap a pen, set a timer for ten minutes, etc. Close you eyes for five seconds and breath deeply while you keep them closed. Then, smell the object with your eyes still closed. Dried herbs that someone crushes in their hand, fresh ground coffee, baked cookies, all of these are powerful memory stimuli. Each scent might spur a different memory at a different time.
Once you’ve sniffed and a memory comes to you, open your eyes and begin writing the memory. If you get stuck, use “I remember…” or start with “I remember…” You can stick with the same memory or skip among several. Be sure to follow Natalie Goldberg’s “First Thoughts” guidelines.
The final task for this week is to turn this freewrite into something you’d like to share at next week’s meeting.
Good luck! Tune in next week for the next step in the process.