I’ve been quiet on Red Shutters this past week. But, I haven’t been away from writing.
I’m taking a six-week writing workshop at a writing center in Boston, and, as a result, all of my free time has been swallowed up by writing essays and by reading other people’s work.
Never been in a writing workshop before? Here’s how this one works: I write a piece—in this class, it’s an essay of 500 to 1,000 words—to share with the class. I get everyone else’s essay to read and comment on, for a total of 12 essays. In class, we discuss each essay for about 10-12 minutes per person. That part is a little nerve racking. After the discussion, everyone passes in his or her marked up version of my essay for me to digest later.
Although we’re only one-third of the way through the course, I’ve already acquired new ways of looking at my writing and taken home tips from the discussion of my classmates’ pieces.
The people in the class produce a rich array of writing. Everyone starts with the same prompt but how we each interpret the inspiration (another essay or poem) has varied dramatically. That’s likely to do with how different we all are: there’s the freelance writer, the author with two published books, the urban planner, the advertising executive, the lawyer, the doctor, the retired folks, and the poet. The instructor is a professional (that’s code for published!) writer who has designed a curriculum that features six writing prompts to inspire and teach, and who fosters a constructive workshop experience.
Perhaps the pieces I write in this course will find a home here on Red Shutters. I haven’t figured that out yet. They need a bit more work first. I knew that, of course, though I have a hunch that, given the chance, I could edit and tweak indefinitely. Fortunately, I now have some strategies for working on my writing, which is, after all, the whole idea behind taking the class.
For the first meeting, we had an in-class exercise of describing an object to an alien without using its actual name. For example, if you wanted to explain what a table was, you could say that it’s what people sit at to eat or to play games. It has legs; it can be made in different materials and colors, etc. Inspired by my son, I came up with the following…
Be careful; don’t step on this. It’s all over the floor, so walk carefully. It will poke you.
It’s small, isn’t it? This one is white, but it comes in other colors. Blue, black, red, yellow, and green. Sometimes, it’s colorless or silver. I’ve even seen it in pink and purple.
It doesn’t smell now, but when I first opened the package containing it and others like it, it had an odor. It smelled new and fake.
It comes in many shapes and sizes. Each connects to another. Together, they form something bigger. The more of these you have, the more complex your finished product is. People use them to make small houses, cars, or even space ships. Maybe like the ship you traveled on to come here.
For children, this is a toy, one that helps them create and imagine. And, adults, too, use it. They make replicas of famous landmarks and buildings. You’ll need a lot of patience—and time—to play with this item.
But don’t step on; it really will hurt.
Not sure what it is? Perhaps this hint will help.
I’m not getting any prizes for that prose (which I wrote in 10 minutes), and I’m confident the instructor didn’t love it (he wasn’t a fan of my actually talking to the alien). But that’s not why I wrote it, is it? I immediately thought of the item in question (I’m not going to say what it is!) since it truly is all my six-year-old son talks about. It was fun exercise, and one that I could see myself employing again in an effort to strengthen my craft. (Instead of exercising on the treadmill, I’ll exercise my writing muscle!) Fundamentally, though, that exercise and the class overall have opened me to how important it is to try something new.
Try something new.
Ah, yes. It’s easy to fall into routines and habits—in life and in writing—and sometimes, we need shake things up by trying something new, like taking a class and opening yourself up to getting feedback. And, that’s what I’m doing.
I’ll report back after week six. Fingers crossed.
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.