October 12, 2003
What a difference two weeks makes

I just returned from a two-week intensive fiction writing workshop. It was an amazing experience, one that I'm sure I'll be parsing in my brain for months to come.

While I was gone, I had no access to e-mail or the Internet. My e-mail piled up at an exponentially higher rate, which has proven to be *most* annoying. The amount of spam coming in has increased an amazing amount. I'm being told that that's been happening across the Internet. Not a good thing.

But more more interestingly, the *news* has changed since I left for the workshop.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (sp?) had just closed the gap on his closest rival, according to polls, in the race to replace California Governor Davis in the recall election. Now the only poll that matters has been taken -- the one officially run by the state -- and Arnold is now governor. Holy cow. A bad day for Arnold's agents and business managers, I imagine, but a good day for him personally, I suppose, and for his political allies (moderate Republicans, I imagine).

Okay, that's not a regime change, insofar as Arnold was starting to lead the opinion polls just before I left, but it's still interesting.

More of a change is the hard fall the current federal administration is undertaking. The CIA has created quite a stir over an alleged "outing" by White House officials of a particular CIA agent in the field. If I understand the story correctly, the agent in the field is the wife of someone who had made the administration not look so good when he publicly announced that he had warned the administration that certain information that they wanted to put into the State of the Union address was unverifiable.

If all this is true, and I haven't read up enough yet to know, then this is a shocker of a change since I went incommunicado. I leave, and the President is doing okay but maybe he's starting to drop in the opinion polls. I come back, and a potentially Very Ugly Scandal is unfolding. If the CIA sticks to its guns and if the allegations turn out to be correct, the White House staff will almost certainly be looking for new work in about a year. (Trust me. I was a history major. :-)

Israel bombed Syria while I was gone? Holy cow!

But even more of a shocker, perhaps the most stunning shift in the planet imaginable over the course of a self-imposed two-week news embargo, is the news that the Chicago Cubs could actually end up going to the World Series.

How the fiddledeefuck did *that* happen?

I take two weeks off, and the entire world has gone crazy.

I promise, it won't happen again in the near future. I'll stay right here and make sure the planet continues to spin correctly on its axis for a little while.

[sigh] It ain't easy being me.

Posted by at 07:31 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 October 14, 2003
Other things that happened

Oh, and in addition to the things I mentioned in my previous note, I'm shocked and amazed to learn that while I was out writing:

* Roy, of Siegfried and Roy, was mauled by his own lion
* Rush Limbaugh publicly announced he's a drug addict

Next thing you know, Saturday Night Live will have a funny broadcast, and Bill Clinton will be direct and truthful about something.

Strange days, indeed.

Posted by at 11:00 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 October 17, 2003
How I Spent My October Vacation

So I spent the first two weeks of October at the Oregon Coast Writers Workshop in Lincoln City, OR. OCWW offers a few different programs throughout the year, and I attended the two-week intensive "Master Class," which is targeted at people who want to pursue writing as their full-time career.

I had a great time.

The workshop features two main tracks: the business of writing, and the craft of writing. The typical day included lectures/discussions in the morning, homework assignments of vary degrees of complexity and effort, and an evening session called "The Game" where the participants play the simulated roles of professional writers trying to avoid having to go back to a day job. The evening sessions tend to focus mostly on the business and living aspects of being a professional writer, while the morning sessions spend time both on the business and the craft of writing.

The thing I appreciated most about the master class was the experiential nature of the training. I don't want to give too many examples -- well, actually, I *do* want to give too many examples, but doing so might spoil the effect for any of you who might be interested in taking the master class yourselves, so I will give away as little as I can.

But I will allude to one example of how and why I found this such a successful use of my time.

I've been told in many, many writing courses that when writing, one should learn to tune out "the critical voice". That's great advice. But how do you do it? Several of the assignments (plus the ability to talk about such issues directly with the instructors) helped me to figure out exactly how my critical voice was interfering, and *that* was what helped to figure out how to deal with the problem.

You can talk about theory all you want, but some things can't be figured out just by talking about them or taking notes on the subject. You have to stare a hard deadline in the face, sweat and strain with a problem, resist it, give in to it, and kick your own ass a few times before you finally get the point.

This particular issue (the critical voice) has been a stumbling block for me. The block hadn't been destroyed, but now that I recognize it, I have started to break through it. And this is only one of several examples where I gained valuable insight into how to improve my writing.

Anyone else taking this two week will probably find other issues that they are able to work on that I completely missed. This is, for me, the value of experiential "learning by doing." You learn what you most need to work on because you are working on specific targets against specific deadlines. The stuff you have no trouble with doesn't get your attention because the pressure naturally exposes those areas where you *are* having problems.

The exercises were all eye openers, but I particularly enjoyed the way they all came together toward the end. One exercise, in which we learned (note: not "we were told", but actually *learned*) part of the job of an editor made it much more clear to me what I need to do with my story openers to make them "pop."

This is not the kind of thing that I can get with lectures about how "your first page must grab the readers attention by setting the scene and the character and the conflict and juxtaposing and blah blahbity blah blah . . . ." No. Now that I've had a taste of the experience, I finally get it. (I think. :-)

One thing I should stress is that I resisted some of the lessons I most needed to learn. But once I got past them, I removed an incredible restraint in my writing. Woooooo-hooooooo!

If a writer is intent upon becoming a professional writer and is interested in learning new tools (or perfecting their existing tools) to get them there, I highly recommend this class.

But enough about the class. Let's get back to talking about me.

About two days into the class, I discovered that a pain in my right ear had gotten so bad that I could no longer ignore it. I took some time away on day three to go to the local emergency room where the doctor told me I had an ear infection *in both ears*. It was just so bad in my right ear that I didn't even notice the problem with my left.

So, I was given ear drop antibiotics (that would take ten days for the entire prescription) as well as prescription painkillers (which I was hoping I wouldn't have to use, but eventually found out that I very much need them . . . ear infections HURT). By some great grace of luck and timing, I managed not to miss any class time on that particular day.

Oh, and I called home to chat with Paulette almost every day (I think I missed only one or two days total), and we would talk for a half an hour to an hour.

I mention these two facts together because I wanted to note that even though going away to this workshop was supposed to, in part, get me away from the time constraints of my daily life, life still managed to intrude. I had to take time out of my day three to four times (for roughly twenty minutes to a half hour each time) to take care of the ear drops, another half hour to hour to talk with Paulette once a day, and then there was dealing with the pain of the earache for several days (almost a week) . . .

. . . and yet I still managed to do the homework. Dammit, I was going to grab this opportunity that the master class offered me and squeeze every last ounce from it that I could.

Yes, I did cut corners in the sleep department on a couple of occasions. But the point (for anyone entertaining the idea of taking the course) is that the course did not demand anything of us that couldn't be done even with unanticipated time-outs and distractions.

Oh, wait. That's not about me. That's about the master class again. :-)

I may post more about the master class in the future; if you have any questions in particular, please feel free to post them in the comments section of this site. In the meantime, I'll conclude by noting that I wrote well over 20,000 words in two weeks, read well over ten times that amount, took an entire legal pad's worth of notes, and made some great, great friends -- we are now all egging each other on to advance in our writing careers.

It was great to learn that I'm capable of pushing myself up to a higher level of both quality and quantity of output. Now that I've proven I *can* do it, the trick is going to be to sit the Germanic-slang-word down and Germanic-slang-word-ing do it.

Posted by at 11:40 PM in the following Department(s): Writing | Comments (2)

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