Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Birds don't brag

Feeling a little blue today -- maybe because tomorrow's the last Hero's Journey class. We will cover the Resurrection of the protagonist, and dwell on endings. Never sure of a good exercise for endings, so I looked up endings in this very blog, wondering what I have said before. Lo and behold it was this very week one year ago that I wrote about endings! How enthusiastic I sound, and it reminds me that the class I planned did work well. If you need endings ideas, go there.

I'm also covering the Trickster archetype, and will repeat the risky venture I took last year, using play-dough for a lively funny exercise. Trickster loosens things up!

Meanwhile, here is something from the day-by-day calender my sister the artist makes for family and friends every year. At this moment it strikes home:

Birds don't brag about flying.
They don't write books about it
and then give workshops,
they don't take on disciples and
spoil their own air time. -- Tukaram

That old writing/teaching pull. I think it is time for me to write.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Commas and creativity

Hey! It is Adult Learners' Week! See for info. I should have told you weeks ago.

A challenge this week, and one that arises in just about every creative writing class -- commas. Okay, colons, semi-colons, run-on sentences, non-sentences and apostrophes, too. Mostly my adult students arrive with punctuation and grammar skills, but now and then someone gives me a good, or even excellent, piece of writing marred by flaws in basic language craft. What to do? How to help?

I'm intuitive at punc & grammar -- I guess I was taught right somewhere early on, plus I was raised reading The New Yorker, and my father was a journalist, my mother an avid reader. It's all to do with the rhythm of writing. I know how to do it, but I can't teach the rules. What's more, I don't want to; I'd rather create!

So when I get a good piece with commas randomly splashed about (or not), my copy editor's hand and mind can't resist a lightly pencilled correction. But I hate to give back work all speckled with these picky little marks. On the other hand... if a sentence doesn't make sense... well, it's not very creative if a writer interferes with his/her own clarity of communication, is it? Therefore, fab as a piece might be, it has got in the way of its own creativity. Of course I always feedback on all the good aspects of a piece of writing -- in bigger, stronger comments.

Can anyone out there recommend a super-duper punc & grammar book for creative writers? Fun, correct and NOT BORING? To my student who asked this week I am going to suggest the best I know of, including two evergreens:
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and EB White; my copy is Allyn & Bacon, 1979, Massachusetts, but the orginal was 1935, with updates 1959, 1972. A slim and amazingly enjoyable read.
  • Fowler's Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press (regularly updated). A huge tome, very specific. The section on commas is enlightening, and there's everything else, from a to z.
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, Profile Books, 2003, London. Very entertaining, explains why things like commas got the way they are and gives entertaining guidelines, too. Was on the bestseller list for ages.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The jam-packedest writers' conference ever

Have you ever been to or heard of the Winchester Writers' Conference? I went for the first time a few years ago, drawn by its biggest, most wonderful plus -- in-person working editors and agents you can book for a short 1-to-1. Dates this year: 3-5 July 2009; sessions are limited and first come first served, so move quickly if that's what you want. But there's more!

The Saturday offers 5, yes five, 1-hour activities or lectures led by experienced speakers on your choice of a range of 60 subjects (I just stopped to count). Titles range from 'Writing for Children' to 'The Best Dialogue Exercise Ever' to 'Everything You Wanted to Ask an Agent' -- and more, more, more.

You can come Friday - Sunday (more stuff going on on Friday), or just Saturday, or there are even week-long workshops. Extra speakers, writing competitions, optional tour to Jane Austen's home, meals, student bar, friendly fellow writers and a room in student halls on the pleasant hilly University of Winchester campus are all part of the event, which is now in its 29th year. Winchester town itself is also worth a visit.

This year I am attending as a speaker, in the Special Subjects category: Sparking the Written Word: Especially for Teachers. In the section about speakers they have billed me with surname as Lee Kerr. Oh well, at least L and K are near each other in the alphabet, so I am not hard to find.

So do suggest this to your students (if appropriate) or yourself (ditto). Prices, booking etc: have a look at the site and you can also send for the info in printed form. Maybe see you there!