edmonds community college
Back in 1995 when I first purchased The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I was still very entrenched in the day to day of making a living and surviving in a competitive business world – in other words, living a life based on everyone else’s expectations. The concept of treating my writing like a business or frankly, even respecting it myself, was an indulgent idea I didn’t have the luxury (or foresight) to comprehend. Consequently, my writing remained in the hobby category of my life for those once in awhiles when I could get to it, like a chocolate sundae, a rare and special treat.
But then I read page 23 of Cameron’s book which contains the personal contract, one of the essential tools fromthe Artist’s Way. What I soon learned was (as with anything) that if I didn’t respect my creativity, neither should I expect anyone else to. I also realized that by not valuing my creative spirit, that spirit would soon die.
I started slow, setting aside time on my less busy days and going to a coffee shop to do nothing else but write. All I knew for certain was that if I stayed in my home office I’d be distracted every five minutes, so off I went. And I’ve never looked back.
The contract changed everything for me.
I’ve revisited this idea of having a contract with myself, protecting my creative life, numerous times since then – it never hurts to revisit, revamp and reimagine spiritual agreements now and again. Now, in 2018, my writing time comes first thanks to having this agreement with myself, one that must be honored for me to experience life on my own terms, not everyone elses.
I started actively pursuing this personal and deeply spiritual agreement in 1995, and by 2000 was in Ireland on a month long writer’s residence. And now a couple decades later I’m published in many genres and many vehicles (magazines, newspapers, books, etc.), and working on my 2nd novel and some short stories. I’ve learned that my writing is not some luxurious hobby, no, writing is breath, and writing is who I am. I have the contract to prove it!
Last night I had the pleasure of guest lecturing at the University of Washington again, in the Fiction writing class. One young man asked me a question toward the end of the evening that I felt I left unanswered, and it bothered me all night. He asked how a writer can keep from being overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to write a novel and how much there is to learn. I’ve been there!
Anyway, I half way answered before other students chimed in with other great ideas, but I felt I never fully addressed his sincere concern. What I did say was to stay connected to your passion, remember why you wanted to be a writer in the first place, because that part of you can get SO lost in all the work. Have artist/writer’s dates with yourself, I told him. Go to coffee shops or sit on a mountain or go to the beach with a pad and pen and write (old school) because the actual act of writing taps into your subconscious and connects you with your desires, and can connect you to a deeper level of storytelling. I reminded him about what I said early in my talk; that writing is a lifelong apprenticeship and that it’s critical to remember that, and to give yourself some grace. But I didn’t’ get much further than that as it was the end of the evening and we all had to go drive in the snow.
What I’d like to add is this…
By grasping the reality that writing is a lifelong apprenticeship you can lessen the burden of the pursuit of perfection because it’s unachievable for the vast majority of writers, especially in the beginning. You can only learn so much at a time, but keep learning, keep growing, keep expanding your writerly pursuits, knowledge and craft tools, and just get better with every new project, and remember (and cherish) the writing tools (and mentors) that aid you in the journey.
Most importantly, if writing is your passion, keep writing. Find mentors like your instructor, Scott Driscoll. Find your tribe, I wish I had told him that. Find a group of like-minded writers to meet up with every so often, either just for coffee and story talk or to write with. Finding your tribe helps you stay connected. Go to writing conferences. Read great works of literature (however you define them) and get inspired to do the same. Emulate other authors who you admire. Peruse bookstore shelves, read the first sentence of ten best sellers (in your genre) and go sit in the bookstore coffee shop (or wherever you like) and write.
Also, if you love language don’t forget to play with words. I love the sounds and meanings of certain words and try to use them in my writing when I can. Or concepts, like how an object can be metaphor in a story, that’s what I was playing with when I took a break from working on my novel a couple years ago and wrote a 700 word story that won the Writer’s Digest fiction contest. So play with words, who knows where it may lead. Then, if stuck, take a break from what you’re working on and work on something else. If you’re writing a dark, difficult piece, take a break and write something funny. Play with your words, they are your tools.
Write free hand, old school like Natalie Goldberg talks about in Writing Down the Bones. Pen and paper. It’s a transformational writing tool that connects you to your work on a deeper level than imagined.
A couple of my favorite writer’s dates with myself are; I love to go to coffee shops where I never go, in different parts of the city or take the ferry over to the islands and go to coffee shops there, and write. The fresh air on the ferry, the water and the change of scene reawakens my writing mind. I also go to art museums and sit on those couches in the middle of the room – where no one really ever sits – and gaze at great paintings, this stirs something inside me to write. Don’t know why, it just does. Last week I went to Portland, stayed in a hotel, wrote till late night, got up early went to the corner café for coffee, wrote for a couple more hours and the went on with an exhilarating day (at the art museum) culminating in a writing session back at the same café where my day started, but this time with wine instead of coffee. I needed the time alone, in the city where my next novel takes place – my story world. I was completely recharged within 24 hours of alone time. Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who encourages these needs in my life. So whatever your life permits, create writer’s dates (no matter how grand or how small), find companions on this life-long journey of learning, and never forget to restore, inspire and encourage yourself.
What stirs your muse? Figure that out and reconnect with it frequently. For every unique writer there is a unique path. Find yours.
I am teaching The Artists Way for Writers at Edmonds Community College if you’d like to explore this further. Be well, keep writing. Cheers, Mindy
In addition to the Objects class I will be teaching at Edmond’s Community College this fall I will also facilitate the eight week course, Writer’s Craft Part II this year from September 21st through November 9th. I’m excited to teach this class as it encompasses everything from the Hero’s Journey to crafting that perfect first sentence. This eight week class is for all skill levels and all storytelling genres; memoir, fiction, non-fiction, short story, and screenplay. Bring your WIP (work in progress) or get inspired in class to start a new writing project. Lots of writing time, lots of critiquing, lots of creativity.
Class time structure (each week); Q & A and writing time based on individual student’s projects as seen through the lens of class material. For example, applying the Hero’s Journey or unique plot devices, developing voice, etc., to their story in progress, or the beginning of one, regardless of genre or skill level. If students want critique, there will be a workshopping schedule set for maximum 10 pages each. Weekly recommended resources and handouts.
Brief sample of class schedule:
9/21 Week One – Every Story Begins With a Journey
Identifying and finding your HERO’S JOURNEY
9/ 28 Week Two – Page One
FIRST LINES First sentences, of course, have different functions—to amuse, to frighten, to mystify—and the mechanics a writer uses to achieve this connection vary from genre to genre. We’ll do an exploration of great first lines and how knowing the hero’s journey empowers a writer to pen that first line of the journey to follow.
10/ 5 Week Three – Plot Devices (see previous post)
10/12 Week Four — Individual Writing & Open Mic Night
Focus on Student Writing – critiquing/workshopping exchange, and open mic night.
10/19 Week Five – The most dreaded word in writing, EDITING
10/26 Week Six – WHY OUTLINING MATTERS (regardless of genre)
The basics of genre; memoir, romance, mystery, thriller, horror, etc.. Also, short story, flash fiction, screenwriting…outlining matters. Outlining your novel (short story or memoir) or flying by the seat of your pants (called pantsers), and why it matters. 10 steps to follow in outlining.
11/2 Week Seven – Critique Night
11/9 Week Eight – WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED
Sign up HERE
|NEW! The Writer’s Craft Part II|
|Item: C522||Mindy Halleck|
|6:30 PM – 8:30 PM||Location: Snoqualmie Hall 205|
|Sessions: 8 Th||20000 68th Ave W Lynnwood, WA 98036|
|9/21/2017 – 11/9/2017||Fee: $175.00|
In 2011 I embarked on one of the harshest undertakings; I placed what I thought was the final draft of my novel in a drawer for one year. Why? Because, as I told others in my most knowledgeable author voice, “A writer needs distance from their material before editing and rewriting.” While that’s true, the real reason was, the story didn’t work. I thought it worked, it worked in my head, but based on a few shrewd readers it didn’t work in theirs.
During that year – fighting the wicked temptation to tweak pages, chapters and plots – I turned my attention to books on rewriting, in search of a magic key to unlock my manuscript and turn it into a novel, the kind people wanted to read. I took workshops, and reaped too many tips to list. All that matters is that nothing helped, until one day . . . .
I read yet another craft book, and SHAZAM! You know how it feels when something simple smacks you like a Mack truck of a good idea? Well, chapter 14 in the The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel by Robert J. Ray, did that for me. The ‘objects lesson’ taught me to utilize my story objects (often called plot-devices) as shorthand for backstory and eliminate a lot of dense narrative.
Finally, that magic key!
“Objects tell your story.” Ray writes. “When you rewrite your novel, you can tighten your story by repeating a single object; car, train, statue, slipper, harpoon, book. There’s a good chance the objects are already there, in your manuscript, waiting to be found, to be selected, to be repeated, to be laid down like neon breadcrumbs in the forest. Readers follow breadcrumbs.”
I began to see the power of storytelling objects everywhere. What’s Lord of the Rings without the ring, Cinderella without glass slippers, The Notebook without the book, or poor little Forest Gump without his box of chocolates?
No glass slippers, no enchanted tale, just a barefoot girl with an unfortunate name who probably does not go from rags to riches and who likely does not find her fella . . . what’s the point?
In Nicholas Spark’s novel The Notebook, that evocative leather bound book literally contains their love story. And that chocolate box on Forest Gump’s lap is a metaphor for the story to come; “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” And oh-boy does that plot device set up and deliver a story.
Though easily overdone, an object that’s well-crafted, or emerges organically from setting or characters can establish a character’s values and thus inform and enhance the story.
In a Willamette Writers Conference screenwriting/storytelling workshop taught by Clark Kohanek, he too touched on the objects lesson. “Think about Die Hard,” Kohanek said, “when Bruce Willis enters with the teddy bear. We immediately know that object defines what’s important to him; family.”
That fuzzy teddy bear represents Willis’s values and reenters the story burnt and dirty, but safe, like him, ready to reunite with what he values so much he’d kill for. That object represents the driving force, and heart of the story because it’s valued by the protagonist.
Eventually, in rewriting my novel, Return to Sender, the protagonist, a Korean War veteran (timely 😦 ) Theo Riley, now has a toy soldier, a stack of blood-stained returned love letters, and a photograph of Korean Orphans. This trinity of objects define him, inform his moral compass and ultimately chart his destiny. These objects give the reader an understanding of Theo on a deeper level. They are backstory shorthand, and explaining it once eliminated pages of narration, because when the reader sees the tin soldier, letters, or pictures (Neon Breadcrumbs), they remember . . . because objects are a writer’s magic keys.
If you’re a local (Seattle area) writer who is interested in delving into this I will be teaching a 5 week class at Edmonds Community College in September (into October). To sign up click here. Hope to see you in class.
Mindy Halleck is an award-winning author, blogger and writing instructor. In 2015 she won a Writer’s Digest short story contest, an Edmonds Arts Association fiction contest, and her novel, Return To Sender received the ‘Readers’ Choice’ award from Readers Favorites. Halleck blogs at Literary Liaisons and is an active member of the Pacific Northwest writing community. In addition to being a writer, Halleck is a happily married, globe-trotting beachcomber, antiquer, gardener, proud grandma, and three-time cancer survivor. www.MindyHalleck.com @MindyHalleck Mindy’s AMAZON Page
It’s writing conference season and this year I miss not being at one. I love the classes and the social get-togethers with my tribe of like-minded scribes. I’m getting tweets and other social media pings from my friends at Willamette Writers conference (wish I was there) as I did from the PNWA conference last week. Though, full disclaimer, I did go to the one day Christopher Vogler (www.thewritersjourney.com) workshop last week in Seattle which of course was great. Anyway, I’m not attending conferences this year because of several reasons but mainly I need to write. I have discovered that my novel will not write itself. Damn thing!
And though I am missing the conference reenergizing vibe, and I am getting some work done (a writer’s gotta write) I’m also prepping a new class. This year I will be teaching some ongoing writing courses at Edmonds Community College which I’m looking forward to. My 2nd class (already taught one last month) will start in September and is all about using plot devices in writing.
How Objects Help Tell a Story is a 5-week course starting Sept. 20th to Oct. 18th.
The blurb: What’s Lord of the Rings without the ring or Cinderella without her glass slippers? These iconic objects are shorthand for legendary stories that couldn’t be told without them. Well-crafted objects (plot devices) in fiction or non-fiction writing can establish a character’s values, inform their choices and actions and thus the story. Learn to create a narrative for an object in a character’s life, how that object can be backstory shorthand, enhance storytelling, help eliminate pages of narration, and tell a more layered story….
Please join me each week at Edmonds CC …to sign up please click here.
And if you’re at a writers conference this week, go ahead and tweet me, though I’m already jealous, I’m happy to live vicariously. So have fun, make great contacts and pitch your work to everyone you can. Good luck. Cheers, Mindy
Please share, tweet it out, find me at @MindyHalleck