Posts

Creativity = Novelty x Utility

Meet MWW19 faculty member Bryan Furuness!

Bryan Furuness is the author of The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson, a novel. His next novel, Do Not Go On, will come out in the winter of 2019. With Michael Martone, he is the co-editor of Winesburg, Indiana, an anthology. His next anthology, My Name was Never Frankenstein: And Other Classic Adventure Tales Remixed, will be forthcoming from Break Away Books in the fall of 2018. His stories have appeared in Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Southeast Review, Hobart, and elsewhere. His essays have appeared in Brevity, Nashville Review, and Barrelhouse, among other venues. His work has been anthologized in New Stories from the Midwest, Not Like the Rest of Us: An Anthology of Contemporary Indiana Writers, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of the Tennessee Williams Scholarship in fiction from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a finalist for the Society of Midland Authors award, and a winner of the Midwest Short Fiction contest. He holds an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers and has edited for several literary magazines and small presses, including Booth, On Earth As it Is, Engine Books, and Pressgang, the small press he founded at Butler in 2012. He lives in Indianapolis, where he teaches at Butler University and serves on the board of Engine Books.

Bryan’s MWW19 sessions include:

  • Session #3: Intro to Editing – A session about global editing and line editing, including exercises that can help students edit the work of other writers or revise their own work.
  • Session #3: Forming a Writing Habit – Figuring out your own ideal creative process and starting a sustainable writing practice.
  • Session #3: Reading like a Writer – Once you develop this way of seeing how stories are built, every text will become a teacher.

Bryan is also a member of the Manuscript Evaluation Team. Here’s your opportunity to have an author and editor evaluate your manuscript pages!

Jama Kehoe Bigger, MWW Director, interviewed Bryan for this installment of our MWW19 faculty Q&A.

MWW: You have a page “Notes on Creativity” on your website. What do believe are the components of creativity?

BF: Here’s a simple formula, straight from the pages of Creativity 101 by James Kauffman: Creativity = Novelty x Utility

“Novelty” means new or different. “Utility” is a little less obvious-here it’s talking about how appropriate the creation is for the situation.

Finally, note the multiplication sign. If either novelty or utility are a zero, the whole thing is an airball.

For example: I ask you for a story. In response, you slowly push a banana up your nose.

Novel? Sure. Task-appropriate? Uh, no. Therefore, not creative.

(For a slightly more developed take on this topic, see this post. And if you like this kind of thing, you can sign up for my newsletter here and get a few short posts about creativity delivered to your inbox every three weeks.)

MWW: Since you are an author and an editor, what do you see as the common traps for aspiring writers?

BF: I’ll give you one that’s been on my mind lately: overestimating the amount of talent it takes to write a book, and underestimating the time and effort and sheer persistence that it takes.

(This miscalculation isn’t exclusive to the writing world, by the way. See also this article with a very explain-y title: “People Underestimate the Value of Persistence for Creative Performance“)

Here’s a weird disconnect. If you tell people that it takes ten years of devoted work to reach mastery of a skill–not greatness, but mere mastery–they will nod and say, Right, that makes sense. But if you tell them that means it could very well take them ten years or more to write a novel, no matter how good their idea is . . . well, you can see the despair on their face.

But the thing is, you’re allowed to enjoy those ten years (or however long it takes). Actually, you better enjoy it. If you find that you don’t actually like writing all that much–if you’d rather be a person with a book than a person who writes–hit the eject button early and save yourself a ton of suffering.

MWW: What is your writing process like?

BF: I don’t have one.

Or, rather, I don’t have just one. My process depends on the type of project, the reason for writing, the time I get to work on it, and probably a thousand other factors I can’t consciously discern.

For example, my process for writing this response is different than my approach for my current novel project, which is different than my approach for my last novel project, which is different than answering a hundred emails in an hour, which is different than–

You get the idea. Each project calls for something different. I have a mental junk drawer full of strategies, and I’m always on the lookout for new strategies. That way, if a certain combination doesn’t work, there’s always something else I can try. Flexibility is key. Flexibility and an experimental spirit.

That said, certain threads run through my creative practice, no matter what I’m writing. Daydreaming. Making notes. Showing up to the page (almost) every day, and finding ways to lower the pressure and boost the joy.

MWW: What advice do you have for writers coming to MWW19? What will your sessions emphasize?

BF: The first time I went to a writing conference, I ran into one of my old teachers. “Pace yourself,” she said when I breathlessly told her about all the panels I’d already seen and everything I was planning to do.

Nah, I thought. I’m fine. I want to squeeze every last drop out of this conference.

As it turned out, the conference squeezed every last drop out of me–before dinner on the first day. So learn from my mistake, my friends, especially if you’re an introvert who needs the occasional oasis of solitude to recharge. Pace. Yourself.

Okay, about my sessions. Three sessions, three different topics: writing, reading, and editing.

  • Writing: We’ll talk about process and practice, the cornerstones of the writing life.
  • Reading: Once you learn how to “read like a writer,” every text will become a teacher.
  • Editing: We’ll dig into global editing and line editing, playing around with exercises that can you help you edit the work of other writers or revise your own material.

Hope to run into you there. And if I look all wild-eyed and manic, remind me of my own advice, won’t you?

Register Today! Do this thing.

Click here to register.

 

Get your manuscript pages edited at MWW19

Have a book manuscript in progress? Get help for your first 10 pages!

As part of our July 25-27 MWW19 conference, we’re offering six intensive, hands-on intensive sessions., one of which is Holly Miller’s Manuscript Makeover. Here’s the description:

Manuscript Makeover: All Genres – This interactive intensive is designed for those fiction and nonfiction writers who are ready to take a quantum leap forward in enhancing their writing skills. Participants will send a one-page synopsis and the first 10 pages of a book manuscript in progress. Holly will edit and critique these pages and display them to the class as a way of revealing strengths and weaknesses in the material. Additionally, she will lead the students in writing exercises and offer advice on such topics as creating strong titles and opening paragraphs, learning to self-edit, mastering proofreading, finding the right markets for manuscripts and knowing when and how to go into writing full-time. [Limit 12.]

Holly pic Author-editor Holly Miller says that books are a lot like airplanes–they’re most vulnerable to crashes during takeoff and landing. Her explanation: A story needs powerful opening pages (takeoff) and a satisfying final chapter (landing) if it’s going to convince agents, editors and readers to come along for the ride. Holly’s Manuscript Makeover intensive (July 27th) is one our most popular sessions and will focus on beginnings, endings, and everything in between. With 14 books and 2,500 magazine articles to her credit, Holly knows how to help authors chart a course that will get them closer to their anticipated destination: publication.

Do writers need to have a completed book manuscript to benefit from Manuscript Makeover?

No, all they need are a one-page synopsis and their book’s opening 10 pages. To succeed in today’s publishing world, a writer has to have two things: A compelling story to tell and the ability to tell it well. The synopsis addresses the first, and the sample pages show the second. Some writers come to Manuscript Makeover with only an idea and a rough draft of the first chapter. They want to know if they should keep writing. Others have finished their books and wonder what the next step is. Then there are the writers who have tried to market their books but with no success. They want to know where they fell short and how to fix the problem.

Why do you limit the class size to 12 writers?

For a couple of reasons. First, I want to encourage a sense of community. After all, we’re all writers even though we may be at different stages of development. Second-and this is personal-the class is really labor-intensive for me as the facilitator. I like to read each manuscript several times, adding notes, making suggestions and editing as I go. I build the class from scratch each time I teach it. I’ve found that 12 is the perfect number.

You open the class to novelists and nonfiction writers. Why not specify one or the other?

Typically, the class attracts more novelists than nonfiction authors, even though nonfiction is easier to sell these days. Regardless of the genre we choose, we’re all storytellers. We have to know how to grab and hold readers’ attention, how to build tension, create dialogue and weave in backstory. Those components need to be in every story we tell.

Where do writers get stuck most often when attempting to revise their work?

A lot of writers don’t know where to begin. In other words, they wonder at what point does the writing stop and the revising begin? Here’s what I recommend: After finishing a draft of a book, print out a hard copy but don’t look at it for three-to-five days. This is a “cooling down” period that puts some distance between the writer and the pages. When ready, read through the printed book in its entirety without a pen or pencil in hand. This is hard because the temptation is to make corrections and scribble notes in the margins. Not until a second reading do you start crossing out words and paragraphs. Line editing is easy-catching mechanical errors, misspellings, redundancies, etc. The challenge is to look at the big picture to see if you’ve over-populated your books with more characters than are necessary, or if your plot is plausible, or if your subplot kicks in at the right point. After making substantive changes to the version in your computer (always save a copy of the original!), give the manuscript another rest before you continue to tweak and fine tune it. This whole process takes at least four weeks…or more.

What are the most common mistakes that beginning writers miss when writing or rewriting a piece?

Probably the biggest mistake is thinking that revising a manuscript is a solo job. Every successful writer I know has a team of trusted readers who read the writer’s work and offer constructive feedback. (If you doubt me, check the “acknowledgements” page in many books. This is where the author thanks all the people who played a role in bringing the book to print.) Pick your readers carefully, and let them know you are open to their guidance and suggestions. That said, don’t feel obligated to incorporate all of their changes. After all, it’s your book!

Are there books or resources about revising that you highly recommend?

Writersdigest.com has several articles and a couple of good webinars that are worth checking out. One is called “How to Revise Your Manuscript: Tips from five editors.” Another of my favorite resources is the website of best-selling mystery writer Louise Penny (louisepenny.com). She has included a section called “Getting Published” that walks authors through all the steps of creating-and selling-a novel. For shorter nonfiction manuscripts, chapter 20 in a book I wrote with a colleague is called “Before you hit the send button.” This is a 20-point checklist to help writers identify possible problems in their manuscripts. The book’s title is Feature & Magazine Writing, third edition, from Wiley-Blackwell publishers.

You can register for Holly’s Manuscript Makeover as part of our THREE-DAY option or ONE-DAY (Saturday only) option. But don’t wait too long as her 12 openings are going fast!

One-day mini-conference | Reaching Your Writing Goals

This mini-conference will give your writing a boost!

Midwest Writers Workshop is offering a mini-conference, “Reaching Your Writing Goals,” on Saturday, November 3, 2018, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (includes lunch) at the Ball State Alumni Center, 2800 W. Bethel Ave., Muncie, Ind.

Authors presenting at the mini-conference are Kelsey Timmerman, Annie Sullivan, and Sarah Schmitt. The program includes talks about getting published, participation in break-out groups, a panel question-and-answer session, and book celebration for Kelsey’s newest release (Where Am I Giving?), Annie’s debut novel (A Touch of Gold), and the new paperback of Sarah’s novel (It’s A Wonderful Death). Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Cost for this day mini-conference is just $60.

Reaching Your Writing Goals

10:00-10:10       Welcome, introductions

10:10-12:40       Authors (Kelsey Timmerman, Annie Sullivan, Sarah Schmitt) share their Path to Publishing

12:40-1:00        Working sack lunch/fellowship

1:15-1:45          Breakout #1

Kelsey Timmerman: Finding and Telling True Stories — An overview of brainstorming, researching, and interviewing techniques Kelsey has used to write 3 books.

Annie Sullivan: How to Hook an Agent: Everything from Strong Query Letters to First Lines — Landing an agent starts with getting their attention and not letting it go. Discover how to keep agents reading your work and requesting more!

Sarah Schmitt: Plotting Boot Camp — All good stories have one thing in common: a strong plot. This presentation simplifies the plotting process and helps focus a writer’s vision of their current work in progress. Participants will engage in a group writing activity that can then be used as a tool for their own projects.

1:45-2:15           Breakout #2

Kelsey Timmerman: How to Write a Book Proposal — To land an agent and an editor for your nonfiction book, first you need to write a proposal.

Annie Sullivan: Worldbuilding: How to Build the Foundations of Your Fantasy or Sci-fi World — Learn to create fantasy worlds that will sweep readers off their feet by incorporating small and large details into your work.

Sarah Schmitt: Character Development Workshop — Does your character’s eye color matter? Does he or she resent authority? Why? Character development is imperative for any story. This hands-on workshop will look at how a character’s past influences their actions in the present and where inspiration can be found to create a character as unique as you are.

2:30-3:00       Reassemble as a group in Assembly Hall; Q&A with the panel

3:00-3:10       Explain MWW resources (future mini-conferences, etc.)

3:10-3:30       Invitation to purchase books and have authors autograph them.

Fellowship/community time

REGISTER HERE

FACULTY:

Kelsey Timmerman is the New York Times Bestselling author of WHERE AM I WEARING? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes and WHERE AM I EATING? An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy. His newest book is WHERE AM I GIVING? A Global Adventure Exploring How to Use Your Gifts and Talents to Make a Difference. His writing has appeared in places such as the Christian Science Monitor and has aired on NPR. Kelsey is also the cofounder of the Facing Project, which seeks to connect people through stories to strengthen community. He has spent the night in Castle Dracula in Romania, played PlayStation in Kosovo, farmed on four continents, taught an island village to play baseball in Honduras, and in another life, worked as a SCUBA instructor in Key West, Florida. Whether in print or in person he seeks to connect people around the world.

Annie Sullivan is a Young Adult author from Indianapolis, Indiana. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnels. She loves fairytales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s teaching classes at the Indiana Writers Center and working as the Copy Specialist at John Wiley and Sons, Inc. publishing company, having also worked there in Editorial and Publicity roles. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram (@annsulliva).

As a former K-8 school librarian and youth services profession for a public library, Sarah Schmitt has always enjoyed pushing books on unsuspecting teens. Now, as a YA author, she gets to write those stories. Focusing on serious issues facing teens with her hallmark brand of humor, Sarah has taught at The Indiana Writer’s Center and presents interactive workshops at middle and high schools throughout Indiana and beyond. She has serviced on the selection committee for both the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, Young Hoosier Book Award for Middle Grade and Teens Top Ten. When not reading or writing, Sarah can be found crocheting or trying to prefect the perfect shave ice flavor formula. She lives with her husband, two kidlets, and a ninja cat near Indianapolis, Indiana. You can follow her on Instagram @sarahjschmitt.

 

Looking for ways to turn one story into many? Lou Harry has tips!

Meet Mini-conference faculty Lou Harry!

Lou Harry has written for more than fifty publications ranging from The Sondheim Review to This Old House and from Variety to Men’s Health. His books are as wide ranging, including The High-Impact Infidelity Diet: A novel (Random House and optioned by Warner Bros.), Creative Block (Running Press), Kid Culture (Cider Mill Press) and the novelization of the awful movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Penguin). Collectively they have sold more than a million copies. His produced plays include Lightning and Jellyfish, Clutter or The Moving Walkway Will Soon Be Coming to an End, Midwestern Hemisphere, and Going…Going…Gone: The Live Auction Comedy, recently finishing its fifth year in Indianapolis. A member of the Dramatists Guild, he’s also a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and a board member of the American Theatre Critics Association, where he chairs its New Play Committee.

During the MWW Super mini-conference hands-on Friday morning session, Lou will teach “Nonfiction, Writing About Everything.” Yes, Lou will do a quick update on his goal to write a book for every category in the Dewey Decimal System. But, more importantly, he’ll explore ways to spark an interest in subjects you may not have previously thought about. “This workshop,” Lou explains, “will help you work on interview techniques, pitch angles, the search for leads (both the story idea kind and the first paragraphs kind), and ways to turn one story into many.” Lou will also review a targeted pitch letter or up to two pages (double-spaced/12 font) of a manuscript. (Email midwestwriters@yahoo.com with “Lou Harry nonfiction submission” in subject line, postmarked by July 2.)

If you are interested in play writing, Lou is also teaching the session “Creating Life on the Stage – Play writing for the novelists, short story writer, journalist and/or poet.” You’ve told stories. But perhaps you haven’t tried telling stories on stage. Through example and exercise, you’ll look at the differences and similarities between constructive narrative for readers and for actors. You’ll look at basic mechanics, of course, but also explore how to create stories that make sense and belong on stage–whether those come from preexisting material or are created uniquely for the stage.

For our Friday evening activities, Lou will host “Somewhere in This Book: A Live Game Show.” How fun! He’s asking everyone to bring a book–any book–to this event. Could be a novel, a history text, a cookbook, whatever. When a category is called (Say, “A Really Awkward Pick Up Line” or “What Not To Say On a Job Interview”), you have a set amount of time to flip through your book and find a line or two that fits the category–in a serious or hilarious way. Then we find the best choices, narrow down the field, bring some contestants up front for finals, and otherwise have a blast of a time.

Former MWW intern Caroline Delk asked Lou a few interview questions for some advice to the attendees and to help us learn a bit more about him as a writer and faculty member.

MWW: How do you get yourself psyched up for a writing session? Music? Meditation? Crossword puzzle? A full tank of high-octane coffee? Yoga? Or do you just sit down at the computer and have at it? Advice? 

LH: No warm ups. But I do try to start by editing–cleaning up something I’ve previously been working on or putting in changes I made on paper the previous session. That way, I’ve jumpstarted my brain into writing mode.

MWW: Describe for me your “writing space.” Messy? What books are within arm’s reach? Laptop or desktop? Dedicated office, spare bedroom or dining room table?

LH: I’m lucky to have a dedicated office–although it’s also dedicated to my board game collection and to gym equipment that I don’t use often enough. And to the cats’ litter boxes. My desk has piles of papers, not always organized–I’m usually working on a book project, at least one play project, plus multiple freelance pieces at any given time. I try to clean up whenever a story is done but I’m not always successful. Plus, my cats have a tendency to jump onto the desk and slide on papers, creating their own organizational system.

MWW: We’ve heard that a writer shouldn’t ask friends, family, and colleagues to read and make suggestions on a manuscript-in-progress. But we’ve also heard that a lot of successful writers have “beta readers.” What are they; what do they do; do you have one; and how can I find one?

LH: If it’s a new market, my wife will often read a piece just so I can avoid embarrassing typos. Many of my books are written in collaboration so there is an automatic back and forth to help improve the work. When it comes to plays, I always reach a point where I need to hear the work with actors, so I’ll cast it with actors whose work I know and have what I call a living-room read. After that, I may pull together a reading at a local college or bookstore, both of which have been very receptive. The caution is that it’s likely to be friends and family listening–and you are robbing them of the chance to experience it first in a full production. Most of what I learn about what the play needs, though, comes from just listening during the reading. I’ve made the mistake of being the person reading stage directions and that reducing my chance of really hearing the work and picking up the signposts over what’s not needed and what’s still needed.

MWW: Talk about manuscript rejection. How do you handle it? At what point should you give up on a manuscript and move on to the next project?

LH: As someone who has served as an editor, I understand the need to reject 99% of what comes across your desk. Rejection means I either sent it to the wrong market, the market has material too similar already, the timing was off, or the piece just wasn’t very good. Sometimes the form just wasn’t correct. I’ve turned two unsold novels into plays, one of which landed a professional production. Your poem may want to be a short story. Your adult novel may want to be YA. By the time you get a rejection, you should be working on your next piece anyway. After the rejection, try to read it as objectively as possible to figure out why it might not have worked for that market.

 

Come meet Lou!

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To register for MWW Super-Mini, go to www.midwestwriters.org

We have UPDATED the full schedule for the Super Mini-conference, read here.

To review the faculty bios, read here.

Do you wish to write in a way that touches readers and yourself?

That’s the question J. Brent Bill will discuss in his hands-on, small class session on Friday morning at MWW’s Super Mini-conference:

Writing from the Heart: Soulful Creativity – That’s the kind of writing that makes Anne Lamott’s essays, Phil Gulley’s Harmony tales, and Barbara Brown Taylor’s memoirs so appealing. Brent Bill’s own writing has been described by Publishers Weekly as being “Like a neighborly conversation across a kitchen table.” Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you want to write from the heart and not just from the head. This workshop offers tips and techniques for connecting with your writer’s heart and how to put your heart on paper. You will spend time writing, using exercises that will help you uncover the deep themes and concerns that will bring your writing to life. Brent will also look at the practical side of getting such writing published.

With more than twenty books published since 1983, Brent has learned a thing or three about writing. His titles include Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker: A Humble Stumble Toward Simplicity and Grace, Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment; and Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality. He’s also a writing coach, editor, photographer, and retreat leader. A MWW alumnus, Brent lives on Ploughshares Farm – fifty acres of Indiana farmland being reclaimed for native hardwood forests and warm season prairie grasses.

Former MWW intern Amanda Byk asked Brent a few interview questions to help us learn more about him as a writer and faculty member.

MWW: How do you get yourself psyched up for a writing session? Music? Meditation? Crossword puzzle? A full tank of high-octane coffee? Yoga? Or do you just sit down at the computer and have at it? Advice?

JBB: My intention is always to just sit down and get to it. But the truth is I usually spend time checking email and Facebook, going for a fresh glass of ice water, doing some “research” on Google, and the like. The typical writer’s procrastination tools. When I do start writing, I usually write one or two hours straight without much deviating from the actual writing. Having a deadline helps me focus and get right down to the task of writing without having to check email, play solitaire, and so forth.

MWW: Describe for me your “writing space.” Messy? What books are within arm’s reach? Laptop or desktop? Dedicated office, spare bedroom or dining room table?

JBB: I have a dedicated writing office on the second floor of our post and beam home. It has a window overlooking the woods and prairie. Floor to ceiling bookshelves line one wall — stuffed with everything including poetry, humor, religion, books on writing, autographed copies of books, books by friends, miscellaneous nonfiction, miscellaneous fiction, photography books, and more. The other long walls hold two file cabinets, a map chest (where I store my writing and photographic paper and photographic prints), and an oversize desk containing my computer, monitor, two printers, an external hard drive, and a scanner. The walls hold various art pieces, photographs I’ve taken, framed book covers, and other miscellany. In addition to books, the bookshelves also contain such arcane things as Old Quaker Whisky bottles, models of MGs and other cars I’ve owned, Mr. Bill figurines, and fighting Quaker puppet, and other silliness.

MWW: When you hit the wall and nothing is working on your computer screen, how do you clear your head and refresh? Do you power down and go to a movie, or do you just keep pounding the keys? Advice?

JBB: This rarely happens to me. Once I’m in the flow, the words and sentences usually come easily. On those occasions where I’m stuck, I will either go for a walk in our woods and think or I’ll fire up the John Deere 790 and go do some farm work. Certain farm chores involving the tractor allow me to work on two planes at the same time — one paying attention to the tractor work and the other allowing my mind to problem solve my writing issue. They’re both work, but call for solutions from different parts of my brain. My family jokes that I write some of my best stuff whilst on the tractor.

MWW: For writers who are unsure about which classes to attend at the July Super Mini-conference, what criteria should they use in making their choices? 

JBB: One obvious piece of advice is to attend a workshop that most closely aligns with the kind of writing you want to do. A second, and I think just as valuable, is to sign up for a workshop completely outside of your primary interest. I did that when I signed up for my first MWW conference in the late 1980s — a poetry workshop. I like poetry, but had no intention of writing any poetry. The instructor, Mary Brown, was insightful and her exercises and information on writing poetry were very helpful to my writing (and by then I’d written six books). The lessons I learned in that class took my writing deeper in ways that I doubt any other course could have.

MWW: Can you tell us more about what your Friday session will be about? What can writers expect to come away with from it? 

JBB: There’s been an explosion in spiritual writing of late. While the number of mainstream Christian periodicals has declined, new publications have sprung up. My own spiritual writing has appeared in places as diverse as Quaker magazines, AARP: The Magazine, and Sufi Journal. In this workshop, we’ll spend some talking about the kind of spiritual writing participants want to do and then look at possible outlets that would fit their writing.

Come meet Brent!

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To register for MWW Super-Mini, go to www.midwestwriters.org

Scholarship application information (postmarked June 15), here.
_______________________________________________________________
We have UPDATED the full schedule for the Super Mini-conference, read here.
To review the faculty bios, read here.

Writing from the Dreamscape and Other Avenues toward Writing

What will you discover about yourself and your writing when you come to the Super mini-conference?

MWW Board member and poet Michael Brockley shared his thoughts… Writing from the Dreamscape and Other Avenues toward Writing about What You Want to Know

Although I am a poet, I try to put myself in positions to learn beyond the scope of the alchemical secrets we learn in poetry workshops. Humor classes always pique my interest as do sessions on tall tales, flash fiction, translating, writing as a form of therapy and prose poetry. The latter changed my literary life. And to this day, I regret having missed a workshop in Indianapolis which was advertised as an exploration of the role recurring images serve in one’s work.

I am looking forward to this year’s Super Mini-conference in Muncie because it is constructed in such a way as to promote not only writing, but writing about what I want to know. Workshops that feel as if the thing I want to know is within reach. I encourage myself to seek writing insights from sources outside my Pandora’s box because such genre-hopping forces me to write outside of my comfort zone. To reveal to myself this unknown unknown. This makes, for instance, Lucrecia Guerrero’s From Where You Dream so enticing. The possibility of opening a door in my brain that puts me at the threshold of a new direction, something darker or funnier or maybe something that puts me in an unfurnished room in my brain. Maurice Broaddus with his World Building seminar might provide more environmental roughage to nurture my Aloha Shirt Man’s surreal adventures or stoke the apocalyptic world my anonymous second person singular protagonist navigates.

But enough about me. What about you? Do you have a mystery detective who could benefit from ecstatic moments such as might be drawn from Brent Bill’s Soulful Creativity workshop? Maybe your romantic lead has a teenage son or daughter who sounds too much like your favorite rock-and-roll singer who is pushing 50. Thinking Like a Teenager, Barb Shoup’s offering, could jack up the parent-adolescent strife to such an extent that it jazzes your story with a new dimension or new character. For you see, once changes are introduced to your comfort zone you have no choice but to turn the handle on the Unchosen Door, the one you’ve always wanted to open. The light under that door shines with a color you can’t name and the sounds you hear might be grief or joy. Open the door and take a vacation through your dreamscape with your unconscious sidekick. Discover the worlds yet unbuilt that only you can raise. The seeds of writing within your soul await. Think once more in the way you did before you had a driver’s license. When you first began defining love for yourself. Come to the MWW Super Mini-conference on July 27 and July 28 at the Ball State Alumni Center in Muncie, Indiana. Come to begin your first (or your next) novel and leave with the passion to write about everything.

*****

Mike echoes what Brent Bill responded to this question: For writers who are unsure about which classes to attend at the July MWW Super Mini-conference, what criteria should they use in making their choices?

Brent: “One obvious piece of advice is to attend a workshop that most closely aligns with the kind of writing you want to do. A second, and I think just as valuable piece, is to sign up for a workshop completely outside of your primary interest. I did that when I signed up for my first MWW conference in the late 1980s — a poetry workshop. I like poetry, but had no intention of writing any poetry. The instructor, Mary Brown, was insightful and her exercises and information on writing poetry were very helpful to my writing (and by then I’d written six books). The lessons I learned in that class took my writing deeper in ways that I doubt any other course could have.”

Come and discover!

_______________________________________________________________

To register for MWW Super-Mini, go to here.

Scholarship applications information, here.
_______________________________________________________________
We have UPDATED the full schedule for the Super Mini-conference, read here.
To review the faculty bios, read here.

MWW Super Mini-conference, July 27-28

MWW Super Mini-conference — July 27-28 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana. Friday 8:30 am through Saturday 12:30 pm.  A dynamic day-and-a-half with a decidedly different structure—shorter, smaller, less expensive, with a strong emphasis on helping you reach your writing goals.

This MWW Craft + Community super mini is designed for writers of every level in their careers.

Whether you’re a published author or a novice exploring writing for the first time, you’ll find your place here, among teachers and fellow writers in a small group environment. It’s time to grow your network and nurture your identity as a writer. We have mentors to help.

Press the reset button.

At MWW Craft + Community, you’ll experience a day and a half—long enough to get away and refocus your energy on your writing, yet short enough to accommodate your busy schedule. Come enjoy the camaraderie and receive useful guidance!

This “super mini” offers eight in-depth, hands-on interactive, small class size sessions taught by experienced, accomplished, and professional faculty:

  • Holly Miller: Manuscript Makeover
  • Matthew Clemens: Developmental Editing
  • Brent Bill: Writing from the Heart: Soulful Creativity
  • Lou Harry: Nonfiction, Writing About Everything
  • Larry D. Sweazy – Fiction, Writing Your First Novel
  • Barbara Shoup – Think Like a Teenager
  • Lucrecia Guerrero – From Where You Dream
  • Maurice Broaddus – World Building: How to Out-Imagine Your Reader

Our programming focuses on key areas such as craft improvement, genre knowledge, finding critique partners, and forming writing support groups to help improve your writing. Get feedback from experts and friendly peers. Sharing your work and reading your work will allow you to pinpoint sagging plot lines, breaks in character and more. The give-and-take, along with honest feedback, is a win for all.

We’ll have fun activities to help you find a writing community. Writing is a solitary act, a leap of faith in which we work to bring the ideas in our head, our own experiences, our research and our true and imaginary tales to life on the page. Because we labor alone, we need a community of honest supporters who can help us to see what works in our stories and what doesn’t.

MWW Craft + Community wants to give you that community. You’ll return home with new skills and insight into your writing. You’ll return home with new writing friends.

And there’s a space waiting for you.

Secure your spot today.

Cost: $199

REGISTER

[For a statement from our board, read here.]

Writing from the Heart: Soulful Creativity with J. Brent Bill

Online courses provide great opportunities for everyone who wants to learn something. From the comfort of your home, or even the comfort of your jammies, you can learn on your own time schedule and participate in classes that will help take your writing to the next level.
Our newest MWW Ongoing course is Writing from the Heart: Soulful Creativity taught by J. Brent Bill. The course starts March 26 and will be available through July.

Who This Course Will Help

This course is for both unpublished and published authors who wish to write in a way that connects with readers – and themselves – at the deepest levels. Many writers are technically sound and fine thinkers. True connection with readers requires more, however. The secret to making that connection, whether you write fiction or non-fiction, is writing from the heart.

Many of us approach writing by wondering what readers, editors, and publishers want. Instead, this course will focus on what interests us as writers. What things are we most passionate about and do we dare write about them?

This course offers tips and techniques for connecting with your writer’s heart – and discovering themes and concerns that will bring your writing to life.

 

What This Course Teaches

This four-week course offers practical ways for involving head, heart, and craft in writing – with a particular emphasis on tapping into your heart. Each lesson will include opening thoughts by Brent and then lead into exercises regarding that week’s topic.

The course officially begins on Monday, March 26, when the first full unit will become available to all students. Lessons related to the week’s theme will appear on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Units 2-4 will be available on the following Mondays: April 2, 9, 16.

Unit One: Heart and Mind

The first week will explore how we link head and craft with heart. It uses concrete exercises that will tap into what you know – and don’t know you know. We’ll also look at the places where heart and head intersect so that we can produce powerful writing.

Unit Two: Heart and Body

In our second week, we will go deeper in exploring the personal by adding body to heart. We will work with exercises that explore like-heartedness, but not necessarily like-mindedness as a way to connect with readers whose life experiences are different from our own.

Unit Three: Putting it All Together: Heart, Body, and Mind

During week three, you’ll delve into a deep personal experience from the perspective of heart instead of head. You’ll learn how to bring all the senses (physical, emotional, mental) to bear in bringing the story to life.

Unit Four: Going Long and Deep

Week four will pull all the learning from the first three weeks into a longer writing project where you can draw on what you’ve experienced. As with the previous weeks, it will include practical tips and guided exercises.

 

What This Course Includes

Weekly Assignments for completion at your own pace—designed to help you put what you learn into action.

You’ll also:

  • Receive suggestions for reading and other resources for you to go deeper in writing from the heart
  • Be able to chat with Brent in real time (video, audio, and text) during his weekly online office hours (2 separate hour per week)
  • Have access to a dedicated private Facebook page where you can (if you choose)
    • ask questions and engage in discussions with Brent and the other course participants. Brent will check the page daily for questions and comments.
    • share your work based on the exercise and invite feedback from the other course participants

A review (via email) by Brent of up to ten pages of a manuscript in which you’ve put some of the learning from this course into practice.

Cost: $150. Register HERE

About the Instructor

With more than twenty books and numerous articles and short stories published since the 1980s, Brent has learned a thing or three about writing. His book titles include Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker: A Humble Stumble Toward Simplicity and Grace, Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment; and Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality. He’s a writing coach, editor, photographer, and retreat leader.

One reviewer said of Brent that he’s “… a substantial spiritual guide, but never in a flashy way. Think of – oh, perhaps something like Mister Rogers Meets the Dalai Lama.” Brent is a member of Spirituality & Practice’s Living Spiritual Teachers Project.

A MWW alumnus, Brent lives on Ploughshares Farm – 50 acres of Indiana farmland being reclaimed for native hardwood forests and warm season prairie grasses.

Book Review: THE DRUMMOND GIRLS by Mardi Jo Link

[This post is the sixth in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

The Drummond Girls: A Review With Utmost Respect For The Women and Their Stories

Mardi Jo Link’s memoir, The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance, is a textbook example of why it is difficult to maintain friendships, but also, why it is important to do so. For an accurate comparison, imagine Thelma and Louise, but with eight women instead of two and “no cops on the [Drummond] island.” The possibilities for these ladies’ shenanigans were basically endless, but the fun and friendships cannot last forever without being tested by some things. Heart problems, tough pregnancies, rotten marriages and subsequent divorces, children growing up, and parents growing old are just some of the hardships these women face during their two decades of travel and companionship; even so, the harsh nature of Drummond island was no match for these women, and now, the world knows it too.​

This memoir was insightfully tongue-in-cheek at times, most memorably when introducing the eight ladies. “Susan is in the kitchen…mixing a cocktail. It might be her second Maker’s and Caffeine-Free Diet; it might be her fifth. Two decades in, yet it is impossible for me to tell which,” and, “I am older now than [Mary Lynn] was when she died, and I silently vow to never get myself invited to one of those [cardiac events],” are among my favorite remarks in this book, as well as my favorite introductions ever. After going on the first adventure with the original four Drummond Girls, I was not sure that the hijinks could get any better, but I am ecstatic to say I was wrong.

Link writes, “When I was just out of college, I’d always thought that by the time I reached a certain age, say fifty, my life would be pretty much set. I’d…have a couple good friends, a successful career, and my life would be settled into a comforting predictability.” Throughout the memoir, Link takes the reader on 13 trips to Drummond Island–some include more description about the trip itself, others include more about the ladies’ lives. As I progressed through the pages, they progressed in years, and the story slowly turned away from my experiences as a 20-something college student. The more I read, the more I could see my mother in the remaining pages telling me about her own experiences with her friends; this is why I fell in love with the Drummond Girls.

These eight ladies are a reminder that friendships foster over time, and when they foster, they are for life. They become family. Link continues the previous quote, “But predictability was not something I valued in my twenties, so why did I think it would be desirable thirty years into the future? Like that one, most of the assumptions I’d made back then turned out to be wrong…I could accept all of that uncertainty because I had seven constants in my life. I had the Drummond Girls. And they had me.”

The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance is first and foremost a story about friendship: the kind of friendship that needs to be documented. These eight ladies have had their share of ups and downs, as is wont to do in friendships, but they have weathered the proverbial storm together. Link’s memoir is a testament to the love and dedication people can give to one another. The Drummond Girls were #friendshipgoals before the pound sign became the hashtag, and most people can only aspire to live it up as much as these women have in their lifetimes. I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a memoir as much as this one, and the only way to truly appreciate their story is to read it and then live it for yourself. Find your Drummond Girls and do not let fear stop you.

I’ve already found mine.

Picture

Thank you for reading.

Title: The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance
Author: Mardi Jo Link
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Copyright: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5474-4
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Creative Nonfiction
Page Count: 269

Find it on Amazon

MWW friends & past faculty in anthology: Not Like the Rest of Us

ANNOUNCING …

Indiana Writers Center has a publication for the book lovers on your holiday gift list! Not Like the Rest of Us: An Anthology of Contemporary  Indiana Writers  features stories, poems, and essays more than 75 Indiana writers, including MWW past faculty and friends:

Kelsey Timmerman, “The Labors of Our Fathers”

Cathy Day, “Not Like the Rest of Us: A Hoosier Named Cole Porter”

Philip Gulley, “The Hoosier Identity”

Barbara Shoup, “Working a Jigsaw”

Eugene Gloria, “Alfonso Street”

Karen Kovacik, “Assemblage: Lake County”

David Shumate, “Bringing Things Back From the Woods”

Kevin Stein, “The Tragedies”

Lucrecia Guerrero, “Rings”

Michael Martone, “Contributor’s Notes”

Susan Neville, “Jubilee”

Jill Christman, “That’s What You Remember [An Essay in Third Person]”

Mark Neely, “Extremist Sonnet”

Sean Lovelace, “Elvis Presley Visits His Red Harley”

 

This is a great read for the coming wintry days. Now at a special holiday price! Purchase copies for your friends (and one for yourself)!