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Summer is the time when, at least in the headline-mind of the popular media, we take our fictional reading less seriously: Beach Books, Summer Whodunits, Relaxing Reads. Why warm weather and the chance to read on vacation—in long, uninterrupted and deeply concentrated periods—would mean that you’d select more frivolous “entertainments,” I can’t say. But I’ll agree that while you’re getting there, if it means airports and planes, well yes, some light distraction is what I choose, too. But geez, if you’re lucky enough to have prolonged reading times, please, don’t fall into the book review dittohead thinking and keep reading that “distracting entertainment”; waste of precious time. Instead, pick a real humdinger to do a little consciousness-expanding. Yeah, I mean the Russians: Anna Karenina, Bros K, Chekhov stories, or maybe you’ll have the patience for Ulysses or Proust. In our classes this summer, we did kick off with a couple Icelandic detective novels (Black Skies and Voices both by Indridason), but we’re turning the corner into Mrs. Dalloway this week. Yes, stream of consciousness. A “classic.” Honestly? sometimes the Big Books do take some time and concentration to get into. MD is no exception. In the opening chapters, Woolf is experimenting. I would argue that she’s trying to find what exactly the stream is flowing with. And she doesn’t really plumb the right depths until she (mostly) gives up on omniscience (so confusing), and about a quarter of the way into the book, centers into filtering through her principles. It happens right around the time Peter shows up; by then, Woolf has taught herself (and her reader) just the right “feeling” for the cascades of cognition. Check it out. Be patient at first, but notice how the book teaches you how to read in a new way. When you finish, you will come away with a very different feeling of accomplishment and completion than you ever got from a detective novel or the Girl in the Title book you carried on the plane. And then you’re ready to read Michael Cunningham’s very excellent homage to MD, The Hours. You’re gonna love it, too. And the same is going to be true of Anna Karenina, or Kafka, or The Sound and the Fury. Once you get about a quarter of the way in, the books begin to exert an uncanny power over you: and that’s why they’re classics. But it does take that extra effort, slowing down, reading twice or three times until you get a feel for the voice. Remember, by puzzling it out in this slower way of reading which you can do because you have the a little more time in the summer, in fact, you’re reconfiguring your brain; that slight extra effort will stimulate you to neurogenesis; you'll be adding neurons and brain circuits as you solve the special way these books are written. Those are neurons and circuits that you’ll use in writing your own work. Neurons you won’t form from that Beach Book you’re toting.
By Patrick McCord, PhD This is a Blog Post for you writers out there -- not a meeting. Part I. As the weather changes, we get energized Fall is the best time to introduce a new habit. If you’re reading this, the chances are good you have an intention having to do with writing. That’s your inner Writer Protagonist calling you to action. So about that protagonistic intention you have, I’m going to stop you before say, “To start writing that novel/ or screenplay/or memoir.” May I gently suggest that while you can keep that big project in mind, as a conscious intention, start small. Particularly if “start” means you’ve never written long-form fiction or memoir or a screenplay before. But OK, if, in fact, you’ve written many satisfying short stories or creative nonfiction essays, why then, sure, start the novel, adapt a short story into a screenplay, get that memoir off your chest. But let’s say you’ve been writing… but in a commercial or legal venue, so creative storytelling is new. I’d strongly suggest you start with very short stories or memory scenes, maybe some four-page screenplays. I’ve been tutoring a semi-famous attorney this summer. His first attempts were explanation and summary heavy with very little active story. He’s well-known for his legal writing, but he wasn’t comfortable writing in scenes, or writing in a character’s consciousness, or ginning up conflicts. So we backtracked to writing continuous action, conflicts, some dialog… He quickly saw the difference; he re-focused on telling the story in scene and conflicts, and now, he’s building his skills every week, and he’s written some wry, brief stories. He’s a guy who has written a lot, has even mastered one kind of writing, yet he’s willing to rebuild from the bottom up. Working this way, he’ll have a novel years sooner than if he’d started explaining and summarizing his “idea” of a novel, generating pages that would only reinforce bad habits. So if you have no current writing practice at all, but you have always felt you wanted to write, start with characters in the middle of a scene in the middle of a problem. Experiment with “practice” writing; see if you can have fun writing to acquire and tune the skills you’ll eventually need to write that long-form ambition. Start with small writings to learn specific skills. And whatever you do, the start point should be just carrying a notebook and pen… Another case in point: I had another writer in class this summer, let’s call her S— S is a really smart, successful, motivated young woman; her writing sample showed superb potential, but just as classes started, just as she was going to start writing for fun like she had as a kid, at just that moment, the Merry-Go-Round of Her Life started picking up speed—her job, her family, her relationship—and in the space of about ten days or two weeks, very talented S, who had all the right stuff and was motivated, couldn’t find time to write because her weekly meetings doubled, she had personal emergencies, she had increased responsibilities. Still S struggled to write even fragments of stories for classes, but then, personal and professional travel meant she couldn’t even be in class. Argh! But in the course of her struggles, I saw something. I saw an even smaller, doable writing step for her. Cognitive Factoid: Successful people see their goals in small, doable steps; then they do them. The data on this is quite compelling. A major part of success is seeing a big goal as a series of small “bite-sized” goals and getting a steady sense of accomplishment rather than an endless sense of incompletion. So if you haven’t written even a story recently, a full length novel as a next step is too big. My attorney tutorial knows he likes to write and play with ideas on paper, to solve problems and create pleasure. He came to me thinking he might have some novels in him, but first of all, wanting “to learn how to be better writer”— not a novelist, not “published.” He knew the skill sets that he’d learned to write legalese took years to acquire, so he knew the process might be incremental. He’s a good example of the Writer Protagonist: consciously choosing projects he can and will successfully complete. However, S, as a Writer Protagonist, was overwhelmed by her Writer Antagonisms, she couldn’t even begin writing small. And as a teacher, I let convince me there was nothing she could do. But the Writer-Protagonist (unlike your Character Protagonists) must not let Antagonism get the upper hand: there is always a small, creative, affirmative step to take. The simple thing S (and really all of us) needed to do was to carry a notebook. If she couldn’t write, she could keep theintention to write close at hand. That’s enough. That seems so simple as to be simple-minded, but in some ways, the writer does need to be simple-minded. The simple act of writing, putting down words, any words, all words, that’s where it all begins. All great writing comes from that essential labor. The key effort in being a writer is writing, the act of writing, writing for the hell of it. Writing for fun. Patrick McCord, PhD Editor-in-Chief of The Editing Company and creator of the Write Yourself Free(SM) method and been teaching in Westport since 2007. His students are already publishing and winning literary prizes.
"Patrick is a brilliant teacher who will help you to unlock the talent within. I have written three books, one of which was acquired by HarperCollins this year" - Lynne Openshaw, WYF student Semester begins week commencing March 20th. Daytime and evening classes available. All classes on sale at $495 for Spring. No more excuses, it's time to do this! Here's what to expect in your Master Class: We begin each class with a discussion about a specific cognitive writing skill, followed by an in-class writing to activate that concept. Writers will develop a repertoire of writing tools to use in every phase of the writing process. In the second half of class, each writer reads aloud a short selection lasting about six minutes. Every writer briefly responds to the reader’s text by citing what “works”—what was funny, fresh, compelling, or tragic? Limiting response to only what is effective text alerts writers to their strengths, so it’s not long before they’re writing with renewed confidence; over time, this process will decondition self-sabotaging “inner criticism” which is the result of the penalty-based writing instruction we got in school. Patrick will offer every writer advice about specific next steps for improvement. Reading aloud fast-tracks new storytelling consciousness because you’re activating all the cognitive-creative telling skills that humans used tens of thousands of years before we learned to write. Please register your seat online HERE* (http://writeyourselffree.com/register-now/master-class-spring-semester) *PLEASE NOTE: If an online or full payment will not work for you, please email [masked] to reserve your seat in class. Expect to bring a check to your first class meeting.