From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Advice from Ron Carlson

The English department at Brigham Young University does a reading series every Friday and this weekend we were lucky enough to have the one and only Ron Carlson come and read to us. If you don't know who he is, you should. In person he is hilarious, witty, intelligent, and gives wonderful writing advice. I bought a book that he signed and then went to a Q&A where he gave even more wonderful advice. He is such a great talker. I think we were all sitting there with our mouths open trying to make sure we took in everything he was saying. Basically this post is a transcription of my notes. I hope you find it useful.

-Writing is about tolerating being in the dark.
-Pay attention to your life. Don't let yourself get off track and distracted by things like the internet and cell phones.
-Once you know where your story is going, take your time. Slow down.
-Get to the point where you want to leave the room (when you've got everything set up/built up and its time for the payoff) then STAY and SLOW DOWN.
-When you're writing, remember that you're in the room alone. No one else is there. Not your editor, publisher, mother, grandmother, sister, mother-in-law, grocer, dentist, no one. While the piece is in the room don't worry about anyone else's opinion.
-Book/Author recommendations: Cheever, Anne Beady, Graham Greene, Katherine Mansfield, Faulkner, James Joyce, Richard Brodigan, Deliverance by James Dicky.
-Read to write. Airport books won't really help.
-Write from the evidence up. Put the story and the detail down, see where it takes you and then look for meaning.
-Put down at least 600 words of a scene, then you may have something to go on.
-Let your hands guide you. They are often smarter then your head.
-Good writing requires attention.
-If you get what you expect its probably not good enough.
-In the morning reduce the steps between you and the keyboard. Don't let email, facebook, other stuff like that get in the way first.
-Keep your own counsel.
-If you're afraid of doubt your not going to be able to write. Doubt makes what you're certain about more valuable.
-Whenever you're challenging your comfort something good is happening to you.
-Dialogue is a good way to slow down.
-Recognize and avoid "small clue syndrome". Subtlety is overrated.
-Trust the outer story. If the outer story isn't strong enough the inner story won't be either.
-Survive the draft. Be ok in the dark.

There you have it. Take the advice for what its worth. I personally found everything he said to be very beneficial and helpful to me.

Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spot-of-white-in-black Stories

Ok, so I think there a quite a few stories that follow this formula, and I kind of really like it. Here's what I'm talking about: those stories where things just keep getting worse, and nothings really going right, and then something good happens, and it probably doesn't undo all the bad stuff, but its something good to hold on too, and then the story ends. As an example: a chubby, freckled seventh grade boy whose mom is spacey and whose dad is on a business trip wants to try out for the basketball team. He goes to try-outs, doesn't do well, and gets mocked by the other boys. Cute girl in his class sees him not do well. One of them even hip-checks him into a locker afterwards. Cute girl sees this too. At lunch he sits by himself because his friend isn't there that day, and takes out his sketchbook and starts drawing dragons. After a few minutes he realizes someone is looking over his shoulder. It's cute girl, holding her lunch tray. She smiles and says, you're a really good drawer, and then goes to have lunch with her friends.

Make sense? I love these kinds of stories because I feel like they're emotionally powerful. Our lives are full of good and bad things, and some days the bad is pretty concentrated, but these stories show us how meaningful are all the little good things.

Happy writing! Hope this helps. Do you like stories like this? What other "forumulas" have you become fond of?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Crazy Writing Life

Ok, I know things have been sparse here at the blog of joy, but I promise 1)its for good reason, and 2) things are going to pick up eventually. I'm in two creative writing classes this semester, which means my writing has been pretty much commandeered, but it also means I should be doing a better job at sharing what I learn in classes with all y'all. Which I'm going to try to do.

Another bad excuse is that my computer has been having issues for the past two weeks at least, so thats been a fun adventure.

Isn't life great? There's just so much to do and see and hear and touch and smell. I've been thinking a lot lately about lived experience versus what we learn from reading, and I think both are a good thing to have, and I think us writerly people have to make a concerted effort to get out and do stuff, but I think its worth it. I had a writing professor who said that the best thing to major in if you want to be a writer is geology.

Something I've heard from a couple different writerly/professorial type people lately is that if you write 1000 words every day for ten years you will be famous. Guaranteed. I don't know about you, but I think thats a pretty awesome guarantee and I want to try it. Maybe I won't be able to reach 1000 words a day while I'm in school, but everyone has excuses and its the people who keep their butt in the chair and don't listen to those excuses that get the 1000 words, the fame and glory.

So lets all keep living and keep writing, ok?

Sarah Allen
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