Connect with your Inner Muse in North Carolina by Pat Keefe

Pat Keefe

Pat Keefe

Writers search for that perfect workshop to invoke their muse and send them into a writing frenzy.  On that journey, I followed the advice of Roberta Schultz and attended the Table Rock Writers’ Retreat near Little Switzerland, North Carolina in September 2012.

Traveling through the Blue Ridge Mountains on a rainy, windy Monday, we finally reached our destination.  The mountains were hidden under a deep misty fog, which made me think of the mystical village of Brigadoon.

Table Rock writers meet at Wildacres Retreat for five days and four nights The classes are limited to twelve people, allowing for personal attention and classmate collaboration.  Three hour writing workshops are the heart of the week-long event. Instructors and special speakers provide afternoon discussion sessions followed by “Table Rock Trivia” in which alert participants may win prizes for answering factual questions about the presentations. Wine and cheese on the terrace, overlooking the fabulous mountain view, highlight the hour before dinner. Participants sign up to share writing one evening during the week.

I spent my week freewriting with Abigail DeWitt in the novel writing class.  A veteran novelist, Abigail kept the group engaged and facilitated great sharing among class writers.  On the first day we knew it wasn’t going to be a one notebook week as we frantically filled pages writing with no electronic devices.  I learned about my novel direction, about the motivations of my characters, and about myself as a writer. It was the most unique approach to writing I ever experienced.  I’m still answering questions from that week.

In 2013, writing classes will include “The Sublime Fiction Triangle” with Darnell Arnoult, “Poetry” with Joseph Bathanti; “Writing for Children and Young Adults”with John Claude Bemis;  “Jumping In: A Guide to Writing Your Novel” with Abigail DeWitt, and “Writing Memoir and Personal Narrative” with Judy Goldman.  Registration forms are available online at http://tablerockwriters.com/trww2013.pdf

Table Rock is the best writing workshop I have ever attended.  It surpassed my expectations and provided a welcoming non-threatening writing climate.  Whether you are a veteran writer who has attended many weeks of workshops or a novice trying a retreat out for the first time, you may feel like you have stumbled on a mythical Brigadoon that you hope will never disappear from the mountain. As another 2012 participant sums up, “Best-taught, best-run, most-fun.”

Patricia Keefe, MAE, is a Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellow who attended Table Rock in 2012 as part of a writing project.  Her work has been published in the Indiana English Journal. Pat has written the Just for Kids column in The Shoals News for over two decades. She writes Flash Fiction every Saturday with the 24 Exposure online writing group and reads stories in the “Keep Hearing Voices” show on Crescent Hill Radio in Louisville. As a National Writing Project Teaching Consultant, she participates in the Indiana University Southeast Writer’s Project with Dr. Kevin S. Bailey in New Albany, Indiana.

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Taking Directions. Making Directions.

by Tony Tallent

tonytallent

We must spend about half our time taking directions and the other half making our own. This is what I have come to realize.  For the more advanced, this proportion may likely sway more toward the latter part. Still, for most of

us who love the strands of words put together that make sentences and the strands of sentences that are strung together to make a scene and then a story—the story we are working earnestly on—yes, we want directions.

The ‘most of us’ mentioned here are writers. Writers want direction. Writers seek direction. We get easily trapped in the triangulation of our imaginations, our overflowing words and our firm desire for a system of writing.  We read about the processes of other successful writers and try to apply them to our own developing processes. We are awed and inspired, but not always authentically activated. With ripe fingers on the keyboard or pens on paper we try earnestly to follow the directions laid out in the book. It works—sometimes. Yet mostly we are left sitting with a blank page or screen and trying desperately to meet the vision and direction of the writer we admire. We are able to string some words together before closing the notebook or clicking SAVE. The stories are still churning in our heads as we dream into the night and then wake into our regular lives.

Something more real must break our regular lives, we think.

What if we came face-to-face with other writers and were able to gain insight and direction from established authors and writers across the spectrum?  Those types of opportunities exist. Many of them are high-profile and high-judgment—exactly what will send many new writers running back to their blank pages.

I was one of those writers who ran back to the blank page. The blank page didn’t t give me directions.  I wrote constantly, though inconsistently and without direction. I had written and produced a somewhat successful theatre piece a few years ago, though I didn’t have a writing community to help keep me going.  I was one of those lost writers.

I moved from North Carolina to Colorado and then back to the Carolinas. I experienced life in a way I’d never dreamed, being so attached to the Carolinas.

When I returned to my home in the Carolinas I knew it was time to get more prompt and conscious about my writing.  I found my way back to the Table Rock Writers’ Workshop.  I had attended many writing  workshops, though this one had the most impact.

No one can make you more conscious of what it feels to be a writer than Abigail Dewitt. I stepped into her class and was both challenged and charmed by her structure and insight. Abigail perks you up (even on an extremely mist-covered day on the mountain) and insists that your free-writing is your insight to a full novel. She is brilliant. She listens to every word that is spoken and gives feedback to every class member. She is not one of those austere, removed instructors. When Abigail Dewitt comments on your writing—whether it be free-wheeling or close to heart, she will inspire action and direction.

With Abigail’s inspiration I have finished six full notebooks of writing in the five months since my Table Rock classes with her, working  toward a finished novel manuscript.

Now that is direction.

Writers need direction and distance to create their own way. The Table Rock Writers’ Workshop offers a perfect blend for writers—a setting that is so beautiful that you’ll want to write about it and a structure that will make you want to talk about it. Table Rock Writers’ will help you make your own direction to start (or finish) your writing project.

Here’s to getting direct.  –Tony Tallent

Tony Tallent is the Director of Literacy and Learning at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. He wrote and produced RAMBLE MOUNTAIN, an Appalachian drama in story and music. Tony writes stories and articles about libraries and speaks nationally about storytelling and the importance of libraries. He is currently working on completing a novel set in North Carolina.

Registration is now open.  Please read all of the pages of our website carefully to help make your decision about which instructor is right for you.  Every instructor will be available for conversations at mealtimes and you’ll have a chance to hear from the faculty in afternoon presentations about craft, in addition to the three-hour small group sessions in the mornings.  Please consider joining our community of serious writers. 

North Carolina Poet Laureate will teach at Table Rock in 2013

bathanti_jospehLast September when we were gathered for our last evening on the mountain at the Table Rock Writers Workshop, we knew that our dear friend and colleague Joseph Bathanti was just that minute being celebrated in Raleigh by the North Carolina Arts Council. Joseph had just been selected from the very wide and deep field of talented North Carolina poets to serve as our state’s poet laureate. Joseph is now touring the state giving readings, teaching workshops in places where poetry may not be the norm, and generally bearing his gregarious self with equal measures of humility and humor.  In short, Joseph is doing what he’s always been doing since moving to North Carolina as a VISTA volunteer in 1976.

Joseph’s poetry is musical and sublime, whether he is writing about the remnants of the Confederacy that haunt Anson County or the dangers of house hunting on high cliffs in a western North Carolina winter. Joseph’s blue-collar-Pittsburgh roots inform his vision and the sharp turns of his lines.  He is our Philip Levine (the U.S. Poet Laureate for 2011-2012).  Like Levine, Bathanti often writes about the world of physical labor, whether it is a memory of his father’s daily pilgrimage to the steel mills or his wife’s work in bearing two remarkable sons–Jacob and Beckett–who are now making their way in the world with considerable gifts and grace as a result of their joyous upbringing.

Joan Bathanti, Joseph’s life partner, born and raised in Georgia, was also a VISTA volunteer, and North Carolina was their matchmaker. That must be why Joseph has worked so hard to reward every borough and backwood in these 100 counties with a word picture.  When I was compiling the Literary Trails of North Carolina series for UNC Press, Joseph was the go-to poet.  He had a poem about most everywhere.  He had already discovered that cemetery near the South Carolina border that requires a spooky hike through pine barrens to visit the graves of those rugged early settlers who harvested tar here in the 1700s. Joseph had already observed and written about  dock workers unloading  boats at Wanchese, simultaneously musing at the numbing challenges that must have worn down  the Lost Colony. His poems are by turns tender and terrifying, always asking hard questions, always wondering at the foibles of humans and angels.

As if his poetry were not enough, Joseph has also written novels and story collections that benefit mightily from his poet’s ear and eye. But finally it is the bond of friendship, his role as a masterbuilder of our North Carolina literary family, that is the measure of Joseph Bathanti.  That is  why I could shoot him an e-mail in the midst of his busiest year as our state’s new poet laureate and within an hour he would answer, saying yes to teaching for us this fall at Table Rock.

–Georgann Eubanks, Table Rock Writers Workshop

Please visit our website and consider joining us this year, September 9-13, 2013 for the Table Rock Writers Workshop.

Free Writing by Abigail DeWitt

For almost thirty years, I’ve started every class the same way: whether I’m teaching composition to eighteen-year-olds or the novel to retirees, I give my students a prompt—something like the house I grew up in smelled like —and tell them to “free-write” whatever comes into their minds for fifteen minutes.  They must write without stopping, without worrying about spelling, grammar, punctuation, or even making sense. They don’t have to write about the way their houses smelled; they can write about how their feet are itching. They can make a shopping list, or a list of baby names, or a list of favorite profanities. They can write their names over and over, or they can write about what a stupid exercise I’ve given them. All that matters is that their pens or pencils don’t stop moving, and that they don’t cross anything out.

In part, I start off with this exercise simply to give my students an alternative to staring at a blank page. I spent so much time hunched over blank pages when I was young that the thought of it still chills me. I’d rather scribble what should I writet write werite I don’t know today I knew yesterday but not today  than worry about crafting the perfect opening line. Once there are words on the page—even nonsensical words—I start to relax. I remember that a preliminary draft need not be a completely serious undertaking. Revision and editing require careful attention and discernment, but producing a first draft is something else altogether. Let’s say, for example, that I want to write a story about a young, healthy woman named Mary who works in a morgue. I could try to come up with an image to suggest the conflict between Mary’s vitality and the death all around her, or I could play: What should I write Mary oh mary who works at the morgue who washes the bodies in the cool room with the bins and shelves of bodies so orderly and clean not like her house which is a disaster of egg-caked plates in the dish drain…There will be serious work down the road, but just getting words on the page—giving myself something to work with—can be as fun and loose as a game.

What’s more, once I have those words on the page, the work of revising and editing is not nearly as hard as it seems when I’m staring at nothing. After my students have “free-written” for fifteen minutes, I ask volunteers to read their pages aloud. People are often pleasantly surprised to discover that, mixed in with the “nonsense,” are some wonderful ideas and images and even mini-scenes they can use in their “real” writing. Sometimes, people find that, with minimal punctuation, they’ll be able to use their free-writing verbatim; sometimes, it’s pure nonsense, and that’s fine, too—they only spent fifteen minutes on it.

The truth is, free-writing doesn’t just help with writer’s block; it helps us generate our best work. It’s a form of improvisation that allows us to bypass the rational mind and draw on the rich material of unconscious. Ironically, free-writing works best when we follow very strict rules: our hand must never stop moving, there must be no crossing out, we must begin and end at a set time. (The reasons for the set time are a topic for another day.) The only optional part is what to do about the prompt.  After all, it isn’t free writing if you have to write about the smell of your childhood home. But you may find yourself writing about the smell of baby names, or the profanities that were beloved in your childhood home. And then—and here’s the wonderful thing—the smell of baby names may lead you to think of a particular baby’s smell, and the strange circumstances of his birth, and suddenly, when you least expect it, you have a story.

Come join Abigail and our happy band of serious writers for free writing and more at the Table Rock Writers Workshop, September 17-21, 2012 in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Abigail will be teaching long form fiction writing.  See details at: tablerockwriters.com