Goldman’s Memoir Class is nearly full… while Bemis and Bathanti . . . Well, who could pass up those two?

Hey Table Rockers and those considering our table of rocking writers–Just a quick note to let you know that Judy Goldman’s memoir section of the 2013 Table Rock Writers’ Workshop is nearly full–only one more slot is open there.

We are still looking for more poets and more writers interested in the youth market to work with NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti and with NC Piedmont Laureate John Bemis, a writer of middle grade books.  What a stellar faculty we have this year.  If you haven’t visited the website, check it out!

Also we still have spaces available in Darnell Arnoult’s unparalleled fiction workshop and Abigail DeWitt’s famous novel writing workshop where free-writing every day gets you closer to the end of your book.  Also remember that novelist and editor extraordinaire Dawn Shamp will be on site to give you a line-by-line edit of your work in progress.

All this with stunning mountain views, cool breezes, great food that’s healthy, too, and a noncompetitive, seriously helpful environment for beginners and seasoned writers.  September 9-13, 2013 just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Little Switzerland, NC.

Come on!  http://tablerockwriters.com.

Also, as always, we’ll have a group of talented singer/songwriters with us on the mountain for inspiration and entertainment.  167

–Georgann Eubanks, Director

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Creating Characters from Everyday Experience by Anna Jean Mayhew

After a trip to Wal-Mart my Swiss-born husband told me, “The man who checked me out heard my accent and asked, ‘Sprechen sie Deutsche?’ He told me that his father came over from Germany after World War II, and never learned English, so his seven children all speak German.” I began to think about someone living many years in America without speaking English, and how astonishing it was that a man with two languages—unusual in this country—would wind up clerking at Wal-Mart. What’s his story?

In my workshop at Table Rock, I’ll ask you to carry paper and pen with you at all times, and to make notes on pieces of stories you stumble on in the course of your daily life. Maybe you’re in a convenience store because you didn’t get a receipt at the gas pump. The cash register is out of paper, and while the clerk changes it, you’re compelled to wait. The clerk hollers to someone in the back of the store, “When’s Roxie getting here? I gotta go.” What is the clerk’s story? Who is Roxie, and why is he/she late? If Roxie is a man, how did he get such a feminine name? (Think of “A Boy Named Sue,” by Johnny Cash) A voice from the back of the store responds, “Cool your jets.” Who is that? What has happened to make her/him grouchy?

Over the years I’ve made notes about characters I’ve stumbled on. Sometimes I use these scribbles to create a complex individual, but many of the notes are just stored on my computer, available when I need a prompt. An example: I was on my way into work and walked through a group of smokers puffing away in the bitter cold of a January morning. A man had his arms resting on a woman’s shoulders, looking her in the eyes, and I heard him tell her something as I passed by. Phonetically it sounded like, “Ah ain nuddin out chew.” I entered the building, walked down several long halls, and went up three floors on the elevator, repeating those sounds in my head. By the time I got to my office, I heard in my mind’s ear, “I ain’t nothing without you.” A sweet declaration of love. Was the couple married or had they just started dating? Was the woman a smoker, too, or was she braving the icy wind just to be with him on a coffee break? Maybe I had misinterpreted the remark, and they were a brother and sister who had recently lost their mother. What are other possibilities?

I’m going to challenge the people in my workshop to craft personalities from snippets of conversation or from seeing someone standing in line at a bus stop—any chance encounter—to create a character from found objects.

There are a few spots left in A.J. Mayhew’s workshop section at Table Rock Writers Workshop this fall. Join us September 17-21, 2012 on the Blue Ridge Parkway about an hour east of Asheville for an extraordinary experience.  See our website. Beautiful mountain views, excellent meals, noncompetitive environment of beginning and seasoned writers.

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