Ten Golden Rules

These lists, compiled by The Guardian, are too much fun not to share. Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing, The Guardian asked a whole bunch of writers to come up with their own versions. The results are usually interesting, often funny, occasionally obvious, always helpful.

Part one features Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, and AL Kennedy.

Part two features Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, and Jeanette Winterson.

Memoir Round-Up

Note: I started writing this post in January. I know, I know — it’s like, two weeks out of date already. What can I say? Stuff has been going on. The links still work, though, and the possible discussions they could kick off are still valid. Have at it.

There have been some interesting articles about memoir kicking around on teh internets recently, which I will collect here for your delectation.

First Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, writing in the UK’s Independent newspaper, gives a rousing “publish and be damned” call to arms for all memoir writers. Alibhai-Brown is responding to the bru-ha over in the UK about Lady Antonia Fraser’s memoir, which recounts her marriage to the late Harold Pinter. I haven’t read Fraser’s book yet but apparently it’s not a even tell-all – it’s a rather tender and well-written portrait of an unusual marriage (according to reviews here, here and here.) Pinter’s plays, which I studied in high school, had a lasting effect on me. In particular, the distinction he made between the dash and the ellipses. This was revolutionary for me at the time — that so much could be conveyed through punctuation!

Then there’s this juicy piece in the New Yorker, a review of Ben Yagoda’s Memoir: A History.

And then a completely asinine memoir attack piece by Taylor Antrim in The Daily Beast, followed by Stephen Elliott’s Antrim smackdown on The Rumpus.

February Workshop and Other News

Boring post title, but exciting news: I sent out an email this morning about my February workshop and had a flood of emails — gratifying! As of 3.20 p.m., four people lined up already and some others who have expressed an interest in the remaining two spots. Yehaw!

And this seems like a good opportunity to include the other publishing news I sent out in the newsletter.

The first item was regarding the publication of Elyssa East’s fabulous book, Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town. Elyssa’s book is a true crime story, combined with the history of an abandoned colonial settlement and expanse of wilderness close to Gloucester, Mass. In a signature review for Publisher’s Weekly, Joyce Carol Oates called the book “…fascinating, richly detailed and remarkably evocative.”

I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the book when I read it and offered some feedback, pre-publication. It’s a real page turner, and takes the reader deep into a mysterious, intriguing historical world. At Elyssa’s launch party, at Word, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on December 1, I was awarded “Top Dog” honors (along with some other people who had helped Elyssa’s book along the way, including her agent Brettne Bloom and her fiancé, Yulun Wang, one half of Pi Recordings). Pic of the award below — ain’t it pretty?

Top Dog Award

I also announced — not that she needed me to, considering the great reviews and exposure the book has received — Jessica DuLong’s debut book, My River Chronicles: Rediscovering America On the Hudson, an account of Jessica’s transition from the dot-com world to engineer of the John J. Harvey, a classic fireboat. Jessica’s compelling story is interwoven with fascinating, narrative-driven industrial history, made personal by her deep investment in the preservation of the Hudson river.

Jessica was a member of one of my first ever workshops, back when I was teaching though the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshops. She was honing her sample chapters then, subsequently found an agent and sold the book, and is now busy promoting and reading and being fabulous!

I love hearing about the publishing success of friends, clients, and students. If you have some to share with me, I hope you’ll be in touch.

More Juicy Links, and Steinbeck’s NaNoWriMo Instructions

The Paris Review has put all their interviews with writers online. This makes me very, very happy.

I wrote a column for The Faster Times that was biting on NaNoWriMo, but only a little. When I tweeted the link to the column, Paul Constant, book editor for The Stranger newspaper in Seattle, tweeted back. “There’s something to be said for speed, too,” he wrote. “Knocks the precious out of you.” And you know, he’s right, as backed up by John Steinbeck in this quote:

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.

But then again, the next day, I came across this interview with Mary Karr in which she talks about her process in writing her new memoir. Seems like it was incredibly slow and painful, which is something I can identify with. Whether the results will be worth it remains to be seen, but I’m fan of her first two books, so fingers crossed. Here’s a preview of the interview:

Mary Karr was four years behind deadline for delivering a new memoir detailing her disintegrating marriage, alcoholism and recovery. She had scrapped more than 1,000 pages and was considering selling her Manhattan apartment to give back her advance.

“That’s how much I didn’t want to write the book,” said Ms. Karr, best-selling author of “The Liars’ Club” and “Cherry,” also memoirs. “I was clawing my way through it. It was a horror show.”

The NBCC website has kindly made available the recording of a panel discussion I attended a couple of weeks ago on “the art of reportage.” Find it here.

Then there’s this: Make your own academic sentence! Too funny.

The Days of Innocence Have Drifted Away

Look! Someone has made a movie all about bad writing! George Saunders is in it! So is David Sedaris, who says: “I have written so many bad, bad things.” Haven’t we all, David, haven’t we all.

No distribution information or date, though, so maybe the film is…bad? Watch and decide for yourself.

How Awesome Is My New Website?

Seriously – how awesome is it? Very awesome indeed is the correct response.

Thanks to Jeremy D’Arcy for his fine design skills and for accommodating all my persnickerty requests with such good grace. There are a few broken images and links here and there – I have to find and fix them, which I will do forthwith. Bear with me.

I’ll tell you something else that is also awesome: The writing of Rainer Maria Rilke. Something I read today prompted me to go hunting for a quote of his that I half remembered – about, appropriately enough, memory. I found it, and also this quote, which I did not know, but love, and which sums up my feeling right now:

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”

Flecks of Gold Panned Out of a Great, Muddy River

This is Ann Patchett in the afterward to Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face.

In the right hands, a memoir is the flecks of gold panned out of a great, muddy river. A memoir is those flecks melted down into a shapable liquid that can then be molded and hammered into a single bright band to be worn on a finger, something you could point to and say, “This? Oh, this is my life.” Everyone has a muddy river, but very few have the vision, patience, and talent to turn it into something so beautiful. This is why the writer matters, so that we can not only learn from her experience but find a way to shape our own. I’m not talking about shaping every life into a work of art. I’m talking about making our life into something we can understand, a portable object that has the weight and power of an entire terrain.

Writing Workshops for New Yorkers

I’m excited to announce that I’m launching my own writing workshops in the fall, starting the week of September 14. I have taken the best elements of all the workshops I have taught and participated in over the years and blended them into one engaging, rigorous combination. My workshops are a great way to get yourself writing again and are open to all New York based writers. I’ve even had writers make the journey from Jersey or Connecticut to join my classes (previously taught through Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop) in Brooklyn before.

If you live in or near New York City and you need some motivation, structure, feedback, encouragement, community, and good, solid, craft discussion, please consider joining me. I’ll also supply tasty snacks, of course (anyone who has been in my classes before knows I have a mean addiction to Kettle brand sea salt and black pepper crinkle cut chips, among other things…)

Here are the details:

  • These will be craft-focused workshops, open to fiction and nonfiction writers, limited to just six writers per group (so you get more individual attention).
  • You’ll get eight sessions, total, and we will meet every other week (so you’ll have structure and feedback over a sixteen week period).
  • Each session will last three hours and include some in-class writing and discussion of process (so everyone will engage with their work and leave with a goal).
  • Everyone will submit four times, a maximum of 25 pages (so you could produce and workshop up to 100 new pages).
  • Everyone will get a one hour phone or in-person consultation with me over the course of the workshop.
  • The price? Just $595.

I’ll be running two sessions. One will start the week of September 14 and one the week of September 21. That means I’ll have space for twelve writers this fall. I did an email to my current and former clients about a week ago and there are now only six spots left open. If you are interested in one of them, email me at nancyrawlinson@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to answer any questions and give you information on how to reserve a spot.

If a workshop doesn’t suit you right now, I’m still available for one-on-one consultations. Contact me at nancyrawlinson@gmail.com to discuss the options or check out my website, nancyrawlinson.com, for more information about my services and fees.

All this business development is making me reassess various aspects of my self presentation – including the name of this blog, which you’ll see has changed. Look for some more posts on what makes for a good workshop experience soon.

Funding the MFA: A New Approach

25 year-old Denis wants to attend the MFA program at Hollins in the fall, but can’t afford to go. Sound familiar? Denis’s solution, though, is new. He decided to do some internet fundraising. He writes on his blog:

Instead of asking people to loan me money for school, I’m now asking them to simply give me money. To that extent, I’ve created a fundraising page on fundable, and if you can spare $10, please pledge towards my goal. Since I can’t get a loan and there is no way my parents can pay my tuition, I’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers.

You can check out his fundraising site directly here. At time of writing, Denis only had $10 in contributions. Is this because his campaign is brand new (launched 7/13/09) or because there’s a recession on, or because this idea simply isn’t going to work?

There’s also this article, over at Publisher’s Weekly, about writer and blogger Dianna Zandt, who, after signing a deal for her first book that provided no advance, decided to “crowdfund” the money she needed to write over the summer. It helps that her topic is “…writing about the power of social media to shift perceptions and cultural values.” She’s been pretty successful so far, it seems – you can read her thoughts and feedback on the process (plus tips for others who are considering going the the same route) here.

What do you think? Are Denis and Deanna smart to try this approach? Is their initiative laudable? Do their requests for funds seem justified to you? And is this a sign of things to come?

Something Naturally and Abruptly Crawls In

Or: Why Daydreaming is Good for Your Writing Life.

This interesting article from the Wall Street Journal should make anyone (like me, for example) who seems to spend hours in unfocused thought feel a little better. A couple of quotes:

…our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts, a new brain-scanning study suggests.

And:

By most measures, we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments. Left to its own devices, our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.

A third? If all is going well, I’ll spend longer daydreaming than that, mate. There’s nothing like a good daydreaming session to make me feel productive. The brain mechanisms that this article talks about might also be the reason that I get great writing ideas when I run. As I’m plodding round the park, sometimes, admittedly, I’m listening to 1980s rave tunes and reliving my clubbing days. But other times, my mind enters a fugue state and, well, I just realize something. That scene I have been stuck on, about my grandmother? It’s really about my father. Aha. Of course.

Haruki Murakami, a novelist I admire, is also a runner, and his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, contains his own treatise on why running is good for the writer’s life. In this quote from an interview on the Runner’s World website, he seems to describe the same experience that I have had, and that the researchers in the Wall Street Journal article are talking about. Murakami says:

I try not to think about anything special while running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometimes. That might become an idea that can help me with my writing.

Our next challenge is to pay attention to that thing that has crawled in. Write it down. Follow where it leads.