Best of Both Writing Workshop

Please join me at Off Campus Writers’ Workshop on April 20 and 27, 2017, from 9:30 a.m. to noon, for my workshop on Best of Both: Depth and Artistry with Plot (week one) and Plot and Pace with Depth (week two). Both sessions will be relevant to all kinds of writing, whether your work is more literary or more commercial.

Are you familiar with the hot topic of MFA vs NYC? It came out of an article that drew attention to the gap between the kind of literary writing that comes out of the MFA programs and the more plot-driven work that gets attention from agents in New York. My belief is that the way forward for us is MFA and NYC. To improve our work in both directions, so that our literary novels become more saleable without losing depth or artistry, and our well-plotted novels become more significant and profound without losing pace. To draw from the best of both – not only to stand out in a competitive publishing environment, but also to challenge and elevate our writing.

Topics in the first week will include plot for the non-plot driven novel, planning vs improvising, the propulsive power of scene, pace beyond plot, seamless backstory and interiors, the release of energy into action, and finding your hook. Topics in the second week will include voice as a way into depth for more plot-driven novels, the importance of emotional impact, telling details, the role of internal tension, movement with meaning, and finding your truth. I plan to conclude with advice about how to translate what you’ve accomplished to agents when you pitch your book, as well as the importance of always returning to what inspires you to write in the first place.

The workshop will take place at the Winnetka Community House, 620 Lincoln, in Winnetka, north of Chicago. Members: $10; nonmembers: $20. All are welcome. Members of OCWW may submit manuscripts in advance for critique by sending them by email to Manuscript Chair Susan Levi at 2012susanlevi@gmail.com no later than April 13 for week one and April 20 for week two (up to four manuscripts per week). Critique fees and guidelines are posted under Manuscripts on OCWW’s website .

I hope to see you there!



Creative Courage

I love to ski, but seem to come to it with more injuries every year. Right knee, upper back, right wrist, left foot. I got a cortisone shot in my heel this time, determined not to miss out. My sister puts it somewhere between crazy and brave. Poised above an icy run at the top of Jackson Hole, for the first time I hesitated, thinking of how disastrous a fall would be, wondering whether I’d lost my courage. If writing were a sport, I’d be even more covered with bruises. Does the rough and tumble of experience wear you out, or does it somehow set you free?

In writing, rejection is a constant. Think about what endless criticism does to a person. Does it build you up or drag you down? Of course, it drags you down. You have to look elsewhere to find reasons to believe. Experience can be a burden – you begin to know all too well what could go wrong. I’ve read countless writing blogs and taken classes premised on what NOT to do, an approach which I find paralyzing. Creativity thrives on courage, the kind of boldness that propels you down the hill.

When I ski, there’s a moment when every turn feels out of control. When I have to embrace the sensation of falling. But then I feel my weight in my feet and the edge of my blades in the snow, and my trust in myself rushes back. Again, and again, all the way down. An embrace of risk for a fleeting sense of triumph.

What writers need is a trick to learning life’s lessons without giving up. Experience is important, but I also think you need to mix a little ornery in your attitude. To keep your ears open but still stay a bit deaf. A touch of writerly defiance – to blend some crazy in your brave. To believe in your own artistic vision even if the world tells you not to.

Unlike writing, skiing is a physical sport. There will be things we can’t do as we get older, but that’s all the more reason to cultivate courage inside.

The skill you’re building isn’t just writing, it’s resilience.



Looking Forward

I never realized how important short-term memory was to happiness until my father began to lose his. If I tell him I’m going to visit, he forgets the moment we hang up. He’s happy when I get there, but he misses out on the anticipation. Last summer, he kept forgetting to be excited about the Indians games. We all need things to look forward to, in life and in fiction. Many of us turn to fiction for exactly that: the sense of expectation that our real lives at times may lack.

I’ve written a lot about the importance of tension in fiction. Tension involves a possible threat to or question about a positive outcome. That counterpoint is essential. We need hope. We want to see mysteries resolved, a couple united, a soul redeemed. We read on because we want to believe. Not every story has a happy ending, but we crave something to look forward to, even if instead it’s justice served or the satisfaction of insight.

The past year was a difficult one for many, and the future is uncertain. We worry about our families, our friends, our country, our planet. The future of humankind. Hope may be something we have to work at consciously. In your writing, and in your life, I’d like to encourage you to look forward. To forge a new path for your readers and yourself.