Thursday, June 18, 2009

Memoir Class Update

Daily Log for June 17, 2009
Prepared by Delores Schweitzer

Today, we took our first class trip to the Citadel Beach House. We started the day with a journal prompt by Delores, where we explored our perceptions of water as a means of comfort or transformation. After writing, we shared and discovered many different ideas of water, from threatening to soothing, secular to spiritual.

Delores brought a friend along, Deanna Ryan, who is a teacher and writer from Georgia that happens to be visiting her this week. Deanna introduced herself and we all introduced ourselves. Because we now had six participants, we broke into two Response Groups: Grier, Lilless and Deanna were in one group, and Lynda, Teri and Delores in the other. In these groups, we shared our first drafts of Assignment #1.

At 10:30, we gathered with the students of the Summer Institute for a talk and Q&A with author Bret Lott. He shared his story of how he went from being a park ranger wanna be to an RC Cola salesman to a writer and teacher. His story kept us entertained and gave us much to ponder, especially in the form of some of these quotes:

“To be a writer is to sit on your butt alond and write things down.”

“The writer doesn’t know anything but is trying to find out.”

Advice on teaching: “Remember the basics.”

Advice on self-editing: “It’s hard to do because you like what you wrote. Get people who are cold and calculating and ruthless and intelligent who love you. Develop another part of your mind that is cold. Read each time like you never have seen it before and keep cutting to make your writing stronger.”

Flannery O’Connor said every time she sits down to write, she imagines a reader saying, “I don’t see it. I don’t get it. I don’t see it.”

On the difference between truth and fact: “You can’t stray from fact. The variable factor in writing that is untrustrworthy is me. Fess up early that this is me and I am doing the best I can not to alter things to make me look good.”

On teaching reading in school (SI book group on Readicide): We think books are important and we try to jam too much down their throats when they are not mature enough to understand. Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22 are heirloom books, passed down as important by another generation of teachers. We accept the offering rather than finding other books more relevant and teachable. We need to keep reading contemporary lit – dipping in to find something that speaks to them.

On the writing process:

• “Your imagination comes from your experience.”
• “No one knows what makes your mother tick. But you know what buttons to press.”
• Faulkner, when asked if he ever had the desire to get his characters out of trouble, said, “By that time, it’s too late and I’m chasing them with my pencil.”
• The high point of writing is when your characters do something unexpected, because then they have taken a on a life of their own.
• A writer must have empathy for others’ actions, not be judgmental.
• When writing a novel, each chapter is a kind of short story. Characters move forward, have an epiphany or miss an epiphany.

On how we can carry techniques of writing fiction into other types of writing:

• Have a personal stake in whatever you are writing.
• Be as specific and detailed as possible.
• Have fun.
• Communication clearly and from the heart what you think.
• To stay focused, write the question you are trying to answer or address at the top of each page.
• Realize that all your opportunities to write can hone your skills. For example, he views his comments on student papers as little persuasive essays.

The visit with Bret Lott wrapped up at about 12:00. We closed with Author’s Chair on the back porch and departed.

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