The Westport Workshops

Went well.

I love when people open up — give me stories about your divorce, depression, cancer treatment, or dysfunctional childhood. And then half-way through your writing, lay it on me about how you handled the whole thing with faith, resilience, humor, or alcohol.

Better yet, write about your most embarrassing moment — the time you felt so humiliated you thought you’d never crawl back into civilized company again. You’ve got an epic fail? You’ve got an epic tale.

The stories of our struggles are the ones that will get published, get a laugh, get a tear, get a friend to open up on her crappy/crazy/resilient/hopeful life.

I’m not saying we wrote about any of these things (Maybe we did, maybe we didn’t!) at the Westport Creative Writing workshops, which I offered the last three Saturdays of August 2011 at the Heritage House.

But even if we did, I wouldn’t tell you, because the rule in my writing classes is confidentiality.

I will tell you generally what we wrote about — in the first class, among other topics, we wrote about a safe place from our childhoods; the second class, we wrote about our mentors from high school; the third class, with Hurricane Irene on her way, we wrote about riding out a storm (literal or metaphorical).

At the first class, we had 6 people, then 3, and then at the last class, 8. Hooray! It felt great. There were so many brilliant writers with brilliant life stories. It was an honor to be a part of and facilitate a creative writing experience for non-writers and professionals alike.

I believe there is something healing and transformative about writing your life story. It is sometimes unbelievable, but never never dull.

I will offer these “Story of Your Life” workshops (inspired by Dan Wakefield’s book of the same name) again.

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Next 3 Saturdays Writing Workshop

Excited to be leading The Story of Your Life at the Heritage House in Westport, New York this Saturday morning. At this community center, I’ve struck a yoga pose and smiled at the plein air art shows. All in one place, my favorite things: yoga, art, and, now, for the last three Saturdays in August, from 10:30 to noon, creative writing.

This is Dan's book that inspires the workshop, The Story of Your Life.

The Heritage House http://www.westportheritagehouse.com/ was once a federated church, Baptist and Methodist. Now it is a visitor center and home to a community art show, the title of which I love — The Spirit of Place. I want to build the spirit of place into the writing workshop.

The Story of Your Life is inspired from the workshops led by my friend and mentor, Dan Wakefield, who also wrote a book by the same name. http://www.danwakefield.com/ If you’re anywhere in the Adirondack region, please join me in this place.

I sent this blurb to some Adirondack newspapers so I hope we get a few people:

Write about your life — from childhood through the present day –- the small, quiet moments and the large, public events. In this creative, supportive, and fun workshop, you will discover threads of humor and meaning through writing and sharing your writing.

This hour and a half workshop is intended for the experienced, casual, and non-writer. ($10/class)

The workshop is led by Mary Beth Coudal, a writer and teacher, whose essays have appeared in the New York Times, Self magazine, and other newspapers, magazines, and websites. Mary Beth blogs about creative writing at: https://gettingmyessayspublished.wordpress.com (that’s this blog, heh). She also writes about the spirit of New York at: http://mybeautifulnewyork.wordpress.com/ and she writes a lot more than that too.

And now I’m writing this blog in the third person, the first sign of narcissistic tendencies, so I must stop writing and start reading. As the saying goes, enough about me, What do YOU think about me?

Reversals

In Poetics, Aristotle said — yes, I’m smart like that, quoting Aristotle — we move from ignorance to knowledge, from enmity to friendship, from neutrality to commitment.

Lynne Barrett taught this juicy class on plot at the International Women’s Writing Guild this week at Yale.

In stories, she said, everyone has to have a piece of the puzzle. No one character can hold the whole story.

Lynne gave us the timeline from the movie, Casablanca (which I’ve never seen) in which Bogart’s character moves from nonchalance to commitment.

The flashbacks in the story move the story forward. People don’t just ruminate on their past for no reason. The lover’s past (in Paris!) sparks an understanding that propels them to take action.

In all narratives, a reversal is necessary. Cinderella goes from low status to high status. I always taught this in my drama classes, that this is what makes for comedy — a high-status character becomes low-status — or visa versa.

This is why Lynne said the story of Spitzer is a better plot than the story of Schwarzenegger. He fell from the top, not when he’d left office.

But the reversal is not just “who’s up and who’s down.” A secret become public. A single person becomes married.

This class nudged me to reconsider the lame plot in my young adult novel from last year’s NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month).

When I mentioned to Lynne, I had a novel, written in one month, she said, “Yes, Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, wrote the book. No Plot, No Problem. No plot? Big problem!”

Incidentally, Barrett taught with my friend Dan Wakefield at Florida International University.