Sydney Avey

Dynamic Woman — Changing Times

Iowa, Part I

Jul 30, 2013 | Adventure, Learning curve, Travel, Writing life | 0 comments

Prairie Lights Book Store As we lose independent bookstores, we lose community.

Prairie Lights Book Store
As we lose independent bookstores, we lose community.

I journeyed to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in July to study on the University of Iowa campus—incubator of the workshop method of teaching writing that hatched MFA programs across the US. Immersed in lectures, critique sessions and readings, with time to wander beautiful Iowa City, hang out at Prairie Lights Bookstore and graze at the Bread Market, it was a perfect week.

Reflections

If you don’t have the magic combo of tremendous talent and a large trust fund (the entrée to many MFA programs), go to workshops and sit at the feet of those who do.

The Festival director pointed out that writing is not a competition. The more writing we all do, the better it is for the writing world.

Writers block comes from worrying about too many things at the same time. (Could that be said of emotional blocks as well?) 

Never pass up an opportunity to practice reading.

Never pass up an opportunity to practice reading.

Random tidbits for writers

100 written words = one minute. Don’t plan a reading over 20 minutes long. Choose a section of your work that stands on its own and contains humor.

Shave away as many function words as you can to get to the core.

  • The most powerful positions in sentences are the subject, verb and object. Don’t crowd the core of your sentence with function words that exist to make a sentence work but have no meaning in and of themselves (prepositional phrases, linking words, helping verbs (should, would, have, had, am, was). (Example: The cake was tasty and they ate it quickly. They devoured the tasty cake.)  
  • Turn nouns into verbs whenever you can. (Example: He attended an audition. He auditioned.)
  • In creative writing, the author creates the context. In explanatory writing, the writer clarifies meaning within a prescribed context. Look at how your sentences work technically and then make content decisions. (Example: If you remove a clause or phrase, does the sentence still make sense? Can you strengthen the sentence with a stronger noun or verb?)

We create meaning by connecting with another’s experience. Venise Berry lectured on using memories, feelings, senses, prayers and dreams as filters for meaning; and ritual, ancestry and community as filters for context.

In Iowa, Part II, I will share what I learned about improving beginnings, telling details and endings to make your short stories sizzle.  

Andrew Porter's Short Story workshop. We learned so much from each other!

Andrew Porter’s Short Story workshop. We learned so much from each other!

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