And, of course, the punchline to the old joke is: Practice, practice, practice.
As a writer, what is your Carnegie Hall? Do you dream of getting your thriller on to the New York Times Bestseller List, or is quietly crafting a poem that speaks true to your heart and mind the pinnacle of your writerly ambition? I want to do what I love to do well, and often forget that well in my creative writing looks different given the day and an infinite set of variables. I commit to practice, to showing up, and that looks different given the day, too.
It’s November, and some of us are bellying up to the beast that is NaNoWriMo, the 30-day marathon toward 50,000 words, a month-long sprint in pursuit of that coveted achievement, the novel. I’ve had good experiences with NaNo, from creating the bones of what would become—with much more than a month’s work—my first published novel, to supporting others in their deep dive into practice. For that is what NaNoWriMo is to me, a baptism, of sorts, into serious practice. Are most of us likely to pound out 1,666.66 words every day for the rest of our writing lives? Not likely. But if you can do it for 30 days—in no way incidentally one of the toughest months to procure alone time, what with a major holiday and daylight savings and what-all nonsense—you’ve affirmed that you can make time to write.
And then there’s process, from the Latin, processus, a going forward. Your process may be distinct from another writer’s, but it takes a form, and proceeds best when fed with new challenges and inspiration. The November creative writing workshop at Blank Pages is entitled Process & Practice. We throw the word development into the description, from the French, déveloper, to unroll, or unfold. Like all our workshops, this one is designed to inspire that which wants to unfold with craft-specific prompts and other tools to take back to your practice, hone your process.
Whether you’re planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this month or no, our community offers a plethora of opportunities to touch base and practice the craft among your fellow creatives. Check out the calendar on writerscollectiveofcentraloregon.com, and join us for Process & Process November 2nd, as well as our come-one-come-all writers’ salon on November 16th, at The Workhouse.
While May positions us on the other side of the year from Halloween, it’s not unusual for certain people in my household to be thinking of creating character, aka, designing their Halloween costume. Last year one of ours dressed herself as the titular heroine of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. In the past, people have left the house in character as Bellatrix Lestrange, Albus Dumbledore, Mrs. Lovett of Sweeney Todd, The Shadow, and Batman (a la, The Dark Knight). Each year the goal is to conjure a likeness that so perfectly assumes personification as to be utterly unambiguous. And also: thrilling. Achieving the goal takes time and effort. Authentic pantaloons and hand-painted button eyes do not simply manifest overnight.
Aristotle may have been referring to drama when he said that the secret to inspiring passion in others is to be moved oneself, but we creative writers can take his words to heart. A memorable character is what—and who—pulls us into the story, gives us perspective, makes us care. Fictional or true-to-life, great characters drive the bus. You might carry an idea of a great character around in your head, or you may know someone you deem worthy of committing to story. Or, maybe the story is running around in your brain and it needs a character—maybe a band of them— to serve as vehicle, take it from your head to the page. Like the pantaloons, bringing character to life takes effort. Choices must be made. Notions selected, patterns constructed.
Superb characters are unique, fashioned from the inimitable fires of your individual creative furnace. Characterization is the craft by which we spark them into breath. What do we mean by craft? Craft is a set of techniques applied to the lightning of your creativity to make the thing. Tools and methods. The famous acting coach Lee Strasberg trained “actors to use their imagination, senses and emotions to conceive of characters with unique and original behavior, creating performances grounded in the human truth of the moment.” At Blank Pages Workshops this May, we’ll focus on accessing memory and imagination to forge unforgettable, truthful characters through prompts, play, and discussion. Join us, May 4, 2019, 6-8 pm, @ The Workhouse.