Category Archives: Writing Workshop

Where Art Thou, Inspiration?

I am not my right breast.

Uh, okay. I thought in response. I’ll take your word for it.

I was browsing the “For Sale” books at my local library, and that first line was the title, stretched out along the peeling spine of a hardcover. I continued looking over the assorted bundles, sniggering at the Mills & Boon titles (“Sheik For Hire!” and “Baby In The Boardroom!”) and rescuing the dejected pile of knitting magazines from tumbling lemming style off the table – all the while with a chunk of my brain chewing on the original title.

What if I AM my right breast? What would that mean? I like my bosom buddies, so that’s kind of a compliment. What if I’m not my right breast? What would I be best summarised as; my left bicep? My odd little toes? Why them? Why not? That is a clever title for a breast cancer survivor book though… If I was going to write a book about something I know what would I call it? “Can I Please Have a Tazer? A Guide to Surviving Divorce”? Maybe “7000 Reasons to Eat Dessert/First”? Then I realised I was running late (libraries ambush me all the time) and I had to shove the whole discussion into the impossible, universe-deep drawer labelled “Inspiration” and go buy carrots and toilet paper. And that right there is what frustrates and delights me about inspiration – you never know when you’re going to dodge a falling piano, or get smacked upside the head with an insistent alien tentacle.

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Segullah Writers’ Retreat Recap

Were you at the Segullah Writers’ Retreat?  I was.  Well, if you weren’t able to make it, I thought I’d fill you in on how it was… and it was, in a word, amazing.  It was a perfect Saturday, filled with delightful company and writing inspiration, not to mention great food. Truly, every person I talked to was delightful and engaging. There were women I had known for years,  people I had collaborated with on projects, others I know only from the blog, and people I had never met—all of whom I could have spent the entire day talking to. To me nothing is better than spending the day with a group of people who like to think, write, and create (oh yeah, and eat)!

We started breakfast with tray upon tray of fresh-baked Rhodes cinnamon rolls and orange rolls. I can’t tell you how many of these I ate because a true lady would not reveal such indulgence. Kathryn Soper kicked off the conference portion by helping us see how the lunchtime musings of a handful of women went on to become Segullah. Over its five years of life, the journal has expanded, the blog was born, and books have been published.  Steffani Raff’s keynote address on storytelling was fabulous and fascinating; she had us entranced. She helped to get us all talking and listening in ways hitherto not experienced.

Lunch—Mini’s Cupcakes:  salads, gourmet sandwiches, and cupcakes. Is there a better lunch?

Then we had the afternoon workshops. Angela Hallstrom, as an accomplished writer and editor, has such command and mastery of story.  She helped me think in terms of the underlying mechanics, the necessary foundations and grounding components of strong writing.  Brittney Carman is awe-inspiring; her ability to craft words and evoke emotion is indescribable. Her personal  essay class drove me to spend late vacation nights at my husband’s laptop attempting to put the powerful images in my head into words—my childhood experiences in Turkey and the magic of taking my sons to our quaint rustic New England town beach. Darlene Young and Sharlee Glenn put their crowd to happy work with writing exercises that got their poetic juices flowing.

The power-blogging panel of Michelle Lehnardt, Heather Oman, Shelah Miner, Kellie George, and Dalene Rowley explored using blogging as a tool for developing good writing. They dove in with real examples to show how good blogging can take many shapes and forms. Takeaway blogger nuggets: “tell the truth but tell it slant”; find unique perspectives to write from.

Café Rio (we all know that pork in fresh tortillas needs no explanation, in my book) but blend that with sharp company that would rival any good dinner party (oh, and throw in a slice of key lime pie) and you have the Segullah dinner social!

Art studio night was a treat of creativity. It was fun to see each person move in their own direction, exploring their own ideas and using media in different ways to create unique, symbolic pieces.  Those who participated in the creative writing studio got to talk with editors and get the always helpful critique and direction for strengthening their work.

I came home from the writers’ retreat and immediately set to work drafting the essays that started percolating in my mind as I sat in the workshops listening to the presenters. I came home with a million new painting ideas I can’t wait to bring to life on canvas.

Many thanks to Melonie Cannon and all the Segullah staff who worked hard to make it happen. And thanks to all who attended—it was a treat for me to meet so many of you! Thanks for a great summer memory.

Were you there? What was the best part? (Well, besides the cinnamon rolls!) Were you inspired? What did it prompt you to do?

Writing is Scary. But We’re Not. So Come to the Segullah Writing Retreat!

Here’s the truth: Every time I sit down at my computer to write, I’m a little bit afraid. Afraid that the words won’t come like I want them to. Afraid that the mysterious yawning emptiness of the story will swallow me whole. Afraid that I’m kidding myself, that this story (essay, poem) is a waste of time, that I might have written some stuff in the past that I’m proud of but today probably marks the beginning of the end, afraid that even if I DO write something I’m proud of, that it might shock/disappoint/befuddle people I know and care about. Or people I don’t really know or care about but still, inexplicably, worry over how they feel about me. And, also, I’m afraid of the work. Because make no mistake: writing is work. And what if I do all this work and it ends up going nowhere? Continue reading

Twitter as teacher

Last week, I took on the task of unpacking my book boxes and filling the new bookshelves. As I separated the volumes into fiction and non, I flipped through a few of the titles. I opened George Eliot’s Middlemarch and noticed that the first paragraph extends halfway through the second page of text, it suddenly dawned on me why I was three hundred pages into the novel before I finally felt the fog of confusion lifting. In the twenty-first century, we don’t write like that anymore.

Eliot starts off pretty well, with the sentence, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” But after that, Eliot breaks off into a tangent about blessed virgins and Italian painters, and if you’re like me, easily distracted by a toddler or the conversation of people at the next table, you’re probably lost after a couple of lines. Eliot, like Dickens and James and other writers of her time, lived in a time when readers were often willing to invest time in 800 page novels filled with semi-colon laden paragraphs.

We twenty-first-century readers, who often turn to the internet for our news and to blogs for our reading material, often aren’t as willing to figure out what Eliot’s actually saying in all of those dependent clauses. Last year I signed up for Twitter, just as I’d signed up for a blog five years ago when the blog craze hit. I know that many people disparage Twitter. “How can anyone say anything worth saying in 140 characters?” Continue reading

I’d Write Creative Nonfiction If I Knew What the Heck It Was

Note: This piece is a discussion of the literary genre of the personal essay. While I’ve posted it here on a blog, what I’ve written is not a good example of the genre of the blog post. For one, it’s waaaaaay too long. Hope you enjoy it anyway.

One of the things we want to do here at Segullah is “encourage literary talent.” Of course, one of the ways we try to promote good writing is by providing some examples of it here, at the blog . . . but did you realize Segullah isn’t just a blog? Seriously! We also publish this pretty little ink-and-paper novelty called a magazine. It’s a cool contraption because you can read it in the bathroom, on the toilet OR in the tub, two places where you might actually be left alone for five minutes at a stretch. (And yes, technically, it’s true the talented among us can manage a laptop in the bathroom. But paperless revolution be darned, I will always and forever have a magazine on top of every toilet in my house, I solemnly swear.)

I bring this up since I’ve heard that some of you blog-readers are interested in submitting to the magazine. This makes sense because nothing much beats seeing your name in print . . . inside a magazine . . . that you imagine sitting on top of toilets in bathrooms around the world. But what’s keeping you from submitting is this: You feel pretty good about blogging, but you’re not so sure about writing “creative nonfiction,” which is what we magazine publish-y types call any kind of literary writing that both exhibits artistic merit and is based in personal experience. (“Isn’t that what blogging is?” you ask. We’ll get to that.) The problem is you’re not sure if you can write “creative nonfiction” because, well, you don’t know what it IS, really.

Here’s a little secret: nobody knows what creative nonfiction is. Continue reading