Yet another cool thing about Tinker Mountain is the fact that while a bunch of us are here learning to be better writers, a whole bunch more are here learning to be better ceramicists. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of artists, as we found out last night at my dorm (Sandusky–yes, a little creepy) where the writers number only two. There might have been wine involved–I say might, in case, well, having wine on campus is a no-no.
But it was a great discussion of creative process–the ceramicists thought they were the only ones who worked alone and inside their heads. We were more alike than any of us thought.
Today’s craft seminar was “Looking at You–Notes on the Second Person, its Pleasures, Risks, and Surprises,” conducted by poet Thorpe Moeckel. A more laid-back presenter, Moeckel was just as engaging as Benedict and McKean, and his love of poetry was obvious in the selections we read to illustrate the premise of the lecture. Some I knew well, like “When You Are Old,” by W. B. Yeats, and “Letter to Simic from Boulder,” by Richard Hugo. Others were new gems for me to behold: “Visit” by A. R. Ammons, “Merengue,” by Mary Ruefle, and “Directions,” by Michael McFee.
I left the craft lecture wanting to delve more into poetry–and how to write it–and ready to experiment some more with second person.
Even though I know I’ve heard this before, somehow when Pinckey Benedict uses David Mamet to teach about what a scene should do, it sticks harder and longer. According to Mamet, a scene–whether for a television program, movie, novel, or story–should establish who wants what, what happens if the person doesn’t get what he/she wants, and why now. Once you’ve established that and written the scene, you have to ask yourself: Is it dramatic? Is it essential? Does it advance the plot? Then, you have to answer truthfully. If the scene isn’t dramatic or essential and it doesn’t advance the plot, out it goes.
Easy, right? Apparently not, because we were all slapping our foreheads and saying, “Duh!” (To see in detail what David Mamet has to say, Google “David Mamet Memo,” and you should get the memo he wrote to his staff of writers on the TV show, “The Unit.” Great stuff.) To get us in the habit of this, Benedict instructed us to try an experiment: stop writing anything expository for a while, make sure every sentence shows someone doing something, start with action, and once something has been accomplished, end it.
We had great fun in the workshop reading aloud a homework assignment. We had to write down a real dream then a fake dream. After we read both to the class, the others had to guess which was which–and justify why we voted that way. We’ve all come to know each other pretty well, but it was still difficult to decide which was the dream and which is real. Pinckney joked that this workshop might be the dream we all wake up from–if that’s so, let me sleep.
Homework for tomorrow: write an event that happened to you and one that didn’t; write a short bio where one thing is not true; and write the worst opening to a novel or story there ever was.
I haven’t looked forward to homework in a very long time.