An online conference about women who write flash fiction
January 7, 2016 at 6:10 PM
I feel my first job as an instructor is to let students know that writing is a process, that no writer sits down and composes anything without allowing the piece to grow and blossom. Too often those starting out feel they aren’t worthy because their initial efforts can’t live up to what they see on the published page. Yes, there are those who by natural ability or overblown self-confidence won’t feel this way, but creating art creates insecurity for everyone at some point. Understanding the steps needed to take a piece of writing from the idea stage through several drafts to a publishable story often sets aside the distractions of fear and inadequacy.
The next step for me is to get everyone writing, the rules only being that they must keep their pens going even if what comes them is a list of what they had for breakfast or a description of the person sitting across from them. It is imperative that they feel completely free without anything blocking them. I supply couple of evocative topics or objects to get them started but give them permission to change direction at any point. When they are done, I ask them to set what they’ve written aside.
My goal is for them to have several pieces from which to choose the one or two they want to perfect, so it is necessary to offer prompts of all kinds from which they can draw inspiration. Within this segment, they need to see how stories come from everything around them, phrases they’ve heard, people they’ve met, situations from their own lives, newspaper articles, and the lives of others. Form also has a part in bringing up new work too. They write in the form of letters, use lists, time, any kind of segmenting to create the shape of their piece.
The assignments that follow come directly from the “writing process” with directions as to how to approach each subsequent draft. The free write (thank you, Peter Elbow) can be used or any work that’s been generated. I believe they have to understand and feel each step: brainstorming, drafting, researching, rewriting with character in mind, intention, theme, with an eye to the words, reading aloud with an ear to the rhythm.
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January 9, 2016 at 1:00 PM
I want to take a class with you. I’ve never taught, nor do I consider myself qualified to do so, but I love taking classes and try to do so every quarter. Nothing stimulates my writing like having someone I’m responsible to and a deadline. In this group, I’ve taken classes with Kathy and Nancy and always come away with stories I would never have written on my own. So sign me up, Gay.
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January 9, 2016 at 3:42 PM
Jane!! I’ve talk English 1-A at Pasadena City College and teenagers at American University in DC at a summer program and I do love to teach. Thank you for the encouragement to do something like that. One of these days I may try online.
January 10, 2016 at 6:23 PM
Please do teach a class online, Gay. I would sign up for that as well!
January 9, 2016 at 3:43 PM
Dang, I can’t get in up there to respell your name!! JAYNE!! My sister is “Jane” so that’s my default.
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January 9, 2016 at 8:25 PM
My class is a three hour class once a week. I have both seasoned and new writers in each class. Some returnees who like the deadlines. Every class I read some flash fiction and have students write from different prompts. Early on, I speak of risk. In order to engage the reader there must be some risk and tension involved, whether emotional or physical. I use one of Dorothy Allison’s prompts at the start: Write something you’ve never told anyone before or if that’s too daunting, write something that involves emotional or physical death of some sort. Each session is six weeks long so we jump right in and the work has been phenomenal. We do ekphrastic exercises, work on POV writing in more than one POV to see which brings the reader closer.
I take 12 students/max and separate them into four grps and have them read their work aloud and then workshop together. I go with constructive criticism. We work through two stories to send out to publications, if the students feel ready to do so. I have them read online lit mags and subscribe to one print magazine each session. I have them bring in stories that they found online, loved and explain why. At the end, I encourage the students to start their own wkshops together and meet up in a coffee shop or somewhere to keep writing and examining. I’ve been teaching for five yrs. now. I love it.
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January 9, 2016 at 8:56 PM
Any plans to do an online version of your class, Meg?
January 13, 2016 at 8:06 PM
Actually, YES, Jayne! Something looks to be in the works sometime in the near future and I will definitely let you know when it’s a go.
January 13, 2016 at 8:27 PM
Fabulous! Look into The Loft, too, if you haven’t. They run an excellent online program. I’ve taken several classes through there, but I don’t think I’ve seen a flash offered.
January 10, 2016 at 6:31 PM
I’m intrigued by the idea of writing about something I’ve never told anyone. There is something terrifying about that, which tends to yield raw writing. The ekphrastic exercises also sound compelling. By ekphrastic do you mean telling a story about a painting or other visual work?
January 13, 2016 at 8:11 PM
Yes, Leonora, it is quite an exercise to write something you have never told anyone. And even if a student doesn’t write that story, the thoughts are in motion. And yes, I bring in copies of photographs and art, postcards, and have the students pick out one without seeing it and then write. For some students it is a serious breakthrough and for others it feels stifling. That’s the beauty of prompts. We all have different arenas that move us forward.
January 14, 2016 at 3:36 PM
I love the idea of using photos and art, Meg. I’ve tried it a couple of times and found it really freed my brain up to think differently, rather than follow a preconceived story idea. Are there any artists that you would recommend for inspiration?
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January 15, 2016 at 1:00 AM
Deanne Richards is a local photographer/collagist here in Santa Fe and if you look her up on FB, I would be surprised if you weren’t inspired by her work. She is amazing!
January 17, 2016 at 12:53 AM
Thank you for the recommendation, Meg. I am so impressed with Deanne’s work. I especially loved the image of the red-robed animal, and the spellbinding portrait of the face inside a mask. Her aesthetic evokes Dali and Magritte, but with her own unique sense of magic. She is also a great writer (we are both taking Kathy’s Word Tango workshop this weekend).
January 17, 2016 at 11:51 PM
EXCELLENT! Kathy rocks it! Let us know about the workshop!
January 18, 2016 at 4:19 PM
Kathy’s workshop was amazing. I love how her prompts inspire emotionally resonant, authentic writing. I was also blown away by my classmates and their flash.
I hope that you host an online version of your class, Meg. The exercises that you described sound wonderful–I would love to try them out!
January 18, 2016 at 4:34 PM
I took Kathy’s 10-day boot camp class back in June. It totally kicked my butt, and was exhilarating and amazing at the same time. I walked away with several pieces of flash. Then I took the weekend class through Word Tango in October. Another fabulous experience. Teaching is an art unto itself and Kathy is wonderful at it.
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