Last year, my friends Boone Dryden of the JB Dryden Company, and Niki Robinson of Robinson Writers spearheaded the first ever unconference for writers held in the Milwaukee area. An unconference is participant-driven event where all attendees are free to either attend or present. You can share your knowledge with others by hosting your own individual session, or you can just sit back and enjoy the socializing and creative inspiration.

Last year’s WriteCamp was a phenomenal success. I’m not sure of the exact attendee figures but it felt like close to a hundred people showed up – familiar faces and complete strangers alike all coming together in the name of words. Not only did I learn a lot from the sessions I attended and make a lot of new friends, but I also went home inspired and feeling like I was part of a burgeoning creative-writing community in the metro area. The event was extremely friendly and it does the heart good to spend a day around smiling faces. Oh, did I mention I got a sweet T-shirt and free dinner too?

WriteCamp 2010 is schedule for Saturday, June 5th from 9am-5pm at the Hide House in Milwaukee. The address is 2625 South. Greeley, Suite 100, Milwaukee, WI 53207. And you can learn more about it on the WriteCamp 2 website .

Oh, and it’s FREE.

No matter what kind of writer (or aspiring writer) you are, if you’re in or around the Milwaukee area on June 5th, don’t miss it!

~CGW

The Ageless Art

March 27, 2010

I recently came across this article on BBC News about the Bookbite campaign to encourage the over-60s to discover and develop their interest in creative reading and writing. I think it’s a great idea, and the article got me to thinking about how storytelling is one of the few arts that is truly not age-discriminatory.

In fact the argument could be made that writing is one of the few arts that tends to get better with age. Certainly the stories of a youth or young adult may have a higher level of passion, energy or enthusiasm about them, but surely the finer details – nuances in theme, character-relationships, and lessons-learned – can only get better with the experience that comes from age.

I worry sometimes about the longevity of my full-time career as a graphic designer. Talented new designers are emerging from universities by the bucket-load each and every year and sooner or later that stigma that comes with age will probably rise up to challenge me in my career progression. Who would you trust to give you the liveliest, most current design – the fifty year old, white haired man in the shirt and tie, or the energetic twenty-something with the ripped jeans and the t-shirt that says “Sex, Drugs, Helvetica Bold”?

See what I mean?

But I realized I have no similar worries about my writing. I suspect that every day that passes, every new person I meet, and every trial and tribulation that puts a new wrinkle on my forehead will only make my stories more honest, more refined, and most importantly more real.

I wonder if there are any readers of this blog out there that are in their finer years? If so, please weigh in… I’d love to hear from you!

~CGW (35 years old and progressing)

A sense of ease

September 1, 2009

When I was in my early twenties I had a brief love affair with golf. I would spend hours at the driving range, hitting my basket of Titleist feverishly towards the furthest flags (and sometimes at the ball retrieval vehicle).

I even took a few lessons with the local pro, and it was during those lessons I learned something amazing: the furthest, most accurate hits are the ones that feel the easiest.

Golfers talk of a “sweet spot” and boy do you know when you’ve hit it. You feel nothing at all – no impact vibration in the club, barely any sound even – it’s like you just swung through thin air, and yet there goes that ball, into the distance, in a beautiful, arrow-straight arc.

By comparison, there are those shots where you think too hard, spend long minutes lining yourself up, adjusting your grip, angling the club head, thinking about your posture, and the end result is a horrific clang that leaves your wrists feeling like you just hit an Abrams tank with a baseball bat.

I never could master that sweet spot, so I gave up golf.

As I read and study the works of professional authors I admire, I get the same feeling that I did when I used to watch the pro swing effortlessly through the ball. There’s the same strange sense of ease in their work. It doesn’t matter if the style is chatty and loose or crisp and polished, the ease is still present.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples, the first from Stephen King’s epic tale of the apocalypse, The Stand:

She walked very slowly, even more slowly than she felt she had to, because even at eight-thirty the sun was fat and powerful. She didn’t sweat much — there wasn’t enough excess flesh on her bones to wring the sweat out of — but by the time she’d reached the Goodella’s mailbox, she had to rest a bit. She sat in the shade of their pepper tree and ate a few fig bars. Not an eagle or taxicab in sight, either. She cackled a little at that, got up, brushed the crumbs off her dress, and went on. Nope, no taxicabs. The Lord helped those that helped themselves. All the same, she could feel her joints tuning up; tonight there would be a concert.

And here’s another from The Screaming Woman by the inimitable Ray Bradbury:

My name is Margaret Leary and I’m ten years old and in the fifth grade at Central School. I haven’t any brothers or sisters, but I’ve got a nice father and mother except they don’t pay much attention to me. And anyway, we never thought we’d have anything to do with a murdered woman.
When you’re just living on a street like we live on, you don’t think awful things are going to happen, like shooting or stabbing or burying people under the ground, practically in your back yard. And when it does happen, you don’t believe it. You just go on buttering your toast or baking a cake.

Regardless of content, did you feel how easy that was? I don’t know about you, but personally I didn’t stop reading once to consider the mechanics of the writing. There were no clever turns of phrase that yanked me out of the flow, no uncommon words that had me reaching for the dictionary, no places where an awkward sentence forced me go back to reread. But style issues aside, there’s something else there too – a feeling that the authors didn’t have to work too hard to achieve the words. Almost a feeling that they relaxed, took faith in innate storytelling skill, and let the pen do the rest of the work.

I constantly find myself amazed by this almost indefinable sense of ease I see in the work of the best authors. I wonder what us amateurs can do to to foster it in our own work?

Perhaps it’s just a case of writing so much, for so many years, that it becomes possible to tell a story without having to go back for too many re-writes. I’ve found that I can definitely re-work a story to death if I go at it for too long. As terrible as first drafts usually are – they are also often the most fluid, natural and honest version of the story you’re trying to tell. Maybe the sense of ease that the pros display is nothing more than the ability to almost nail it first time round – so they get to keep most of that magic. Maybe it’s being so familiar with the tools of the trade that they really don’t have to work too hard. Maybe it’s something else entirely.

Please comment and let me know your thoughts…

~CGW