I promised a run-down of the recent orientation weekend my partner Terry Price and I put together for the Writer's Loft, at MTSU in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Terry and I took over the program last March, (geez, it seems much longer ago than that) and so this was the first orientation on our watch. We were delirious with excitement over how it turned out, mostly because of our wonderful presenters.
The event started on Friday morning with a three-hour workshop given by Darnell Arnoult. People who live in Nashville, North Carolina, and really anywhere across the south are familiar with Darnell's workshops which are so full of information and inspiration I could sit through day after day of them, even if she said the same thing over and over again.
In her workshop, "Writing Out of Chaos, OR How to Write a Better Story than You Know," Darnell presented the specifics of her system for writing a novel. She believes avidly, as I do, that story comes from character, and that the first draft is a learning draft. Where Darnell departs from common creative writing wisdom is in her insistence that one can write a novel without knowing much about the plot or having to tackle it chronologically. She advocates getting to know your characters by setting them in motion through exercises that she suggests. And one thing I love about Darnell is that she is adamant that you can get a lot of writing done in 15 minute chunks. You can complete a character exercise in that amount of time, or write the beginnings of a scene.
Darnell also has an exercise that she does called "Finding Fiction in a Photo," which is a very useful idea generator. She passes out photos and asks you to choose one and then she has you literally stare at the photo for five full minutes. Just sit there in silence and stare at it, taking in every detail you possibly can. Then she has a whole list of questions that you can answer about the photo. Things like List five observations about the scene in the image, List five physical characteristics of the person you've chosen in the photograph, what is the person's full name? and so on, through over fifty questions. (of course, we only got through the first few questions in the workshop.)
The total of all of this was that I came away re-energized to work on my novel, and I've been working on it, to the detriment of all my other writing projects ever since.
I'll have more info about the other Loft lectures and workshops in the coming days. Meanwhile, enrollment in the Loft is not just for people who live in Nashville. We videotape the entire weekend, and since the heart of the program is one-on-one mentored writing, you can do it from wherever you live. Check our website for more info, or email me at the address listed at the top of this page.