Thirty-eight days ago I heard a young woman read from her latest book, a memoir entitled Land of Enchantment. Impressed by her work and her honest portrayal of what she referred to as “obsessive love,” I was glad I had signed up for Leigh Stein’s presentation the next morning. In a word: Marvelous. Any doubts I had were erased the moment she distributed a handout with several quotes by Annie Dillard.
For two hours, Ms. Stein held her audience rapt as she talked about the craft and encouraged everyone to think and write and think and write some more. She asked, “What are you obsessed with?” and then asked the writers to write something that might change their lives.
There is no shortage of subjects. As Annie Dillard said, “A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all.”
Here are a few of Leigh Stein’s recommendations.
- Write down your wish list, everything you’d like to see in a movie or read on the page.
- You might down characters you’ve imagined, cool plot twists, or great lines of dialogue.
- You might write down themes that you care about.
- Don’t reject any ideas. No judging or censoring yourself with “That’s a stupid idea.”
- Experiment with your story/essay/book. Ask “what if?” What if some other woman or child were writing it? Someone of a different age or nationality?
My mind was buzzing with possibilities.
Ms. Stein continued the presentation with an overview of Educated, Wild, Boy Erased, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and asked what we would name our memoirs if we had to use just one word. The responses were varied and interesting. She reminded us that the most important memories of our lives are seared into memory.
Toward the end of her presentation, Ms. Stein shared some information about goal setting, and while there was nothing new there, the reminder lit a fire, and I thought YES. As soon as I get home, I’m going to set serious. To encourage the conference attendees (writers) in the room to set and accomplish writing goals, she distributed notecards to all present and asked us to jot down our email addresses and some goals we wanted to accomplish within the following month.
Since we didn’t have to use our names, it was an nonthreatening activity. Why not do it? As she collected the cards, Leigh (Ms. Stein is beginning to sound too formal after experiencing the session), told us we’d get a message from her by the end of November. With the words, “Our greatest responsibility as writers is to let future generations understand what it means to be alive right now,” in my mind, I resolved to follow through with my goals on the card.
Thirty-seven days have passed since I turned in my notecard with the words in the photo above. Have I achieved the goals? Not really. No. I polished and shined a story and sent it to two publications. And I’ve written a couple of blogs. Oh, and I’ve done several short Facebook posts.
My writing group meets Thursday morning, and I’m determined to get something ready for them to critique. Depending on what the group says, maybe I’ll have a submission ready this week. What about you? What are your writing goals?
I’m gearing up for that hardest-of-all writer’s task – selling what I’ve written. I spent two years trying to sell it to a publisher, and now that the publication date is almost here, I’ll have to sell the book itself. And sell. And sell. My least favorite part of writing–selling. Sigh…