Saturday, October 18, 2014

Entry # 228 - "Crafty Readings for Beginning Writers"

Entry # 228 – “Crafty Readings for Beginning Writers”

By Jan Bowman OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWriters who want to grow in their writing do well to spend their time actually writing. But sometimes when I’m feeling burned-out in my keyboard work, I take a break and read books on the writing craft. Yes. Writing requires attention to details, just as painting or carpentry does, but writing also requires stepping back from work and looking at the resulting efforts from a distance to see how even and whole it is.
During a recent lull in my productivity I turned to four splendid books on craft and I can recommend them highly. For the next four weeks, I will present some thoughts on each of these books. Here they are in no particular order, other than the order in which I plucked them from my reading desk. I offer just enough information to whet your appetite for more, I hope.
Steering the Craft 
Week One: Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week let’s look at the craft book, Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin, because this is a wonderfully useful book filled with common sense discussions and exercises whether you are, as Le Guin says, “the lone navigator or the mutinous crew” in a writers’ group seeking to improve a story. She says that the title comes from a workshop she gave by the same title in 1996 and that “. . . exercises are consciousness raisers: their aim is to clarify and intensify your awareness of certain elements of prose writing and certain techniques and modes of storytelling.”

In ten short chapters, Le Guin deals with setting your sails, sheets, and jibs for keeping your writing – on course. She offers the usual attention to basic writing elements, such as grammatical issues, but explores more complex issues like point of view and voice, with great humor and examples from master writers that can help even more experienced writers stay their course. I found that Chapter Ten, “Crowding & Leaping” – and the exercises – “A Terrible Thing To Do” helped me take a new look at one of my current stagnant writing projects.

Le Guin says, “Some people see art as a matter of control. I see it mostly as a matter of self-control. It’s like this: in me there’s a story that wants to be told. It is my end; I am its means.”

Jan’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and others.   She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection, Mermaids & Other Stories.  She has nonfiction publications in Atticus Review, Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Entry # 227 - Breadloaf - 2014 Notes from Julie Wakeman-Linn

By Jan Bowman

BreadloafIn my previous Entry # 226 – Interview with Julie Wakeman-Linn, we spoke mostly about her experiences as an Editor of the Potomac Review. Today my blog entry presents a post she shared with me – written about Breadloaf Conference on day four in August 2014.

Jan:  In August you returned for the third time to the Breadloaf Conference. Please tell us about your experiences there. Who taught your workshop and who impressed you in the craft talks. What new things did you discover about your own writing?

Julie:    Ursula Hegi, who is amazing, taught me a lot about point of entry into fiction. Andrea Barrett gave an incredible craft talk on Point of View.  And as for my own writing? Breadloaf is so much fun but it also gave me a nice shot of confidence in my work. It is a competitive admission conference and being there makes a writer feel good. Being surrounded by other serious and talented writers leads to marvelous conversations about the writing life, too.

Julie's  Blog Notes from Day Four – Breadloaf Writers Conference – 2014   

Vermont, whether cold and rainy or sunny and balmy, is beautiful. The mountains around us soothe. I am always optimistic but somehow it seems people check their egos at the bottom of the mountain before they come up. The US Poet laureate asked my table of regular writers, if she could join us. She was lovely, by the way. There is a flood of hope for opportunities, a sharing of information and don’t get me started on the swapping of books-essays-poems-you must read. I think only at end of semester English Major parties or in grad school after the killer comprehensives do you participate in such a sharing of ‘you must read this.

I’m studying with Ursula Hegi, an incredible writer and teacher. The workshop leaders’ credentials are too extensive to list here. Check out the conference website for that. The workshop group of ten is acting like old friends, although we’ve only been together 4 days. Certainly it is a competitive admission conference and even within that there are hierarchies—the talented hard working waiters are here on full scholarship. The Scholars have been granted the competitive tuition scholarships and our Fellows selected for their publication records and awards. I’m here as a participant. I’m lucky because my college foots my bills as professional development so I’ve never even applied for a scholarship and that probably takes away any concern I have about who is who.

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Ursula Hegi is a bi-cultural writer who has published twelve books. Her Burgdorf Cycle encompasses Stones from the River, Floating in My Mother’s Palm, The Vision of Emma Blau, and Children and Fire. Hegi’s work has been translated into many languages. Her awards include the Italian Grinzane Cavour prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and the PEN/Faulkner Award. She is on the MFA faculty at Stony Brook Southampton. She has also taught at Barnard College and at the University of California at Irvine. She has served as a juror for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.       
online search website link:   Ursula Hegi
Andrea Barrett is the author of six novels, most recently The Air We Breathe, and three collections of short fiction, Ship Fever, which received the National Book Award; Servants of the Map, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Archangel, which was published in 2013. She has received fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation,  the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in western Massachusetts and teaches at Williams College.  search online or go to website:
Julie says: As Potomac Review editor, I am looking among the scholarship writers for likely contributors to the next issue.
In a way, I’m here as triple threat– writer, editor and friend. Yes, I also come to be with writer friends and study with them. So it’s day four of another great year at Breadloaf, although it is the coldest of the three times I’ve been here.  Here’s contact information if someone wants to follow up with me about writing, my work and the Potomac Review.