Novel writing, Lynda Barry, new writing classes, and a birding adventure . . .
These days I'm deep in the generative process for my first novel. Joyce Carol Oates says writing a first draft is like "pushing a peanut around a dirty floor with your nose: not fun, really difficult, and there's no idea of where it may go." Lewis Lapham says writing the first draft is like breaking rocks.
There are definitely days when this is true, but on the whole, I'm having a lot more fun with the writing process than I ever have before. I think it's because I'm doing everything I can to turn off my thinking brain and get lost in the realm of images, characters, and rich sensory details.
One of my gurus in this process is the brilliant cartoonist Lynda Barry. Here's what she has to say:
“When people try to write stories, they tend to drag the stories behind them. They think the story and question it and try to arrange it into something understandable, which is no fun at all! It makes a person feel exhausted and cranky. The best way to write is to let the image pull you. You should be water-skiing behind it, not dragging it like a barge. Writing should take you for a ride.”
One day I'd love to take one of Barry's "Writing the Unthinkable" workshops. In the meantime, I'm devouring her book Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, which has some wonderful suggestions for evading the thinking brain and tapping into a more intuitive space. One of my favorite exercises is the four-minute diary. Barry encourages her students to spend two minutes making a list of what they did in a given day, then two minutes making a list of what they saw. This exercise is a terrific writing warm-up, and has helped me be more aware of the images I encounter in a given day.
If you experiment with any of Barry's exercises or check out her work, let me know! I'd love to hear about it.
What I'm Reading
The Yellow Houseby Sarah Broom: I've loved Broom's work for years, ever since reading her essay of the same name in The New Yorker. Her memoir was just released a few weeks ago, and it's been such a joy to watch it receive such rave reviews. I finally met her in person at NonfictionNOW in Phoenix this past year and got to hear her share some of the struggles she faced while finishing her memoir--and how having a community of other writers made all the difference.
The Changelingby Victor LaValle: I've been avoiding novels while I've been buried in my own, but I recently spent a day sick in bed and tore through this book. I was so aware of LaValle's ability to write beautiful and compelling scenes that propelled the story forward. I also loved seeing how much his identity as a parent informed the book.
"The Crane Wife" by C.J. Hauser: This gorgeous essay has been making the rounds on social media. Here's the first line: Ten days after I called off my engagement I was supposed to go on a scientific expedition to study the whooping crane on the gulf coast of Texas.
Upcoming Classes & Events
My fall manuscript class with Grackle and Grackle begins on Monday, August 26th. This weekend only, you can save 20% with the coupon code "maryshelley."
If you're in Houston, please consider coming out to the Holocaust Museum at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, September 4th for the "Writers for Migrant Justice" reading. I'll be joining many other Houston-based writers for a benefit reading supporting Immigrant Families Together. Suggested donation is $10.
Know anyone in Yoakum, Texas? I'm excited to participate in the Texas Writes program - a great initiative that brings writers to rural libraries for a half day of presentations and panel discussions. I'll be presenting on how to find and write vivid scenes in memoir. The event takes place on Saturday, October 5 at 10 a.m. at the Carl and Mary Welhausen Library.
As soon as I send this email, I'm driving to Port Aransas for a birding adventure - a fourteen-hour trip into the Gulf of Mexico that leaves at 3:30 am on Saturday! It's the first time I've ever done anything like this and I have no idea what to expect. Wish me luck--I'll report back next month.