“I’ve always felt that my ‘style’—the careful projection onto paper of who I think I am—was my only marketable asset, the only possession that might set me apart from other writers.” ---William Zinsser

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Sound on the Page

Ben Yagoda’s The Sound on the Page translated his study of writers and writing to the page as inspiration. He examined what writers say about the process of writing and how the words sound on the page, saying “Just as reading is like listening, the act of writing is, or should be, linked to speaking.” On ever-elusive style, he concludes, “Like a face, a style is partly meaningless as a gauge of character, but partly very meaningful indeed. And although it may seem that one’s style is more malleable than one’s face—in writing, all you have to do is delete a word or replace it with another, as opposed to the fuss and bother of plastic surgery—it is in fact unexpectedly hard to alter.” Undeniably, we write in a style that's uniquely our own even as it's difficult to pin down. He proposes that style is made up of competence, iconoclasm, extroversion, feeling, single-mindedness, tension, and solicitousness. Then, he discusses style in the various forms of writing from persuasive writing to poetry. In the end, he gives up and says style cannot be taught but steps can be taken to develop it. He suggests that writers engage in active reading, imitation, copying, reverse imitation, active reading of own work, read aloud, rewrite, and listen to criticism. After acknowledging that “This work, the cleaning of brush to create a walkable path, is never-ending for a writer” Yagoda ends his book with: “Anyone who puts pen to paper can have a prose style. In almost every case, that style will be quiet, sometimes so quiet as to be detectable only by you, the writer. In the quiet, you can listen to your sound in various manifestations, then you can start to shape it and develop it. That project can last as long as you keep writing, and it never grows old.” That's encouraging.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Word Lover's Retreats

Being at a retreat is a leave-taking that can be disorienting. But because it is a leave-taking, it SHOULD be disorienting. It gets us out of our ruts. We become more vulnerable, yet more open to opportunities.

That openness to experience allows us to make connections with people. The bouquet of dahlias Mike brought into the Idlewyld conjured up memories of his wife Suzie looking at me intently to understand what I was saying at dinner during the Sharing Our Gifts, Artist’s Way retreat. I also recall a neighbor who plants dahlias every summer and digs them up each fall. Like constant gardeners, writers make prepare the soil by throwing life into the middle of things and making meaningful connections to their personal experiences.

That’s what good essay writing is: making connections and using anecdotal material, telling stories that will help the reader make the same connections. The word Ben Yagoda uses for it in The Sound on the Page is solicitousness. We look the reader in the eye and tell them about it. That was what we did at the Word Lover's Retreat in October 2008--we told our stories and we layered more stories on top of the stories we came with. My personal essay about reuniting with a college professor may prompt someone else to write a letter to someone and enrich some lives, not just the two people in relationship but the people that hear the story re-told, as I re-told mine.

Want to be vulnerable? Want to make connections? Come retreat with us in Lakeside on either the first weekend in May or the first weekend in November 2009.

Sharing Our Gifts - Looking forward to 2009

The Sharing Our Gifts Retreat at the Idlewyld in Lakeside (October 2008) was enchanting. That sounds like hyperbole, but it's not--we all came away feeling inspired and refreshed. We shared miracle stories and watched The Nancy Drew Movie on Friday night and by the time we met again in the Green Room of The Fountainview, we had some synergy going. 25 women strong, we enjoyed workshops on journaling, memoir, mandalas, book groups, liturgical dance, and emmeagrams. We all left with "kitchen wisdom" notebooks that we designed ourselves and filled with wise thoughts after having a parting tea with Joan the innkeeper. Next year can't really be better, but we'll try to best last year's event during the third weekend of October 2009.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Join Skyline Writers in the Cuyahoga Valley - August 22, 2009

Join Claudia Taller and other writers for a retreat from the world in the Cuyahoga Valley. Skyline Writer's annual conference takes place on Saturday, August 22, 2009, at Hines Hill Conference Center, our home away from home, just north of Peninsula. Details are forthcoming. You owe it to yourself to spend time with your writing and enjoy the peace of the flowing river and the protective canopy of trees. A day in the Valley is sure to inspire you to go further with your projects and ignite possibilities within. The brochure for the event can be found at http://www.skylinewriters.com/ after June 1.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Word Lover's Retreat in Lakeside - May 2008

Word Lover’s Retreat participants felt right at home at the Idlewyld Bed and Breakfast, built in 1888 on Walnut Street in Lakeside. A private gated community founded as an independent Chautauqua on Lake Erie’s shores in 1873, Lakeside is one of the few remnants of the adult education movement popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Innkeepers Dan and Joan Barris ran the kitchen while cooking with weekend hostess Claudia Taller, who used Joan’s tried-and-true recipes for the event.

True writers write, and many of us spent several hours writing on the front porch on Friday afternoon. After a walking tour of Lakeside and a soup and salad supper, Donna Wilson’s writing-prompt boxes came out and we wrote memories stirred by postcards, linked random words together in essays, and dug deeply by completing phrases like, “A secret dream of mine is to . . .” Surely the results were part of Julia Cameron’s goals when she wrote The Artist’s Way: those who wrote explored their potential for possibilities and what they have to share with the world.

Freelance Writer and Writing Coach John Ettorre shared tips from his book-in-progress during his “Flex Those Writing Muscles” session on Saturday morning. John focused on the craft of writing and the habits and disciplines that produce good writing. The weekend’s mantra became “less is more” as we talked about tight sentences, perfect word choices, listening for cadence and flow, editing, and rewriting. The other theme that emerged is how important it is for a writer to read widely.

That was a great segue for the afternoon session entitled “The Book Loving Soul.” Gustave Flaubert said, “Read in order to live,” and that sums up how most writers feel about reading. Most of us became avid readers in childhood, stealing reading moments in the backseat of the family car or on a tree roost or in our beds at night with flashlights. We discussed keeping a writing journal, tracking the books we read, studying good writing to become better writers, listening to books on tape, and taking part in book discussion groups.

Journals, like Katherine Mansfield’s, are a writer’s notebook, a journal of inner life, a spiritual autobiography, and she said her journal was a way “to lose all that is superficial and acquired in me and to become a conscious, direct human being.” Our personal journals can be culled for memoir, stories, novels, personal essays, articles, or poetry, or can be worth reading on its own.
A journal helps us make connections. The afternoon workshop “Leaving a Trace” was inspired by Alexandra Johnson’s book by the same name and the writing exercises delved into how to cull our life experiences for use in our writing.

Haiku is a Japanese poetic form available to everyone. We learned the history and technique of this one-breath poetry and how practicing Haiku can teach us to write more succinctly and deeply with less words. We vowed to explore Haiku when we returned to the real world, in the hope that Haiku will also allow us to show, rather than tell, what we mean and allow the reader to bring their own life experience into what we write.

On the front porch of the Idlewyld, we rocked in the bentwood rockers as shadows lengthened and discussed Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun. Mayes and her new husband embraced Italy when they bought Bramasole, an abandoned villa in the Tuscan countryside. Roman roads and Roman wells, ancient vineyards, hidden frescoes, vibrant markets, simple food, and big hearts--the book’s a celebration of Italy. The memoir and armchair travel book presents poetic cadence and a lyrical quality worth study. Although we agreed that the Mayes challenges us to “surprise” our own lives and not resist the impulse to live fully, the consensus of the group was that the book is rich, but meanders, and the author is reserved and self-centered.

Following after-dinner sunset walks, we returned to the Idlewyld for storytelling and spent a good deal of time laughing before retiring to our Victorian sleeping quarters. Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, we sat in a circle in the big meeting room on Sunday morning to critique each other’s work. We were productive. We took leave of Lakeside with great hesitation, but basked in new friendships and refreshed spirits. The weekend encapsulated Claudia Taller’s image of what an Igniting Possibilities Event is meant to be.

A Winding Road - Writing

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My book, "Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries," an Arcadia production, explores the history of island and lakeshore wineries from the mid-1800s through today. I write travel, memoir, profiles, book reviews, local interest articles, and fiction. My writing is always of discovery--whether it's journaling, book reviewing, letter writing, or sharing an experience of life. I have written two novels and am working on a third novel and a memoir. I am passionate about sharing what life has to offer with others. "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron woke me up to a sense of possibility--life is too short not be enjoyed by living deeply and well. I created Igniting Possibilities, a conduit for creativity workshops and events, in the hope of guiding others to realize their full potential. The Word Lover's Retreats at Lakeside, Ohio's Chautauqua community, help writers find their voice and direction.