Monday, October 10, 2011

Hamline's Colloquium Chock Full of Good Advice

A little over a week ago, recent graduates of the newly renamed Creative Writing Programs at Hamline University presented words of wisdom and advice for new and current students about their capstone projects during the 24th Annual Colloquium.  
Addie Zierman, who wrote a memoir, How to Talk Evangelical, spoke about the difficulties of publishing CNF as an unknown author.  Her book was picked up pretty quickly by an agent, but multiple publishers passed on the basis that she didn’t have a web presence or “platform.”  Addie explained that the publishers told her they really liked the book but were wary about publishing her work.  Her agent suggested she develop her platform--via blogging, twitter, and other social networks--before moving further into the publishing phase.  Although I found this somewhat disheartening--shouldn’t a writer's work stand on its own?--I’m glad I learned this before I finish my own creative nonfiction book and attempt to publish it.  

Sarah Hayes wrote poetry for her MFA thesis, entitled Aftermath.  She spoke about tackling difficult subjects in her writing, despite being told she shouldn’t write about certain topics.  She explained that the professors at Hamline were very encouraging of her work, but the poems she wrote made some of her readers and previous teachers uncomfortable.  Sarah found her access point by writing around a theme of the aftermath of disasters and by examining poems through a scientific/nature-lovers lens.   She advised writers not to shy away from difficult subjects, especially if those subjects are particularly important to you as a writer.
For MALS graduate Jason Maher, the subject of his project itself became difficult, in that  his writing about his mother was hindered by her reluctance (and sometimes outright refusal) to participate in his research. Jason fused research, personal experience, and interviews into a synthesis project, You Are Here: Lessons from the Evacuation of British Children During World War II.   He respected his mother's wishes not to share his work with other family members, an issue CNF writers face all the time (see Nuria's most recent post).  Jason's dazzling PowerPoint presentation ended with several helpful tips, including “Find your spine.”  He explained that once he determined the backbone of his project, all of his research, interviews, and personal stories fell into place.
Evan Kingston talked about the difficulties--and sometimes pleasures--of revision, having drafted and redrafted his novel, Half Drunk, a number of times both during and since thesis.  He told of receiving feedback from his girlfriend, fellow MFA-er Jenny McDougal, which he initially dismissed, saying, “That’s great, but let’s hear what Sheila  [O’Connor, fiction professor] has to say.”  He then explained that Sheila had the same comments Jenny did.  “Listen to your readers,” he advised, “And try to do what they say.”  “But don’t forget your vision,” he added. “This is your book.”  He suggested keeping a file of trimmed writing (not cutting and completely throwing it away) so you can always add it back into the work if you’d like.
Can you see why I left the Colloquium itching to get back to the book?  Keep an eye on these names and check out Addie Zierman's blog.  If you want further advice from any of these writers, I'm sure they would be happy to speak with you.

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