Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reading and Writing and...

I come from a long line of storytellers.  This probably drew me to writing, the natural progression from orating to authorship.  Most of the things I write now have begun as stories I tell at parties.  I feel very fortunate that public speaking doesn’t make me want to hide in the nearest crack in the floorboards and I sympathize with people for whom public speaking ranks scarier than death on their list of biggest fears. (A large part of the population feels this way, it seems; Jerry Seinfeld once quipped that most people at a funeral would rather be in the casket than standing at the podium giving the eulogy.)  At first glance, writing appears to be a remote activity, one that allows the author to express his or her thoughts without having to leave the comforts of the couch.  Passive.  Safe.
But reading work aloud makes writing less of a lonely endeavor and more of a collective experience, a connection between the writer/reader and the audience/listener.  As someone who has participated in dozens of readings, I have discovered several benefits of reading one’s work aloud, and I encourage anyone who considers herself serious about writing to participate in at least one reading this year.  Why?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The 'I'

CNF is a lot about new angles, new perspectives. Our personal perspectives are always shifting, and they are always unique to us, to our lives. Well. Earlier this week, I reached for my iPad. I was dozing on the couch, and I had lost the iPad somewhere in the folds of the comforter I was wrapped in. When I found it, the screen was face down and the etched text on the back was wrong side up—so completely backwards. It was a great moment to reflect on one of the iPad’s ingenuities—its ability to reorient the screen to suit how you hold it. The back cover of course does not reorient, but upsidedown words can be considered as lines and shapes and not letters. And I noticed, beside the neat symmetry of the ‘P’ and ‘d’, the ‘i’ in iPad is a perfect exclamation point. I can’t claim to know why the teams over at Apple named the iPad iPad, but that first letter is another case of brilliant design. It evokes the inverted exclamation point, and it is inseparable from the word. iPad (notice how even at the beginning of a sentence, it is not IPad) comes with its own excitement, its own fervor, its own life. Just great marketing? What about our need for these devices, are they sparked by the urgency in the name? Is it really so wrong to be excited? The inverted exclamation point is unique to the Spanish language. Its expression seems almost parallel to the English exclamation point, only it comes at the beginning of a sentence. In English punctuation, the exclamation point signals commands, energetic or passionate statements, statements of disbelief, or even statements made in times of duress. All connote motion, the slant forward of iTalics (couldn’t resist), the present. The Now, never the past. The movement toward the pressing future. I find excitement, too, in how that lowercase iPad ‘i’ has come to be synonymous with ‘I’, that power player of CNF. And by extension, the i/I is also kin to the inverted exclamation point; it is a signal forward. The i/I is interesting, compelling, never at rest. Which leads to what every CNF writer must do: exclaim. Declare. Insist on your relevance, your design, how essential you are. Write your i/I into the world, and let it connote urgency, fervor, passion, life.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tales From a Great Workshop

Workshopping. That word, I think, conjures up a visceral reaction in nearly everyone who has taken part in one, and often that reaction isn’t positive. I have been in workshops that felt petty and pointless, workshops that felt less like writers helping each another and more like crows picking apart roadkill.
When workshops are handled well, though, they can be indispensable. Because no matter how long we’ve been writing, we still can’t get enough distance from our own work to be completely objective about it. Workshopping provides that little reality check from others who are less invested, but it also can answer some BIG QUESTIONS: Is what we’re trying to say actually getting across on the page? Does our work match up with our intentions? A good workshop can show us little veins of gold shimmering in places we didn’t even know were there. But a great workshop does even more. It lets us see possibilities in our writing even when the work being discussed isn’t our own.