Friday, July 25, 2008


I’ve been in Chautauqua for almost two weeks, and I’m so lucky to be able to have the kind of lifestyle that allows me to (mostly) pick and chose when I take a break from work and the day-to-day demands of real life. While I’m there, I’m living my fantasy life: floating in my pond, hiking in the woods, reading for hours in the sun or shade, moving slowly, writing by hand in real paper notebooks. I try to stay away from the computer. Which is why this post has taken so long.

The day after I got back, I taught at Cleveland State University’s Imagination High, and nothing gives you a kick in the ass to get back to writing as when you see all the talent and enthusiasm of the next generation coming up behind you. (Okay, a few generations.) This is what amazes me most: I give them a writing exercise, and they do it. They make it happen. They create something wonderful using only pen, paper and their minds. An example of one exercise: They create a complex character using a pair of shoes (I brought a box of shoes in) and a three page questionnaire I’ve written up. (The shoes idea is from a writing exercise in Outspoken, a book by Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger.) Then they need to chose a particular time in their character’s lives, place them in a specific place (from a short list I give them, such as a hospital, family dinner, running across a yard, or at a country fair or amusement park. I tell them that their character’s heart is racing. Why? What’s happening? Then they write, heads bent over paper. They make up wonderful stories. They surprise me. They surprise themselves. What great energy! I get infected by it. That’s what we do as writers, we find ways to infect ourselves with the spirit of invention and imagination. We do it by reading, teaching, talking with other writers, watching people, dreaming, hiking in the woods.

In an impromptu panel discussion, Jonathan Fairman, who lead the workshops, answered a student’s question about writer’s block with the following suggestion, one he heard from another writer. (I will call Jonathan and get that writer’s name, and add it to the next post.) Here’s the suggestion: If you have writer’s block, go to a place where you are completely alone, and bring nothing along with you, nothing to write with, nothing to read, nothing to do. (No knitting, cards, etc.) Sit there for a few hours. I love this suggestion. How "out-of-the-box" is this idea, and how dead on? This is why I love teaching at writer’s workshops for teenagers, to get inspiration from the students and the other teachers. How lucky am I that I get paid to do this?

What’s your answer to writer’s block?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Writers' groups on the west side

The very first question I received following my last post was a question from Susan, a writer who took classes I taught at Imagination II, at the Rocky River Nature Center. What a beautiful place that is! She’s wondering if I know of any writers’ workshop groups on the west side, near Berea and North Olmsted. I’m sorry to say that I don’t. Maybe someone reading this post might? Can anyone let us know about writers’ groups in that area?

Sometimes The Lit keeps lists of writers’ workshops. The Lit is the new name for the old Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland, which has been around for close to 30 years. If you are a writer and don’t know about The Lit, you should go to their webpage and learn about them, and see what kind of help they might be able to offer you.

Also, sometimes libraries and bookstores offer writers’ workshop groups for their patrons and customers. I’ve just sent letters to many of the libraries in and around Cleveland, offering to speak to groups who might be interested in starting a writers’ workshop, so call your library and ask if they have any other patrons who might be interested in getting together there to workshop their writing, or if they already have a group going. See if you can start your own group, with their help, using a room in their space. Libraries and bookstores are a good place to start if you don’t really know the other people very well. (Better than inviting strangers to your house, or going to their's, at least until you get to know them, and decide if the group will really work out for you.)

So, at least I have a few suggestions. If you can help Susan, please post a comment.

And finally, I’d like to recommend a book. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Her writing is stunning, her characters vivid and heartbreaking. The dialog is dead on. It’s a collection of short stories that are tied together by the character of Olive Kitteridge, who appears in some as a secondary character, and in other stories as the main view point character. It’s a wonderful book if you’re a reader, and a must read if you’re a writer.

Peace and all good things.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Chautauqua Writing Classes, and blogs

Anyone who knows me at all knows that Chautauqua, NY has been an important place in my life. I’ve been going there since I was five weeks old. I’ve never lived in the Chautauqua Institution, but that’s where the boys’ and girls’ club is that I went to (where they tossed me, screaming, into the lake twice a day), and the theater where my father acted and directed (and I worked for four summers.) I’ve taught at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center several times, and now I’m going to be doing a workshop at The Spencer Hotel, in the fall. I’m giving some advance notice here because I’m going to cap the class at nine people, so that everyone will get the attention and help they need.

The Spencer Hotel has author's themes for each of its rooms, and offers writing workshops, as well as a lot of other fun packages. Here's a link to the writing classes. You can scroll down to find my class.

And speaking of things Chautauqua, I’ve got a new short story out in Chautauqua: 20th Anniversary of the Chautauqua Writers' Center. It’s a collection of poetry and prose by writers who have taught at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.

And speaking of me, this is exactly what feels so weird about blogging. I’ve got this place where I tell you what I’m up to. Well, that’s all nice and helpful for people who are looking for writing classes, or maybe something I’ve written, but obviously a blog needs to be something more. I follow friends’ blogs because they share their thoughts, photos and drawings, and by going to their page I feel like I’m staying in touch, even on a busy day. I don’t go to the blogs of people I don’t know–except for this one I used to go to called Miss Snark. She’s a literary agent who gave some great advice and answered questions about writing and publishing, all in a very funny, snarky voice. She’s stopped blogging now, but you can still go and see her archives.

So, since I’m a writer, I guess some writerly things would be nice on this blog. I’m going to give this a try. Post something writerly every week. Maybe a quote, maybe a bit of advice I’ve just heard and loved. Maybe a book recommendation. Maybe something writerly I’m thinking about at the moment. And, like Miss Snark, I will try to answer some writerly questions. So send me a question, to and I’ll pick the ones I might actually have an answer for, or a thought or a suggestion.

peace and all good things.