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?

1 comment:

michael salinger said...

hi Sarah.

just lettin' ya know I'm keeping an eye on you.