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Simple Lessons from the LLF Emerging Writer’s Workshop

Everett Maroon and Chip Delany

  1. Skip the processed carbs. They don’t give you real energy and they don’t make your writing better.
  2. Smile and say hello to everyone, especially for the first couple of days, while we’re all still a bundle of nerves.
  3. Ignore your rule about talking next to someone smoking and go do it. Smokers, skip a cig here and there to continue a great conversation that happens to be inside.
  4. There is always time for karaoke.
  5. Linger at the dining hall. The stories more than make up for the quality of the food.
  6. Listen more than talk. This is your chance to learn from other extremely observant people.
  7. Take pictures with the people there, just in case you someday start telling yourself that it didn’t really happen.
  8. Go ahead and drink or stay up too late, but maybe not every night.
  9. Sneaking off campus is a great way to recharge. Staying on campus is a great way to immerse yourself in your work. There’s probably a balance in there somewhere.
  10. Thank people for their generosity in giving you their time, their comments, their experiences, their support. It took a lot for every person to get here and carve out a week of their lives.
  11. Make your criticism of people’s words be entirely about their writing, and zero about yours.
  12. Bringing a French press was a great idea. Not having a convenient place to store milk was less great.
  13. Canvas the campus for good writing spots on the first day, and use them.
  14. When you run into someone from the workshop at the airport on the way home, hug them at least four times.
  15. Find real, sustainable ways to keep in touch.
  16. Make this one week the start of a lifetime of critical support and community.
  17. Know when to stop writing any given sentence, even as you commit to writing for a lifetime.
  18. Even bad coffee works.
  19. Read work by people who write very differently than you, at least as often as you read work that you aspire to.
  20. One week is too long to go without nail clippers.
  21. Yes, you have to get the nail clippers even if you dropped them in the toilet.
  22. Try not to pine away for your loved ones at home, but give them a very warm welcome when you see them again. They helped get you here.
  23. Listen to your elders in the writing world, and let them go when they seem tired of talking.
  24. Always be ready to break into another rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
  25. It’s always okay to squeal in delight when someone you like gets up to read or walks in the room.

Lambda Literary Emerging Writer’s Workshop, Day 5

G. FlaubertWe’ve read through all of the fiction writers’ pieces and handed back critiques, treating each work and editorial process seriously and concentrating like whoa on giving good specific feedback. After five days I feel raw and exhausted, but good. It’s like whittling deadwood, sloughing off the bits I don’t need (I’m looking at you, insecurity and bad literary habits). Now I can focus my attention on word choice, craft, storytelling, and because Chip has hammered it into me, description. It may very well be that every story I write for the next few years, I will write for his eye and ear and sense of prose.

Samuel Delany refers a lot to Flaubert, and Balzac, and Walter Pater. He considers his words, and speaks in the most delightful cyclical cadence that keeps me fascinated with whatever next word is going to come out of his mouth. I’ve been cobbling a list of his reading recommendations, which may only make sense in context of giving feedback to us, and which is based in part on the kinds of stories we’ve been writing, but which is still a great stand-alone list. Here are some of his reference points: Read More…

Lambda Literary Emerging Writer’s Workshop, Day 2

purple keyboardWe’re here, we’re queer, and we’re critiquing each other’s work. So came the second full day of the retreat, enshrouded in mist once again and with a chilly breeze that made me glad I’d chosen a sweater vest for the morning. Thank goodness I discovered how to command hot water out of my shower, because a second event of freezing liquid was just not going to work for me. I woke up at 6:30 and went through my new French press coffee routine, then groomed myself.

I’d read two more stories last night and done my best to provide guidance without dissection. I tucked a small notebook into my pocket so that I could jot down the authors and titles of recommended reading (I’d missed two or three references on Monday). I chatted with people in the dining hall over steaming bowls of creamed wheat and not-so-fresh squeezed orange juice. One of my colleagues was dog-tired and held her head in her hands. And before I knew it, she was crying.

I’ve been in this place of sudden compassion before, and it has always involved a decision between sitting quietly so as to let them have their emotions, or filling up the space partway to offer a hinge they can swing from if they want to. So I told a very short story to express empathy in an indirect way, and she thanked me and then got up. Sometimes I wonder if spending so many decades divorced from my feelings hasn’t made me more able to connect to people now, because I refuse to pretend humans are strictly rational. I’m making up for lost processing time. Read More…

Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Workshop, Day 1

san fernando valleyOkay, here I am. I can stand on the slant of the hill and gaze upon the San Fernando Valley, when the mist and/or the smog isn’t hiding it, that is. It’s pretty, and like a lot of the West Coast, covered in desert plants. None of the palm trees I see are native to Southern California, but I appreciate them anyway. Palm trees, for me, mean that I’m somewhere not considered home. They ring vacation to me, because you can never really lose the New Jersey, I guess.

I have sat in a room with Samuel Delany for hours now, have wandered across a campus with him, hoping our noses will lead us to the dining hall (for better or for worse), acting like such engagements with him are totally no big deal. This man taught Octavia Butler. Octavia Fucking Butler. AKA one of my favorite writers of all time. But hey, let’s chat about how much we hate stairs. (Answer: A lot) I don’t pretend that Mr. Delany will have any idea who I am by the middle of next week, but he’s personable and so brilliantly smart he may be solely responsible for the huge sun spot that flamed out last week. I have great admiration for Malinda Lo, who is teaching the YA/genre section, I have scads of respect for Sarah Schulman, who inspired my many years of involvement with the Lesbian Avengers (which she cofounded), and I always revere poets like David Groff because I’m completely inept at poetry. Read More…

The Writer Emerges

Everett all sparkly at a readingLife this winter and spring has been less about balance and more about fulcrums. You know, like when you’re moving up and down a lot but not getting anywhere. At least a roller coaster has forward momentum and a few thrills along the way. A seesaw just lifts up and crashes down with a jolt at the end of each direction. Nearly all of the endeavors I’ve made since last fall have come with commensurate concussions. Case manager is leaving for a full-time job. Hire new case manager. Send in manuscript to potential agent and wait. . . finally getting rejected by potential agent (but in the nicest way possible). Move office to other side of town, deal with people yelling on the phone that the office has moved. Start new manuscript, get sidelined by a different project. Apply to literary contest, fail to make the finals. Apply to writer’s workshop with no hope of getting accepted.

Then gasp at the screen when reading the acceptance letter. Read More…

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