Writing Tip by Samantha Dunn Camp

Getting into the nitty-gritty of what makes us tick is not something that comes easily, even for those who are inclined to want to do it. It seems we naturally resist examining why we are the way we are; we want to avoid looking at our contradictions, the places where we don’t make sense. That, however, is exactly the place we need to write from in order to arrive at insight.

I have my memoir students in the UCLA Writers’ Program do this as a beginning exercise: As quickly as possible, write fifteen sentences using this construction, “I’m the kind of person who________ but ____________ .” For example, I’m the kind of person who votes democrat but hates to pay taxes. Think first about actions in the world, rather than thoughts or beliefs—the tangible as opposed to the abstract.

After they have done the fifteen, I ask that they observe the list, think hard, then choose one of those sentences to expand upon for a 20-minute timed writing. The structure of the sentence usually ends up falling away like old scaffolding. What emerges is insight—the key to making any narrative more finely layered, more profound.

Biography of Samantha Dunn Camp: Samantha Dunn Camp is the author of several books including the memoirs, Not By Accident, and, Faith in Carlos Gomez. Her essays are widely anthologized.  For more information visit her website at http://www.samanthadunn.biz.

Writing Tip by Janet Sternburg

This is about the old chestnut: “Do you write every day?”

And if you answer, “yes,” then chances are you’ll hear another old chestnut: “What discipline you must have!”

Nope. It’s not discipline. I always think of discipline as beating yourself on the shoulders with a stick. It’s actually a writer’s “trick.” Let yourself fall in love with what you’re writing — so much so that you can’t stay away from it. I don’t mean infatuation. I don’t mean bliss. I mean letting yourself become so absorbed in the story you’re telling, the words you’re honing, the structural problems you are trying to solve, that it’s the most interesting thing you know to do. So you do it.

Biography of Janet Sternburg: Janet Sternburg’s books include The Writer on Her Work, Volumes 1 & 2, (W. W. Norton); Phantom Limb: A Memoir, American Lives Series, (Univ. of Nebraska); and Optic Nerve: Photopoems, (Red Hen). She is also a photographer and has exhibited in solo shows at galleries and museums in Korea, Mexico, Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles.