Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Mike Sonksen

Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Mike Sonksen

In the Fall of 2014, shortly after my son was born, Writers At Work played a transformative role in my life as a writer. I was in between teaching jobs and in the midst of huge transition. I went to Writers At Work for several programs and each of them really inspired me. I enjoyed the Meditation sessions where we meditated together and then wrote afterwards. I also really enjoyed conversations about writing with Writers at Work founder, Terry Wolverton. Terry is the perfect mix of knowledgeable, compassionate and perceptive. Her wisdom on both the craft of writing and how to live as an artist are truly inspirational. Writers At Work is an important organization and a creative space that I will always support wholeheartedly.

Photo by Emi Motokawa.

http://writersatwork.com

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Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Cece Peri

Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Cece Peri

Happy 20th Anniversary to Writers at Work! This important literary organization, founded by Terry Wolverton, offers poets and writers opportunities in all phases of the writing life: workshops, readings, networking, and publishing. In September 2009, Terry published my poem, “The White Chicken Gives a First-Hand Account,” as WAW’s Poem of the Month. It was subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I am forever grateful.

http://writersatwork.com

Lessons from the Writing Workshop # 18 — Your Writing Practice

Lessons from the Writing Workshop # 18 — Your Writing Practice

I tell students that it is the job of every writer to determine and shape your own writing practice—how often, when and for how long; where and with what tools and under what circumstances? There are many writers who offer advice about these matters, but I find it’s mostly useless, because each writer needs to figure out what works for you.

How Often
Many well-known writers will tell you that you need to write every day, and I respect and understand the powerful discipline of that daily practice. That doesn’t mean I adhere to it. Like most writers, I juggle earning a living; running a household; paying attention to my partner, friends, animal companions and family; attending to other interests and community commitments; self-care and more. There are things I do every single day—meditate, email my mother—but writing is not one of them. There have been particular books or writing projects that I did work on daily, but I can’t claim they got done faster or were any better than books for which my practice was more irregular.

When
Find the time of the day when your energy is best. For those who have demanding jobs, I often suggest they write first thing in the morning, when they are fresh and before other demands assert their claim on you. One novelist used to get up at 4 a.m. and write for 60-90 minutes before getting ready for work. For others, writing in the early morning would be unthinkable; they’d rather burn the midnight oil. I know parents who schedule their writing around chauffeuring their kids to and from school, game practice, the dentist and playdates. While we’d like to find the optimal time of day and write then, sometimes it’s a matter of finding any available time in a crowded week.

For How Long
I’ve heard writers claim that it’s not even worth it for them to start writing unless they have a 3- or 4- or 6-hour chunk of uninterrupted time. I would never write if I waited for that. My personal attention span is about two hours at a stretch, but I’ve also learned to work in smaller increments. It’s possible to do something even in 15-30 minutes. I once wrote the first draft of a novel in a half-hour a day. For some writers who have a lot of competing demands, shooting for smaller increments of time makes it possible to keep going with their work.

Where
I’d rather not write at home, although I sometimes do. I feel more distracted by all the other facets of life—email and social media and the ringing telephone and my cat jumping into my lap. Other writers seem better able to insulate against those distractions. But neither do I like to write in public, except maybe on an airplane. I know other writers who love to write in coffee shops; a student at Writers At Work used to say she loved “writing out” (like eating out, but literary) but the noise level defeats my concentration.

Some writers have created perfect havens in their home—their desk, their bookshelves, their special candle, their window. I imagine that for myself sometimes, but in reality, my workspace is cluttered with the debris of other work, bills to be paid, unopened mail, unread copies of magazines I hope to get to, things to be filed. I am fortunate to have a workshop space that allows me to have writing dates there.

With What Tools
Other artists sometimes envy writers because the tools of our craft can be inexpensive and portable. Paper and pen—that’s pretty simple, right? But of course, these days one eventually needs to get it into the computer and print it out, and that starts to be more costly. However, most public libraries offer free (if time-limited) access to computers and printers. One fiction writer I know writes on his phone, and I’ve seen plenty of poets stand up at readings and read from their phones.

I have found that my practice changes depending on the book or project I am writing. Some works seem to require that I draft them first by hand, and by that, I mean in actual ink on actual paper. With other projects, it feels okay to draft directly on the computer, but I am aware that for me they are very different kinetic experiences that definitely influence the way my brain is working. The computer is a good tool for me to get ideas down, but if I am trying to woo a voice for or craft the diction of a work, that needs to be done by hand.

When I work on paper, I like to work on lined pads of recycled paper, preferable white, and with an extra-fine point Pilot pen. I need to feel like every sheet is easily disposable; a bound book or something with fancy paper just shuts me down. I’ve known writers who would only write with fountain pens, or who love those bound books, or who haven’t written anything by hand except their signature in ten years. The point is to try things and find out what works best for you.

Under What Circumstances
I know writers who listen to music while they write. I’d rather have quiet. Some like to write outdoors; that’s not my first choice. Some people say they can only write when they are in a certain kind of mood. Some write to avoid other tasks; a poet once told me, “I always write a lot of poems when I’m taking a math class.” Others turn toward those tasks for avoid writing; reports one, “My kitchen is always very clean when I am working on a book.”

My own practice is greatly assisted by proximity to other writers. For decades now I have been making writing dates, wherein another writer and I sit down to work on our individual projects. Solitude is not one of my favorite things about writing, so I appreciate the companionship a writing date offers, as well as the accountability. Also I find that in the company of another artist working on their work, the creative juices multiply exponentially. I have had some incredible breakthroughs in the middle of a writing date. But I know other writers who cherish the solitary time writing provides; nothing could be less appealing to them than having another person in the room while they work.

One poet I know likes to pair writing with exercise; she gets her energy going and then moves to her desk. I teach a workshop, “Meditate/Create,” in which we start with some warm-up stretches, move into meditation, and then turn our attention to writing. Meditation can be a good way to gather focus before a writing session.

Some writers like to start with a warm-up exercise. That might be a few minutes of “fevered writing” (spontaneous writing, writing without intention), it might be the “morning pages” recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artists Way. It might be finding a prompt in a book or a news headline and starting with those words. It might be recopying a passage of your own work to get yourself back into the flow of that project. One novelist tells me she never ends a writing session by concluding a segment or chapter; she always likes to start the next one to give her a little boost for the next day.

When you write for a while, you begin to discover what most stimulates your creativity. It’s part of your job to figure that out, and then see how you can give yourself the most ideal circumstances possible in which to do your work.

Text by Terry Wolverton
Photo by Yvonne M. Estrada

Thinking about joining a writing workshop? Writers At Work offers weekly, ongoing opportunities for writers of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction, as well as creative counseling and manuscript review. Learn more at http://writersatwork.com/education.html. In 2017, we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary of inspiring, encouraging and empowering writers.

 

Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Belinda Vidaurri

Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Belinda Vidaurri

My experience with Writers At Work began with Terry Wolverton in 2003.  It was not through a class but I had gone to Terry for help with a novel I was struggling with for several years before I met with her.

At our first session, after she had read it, she gave me the best piece of advice I could have received at the time, “This is going to take you a long time to complete as a novel.”

I didn’t believe her.  I should have.  I would have been kinder to myself if I had, not be in such a hurry to get it done. It is a complex story with complicated characters amidst a backdrop of 2 different countries and 2 different time periods.

But she also added at the end of our conversation, “You need to write this story.”

Since then I have been a participant in the workshop for writing the book-length work, which I returned to after having dropped out of writing and the class for a while. Today in 2017, I am still working on my novel but with feedback from Terry’s incredible insight and experience with what writers need to get their stories out in the world, along with critiques from a fantastic group of bright, intelligent writers I have met through W@W and with whom I am proud to be associated and some even friends, I am much, much closer to seeing my novel become a published reality.

http://writersatwork.com

Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Eric Poole

Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Eric Poole

Writers at Work changed my life. And my pants.

I’ve always been a writer, but I’ve spent my work life in advertising and marketing, doing promos for TV series. A few years ago, longing to write something longer than 60 seconds, I began penning essays about my childhood, and a friend suggested I get into his writing group, Writers at Work.

There, I discovered a community, and a mentor; and they were so encouraging, it made me pee. With the help of Terry and the other writers, those essays became a memoir, Where’s My Wand? which was published by Penguin Random House. My second memoir, Excuse Me While I Slip into Someone More Comfortable will be published in May, 2018, and a third book, Rake That Shag! in spring, 2019.

Without Terry’s inspiration and guidance, and the support of those wonderful writers (a number of whom I’m still friends with, even though I’ve moved away from LA), this may never have happened. Sure, I wouldn’t have ruined some perfectly good pants, but I also wouldn’t have realized my dreams.

SplashEric@gmail.com

wheres my wand hi res

Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Bronwyn Mauldin

Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Bronwyn Mauldin

For me, the Future of Publishing Think Tank was an action tank. Writers at Work convened a smart group of local publishers, booksellers, writers and literary advocates, and together we sought to find a way forward for literature in the internet age. It was 2007 and the industry was being turned upside down by blogs and online shopping. Twitter and Facebook were still in their infancy, and the first smart phone hadn’t even been released. Encouraged by the Think Tank to experiment, I developed a series of workshops about social media and podcasting that I taught at Writers at Work. Later I modified them and took them on the road for other audiences. I was also inspired to create GuerrillaReads, the online video literary magazine that is still going strong, having featured more than a hundred writers in its nine-year history. Tuesday nights in One Page At a Time is where I honed my craft. The Future of Publishing Think Tank is where I carved a larger place for myself in the vibrant world of literary Los Angeles.

 

bronwynmauldin.com

http://writersatwork.com

Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Pat Viera

Writers At Work 20th Anniversary — Pat Viera

About 20 years ago I dropped into a Terry Wolverton Writer’s at Work session just to check out the vibe. My background was journalism but I desperately wanted to be a serious writer. I stayed and struggled and discovered that I wasn’t very good. One day Terry suggested I try poetry. “I hate poetry,” I said. I became a founding member of the Women’s Poetry Project and haven’t looked back. I am poet because of Terry Wolverton.

http://writersatwork.com