Writing Workshop

I went to the monthly Northbay Writers Workshop yesterday and enjoyed it as always.  I missed the last two meetings, so I was glad I made this one.

One interesting thing I learned:  apparently, some time in the recent past, whoever it is that makes such decisions decided that it is no longer correct to put two spaces at the end of a sentenceWhat?  First of all, how can one change a habit of a lifetime?  And secondly, I hate the way it looks to have sentences crowded together like that.  Why on earth did “they” do this?

And something that I commented on was that it makes a big difference in one’s own writing when one reads really well-written books.   And I decided I would look for some examples from some of the wonderful authors I have read recently.

Two good examples, from books I’ve read recently are these:

First, from “The Shipping News,” by E. Annie Proulx, here is the very beginning of that book.  I find it astonishing how she writes in such a “spare” kind of way, yet her every choice of word gives you such a brilliantly clear vision of what is happening.  As is quoted on the back of the book in a review by USA Today, “…and now and then, a sentence that simply takes your breath away.”  I couldn’t have said it better:

   ”  Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.

     Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence.  Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing.  He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.

     His jobs:  distributor of vending machine candy, all-night clerk in a convenience store, a third-rate newspaperman.  At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he had never been nor thought to go. ” (From Page 1 of “The Shipping News,” by E. Annie Proulx.)

Next, from “The Stone Diaries,” by Carol Shields, I’ve quoted here a paragraph chosen at random from the middle of the book.  This is also a very beautifully written book:

    ” The debris of her married life rains down around her, the anniversaries, pregnancies, vacations, meals, illnesses, and recoveries, crowding out the dramatic – some would say incestuous – origin of her relationship with her partner in marriage, the male god of her childhood.  It seems to her that these years have calcified into a firm resolution:  that she will never again be surprised.  It has become, almost, an ambition.  Isn’t this what love’s amending script has promised her?  Isn’t this what created and now sustains her love for Barker, the protection from rude surprise?  The ramp of her husband’s elongated thighs, her own buttocks – like soft fruit spreading out beneath her on the firm mattress – don’t they lend a certain credence?  House plants, after all, thrive in a vacuum of geography and climate – why shouldn’t she?” (From Page 141 of “The Stone Diaries,” by Carol Shields.)

There are many other beautifully written books that I have read, but this is all that comes to mind at present.  And this is meant to remind me that in order to learn to write well, it is important to read well-written books – which is generally also a supreme pleasure!

And a curious thing – when I was nervously awaiting the time when I needed to leave for the meeting, I suddenly found myself writing down a beginning to my “Bugwump” story – one possible beginning anyway; not sure if it will be a “keeper” or not.  But as many times as I get this stuff in my head, this is the first time I actually made myself sit down and write it down.  So, one small improvement!

I am looking forward to future meetings; so far they’ve been inspiring and educational and I find them very worthwhile.  And if they help me learn to be a good writer, then that is all that I could wish!


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