Raising your game
Yesterday (as I write this), I spent an entire glorious day in the presence of other very talented writers, writing and reading. I’ve been able to do that twice this year and they were my two best days, in terms of writing.
In yesterday’s session, we had a total of thirteen people, including Jamie Morris, our guide and Julie Compton, our gracious and generous host. From top to bottom, it’s the most talented group of writers I’ve had the privilege of spending the day with, honing our craft.
The way the session worked, Jamie would give us a prompt, and we’d spend half an hour or so writing to the prompt, then we could either come back and share what we wrote, or continue writing. At some point during the day, everyone read.
One of the people hadn’t done this kind of writing to a prompt before and apologized for what she was about to read–for no good reason. It was outstanding. Overall, everyone’s work was at least solid, and at times awe-inspiring. At times, I felt a little inadequate in such talented company, but in spite of my misgivings about two of the four pieces I wrote, I more than held my own.
I came away with the following observations:
- It is always good to be around writers who are as good as or better than you. You get better that way. You learn things from their writing and from the way they do certain things.
- It is always good to be around writers who are as good as or better than you and hearing them read what they wrote. Good is too weak a word. Inspiring might be a better word. Some of the things I heard read were so good they inspired me. Some were so polished, they made me dig a little deeper to make sure I held up my end of the bargain.
- Sometimes pieces you think aren’t your best really are. My first prompt response seemed flat to me, and a little forced at places. The dialogue between the lead characters, which had seemed so electric to me in earlier work, seemed flat and almost forced. Jokes I thought were mediocre and forced drew howls of laughter. And people told me they loved the interplay.
- Even if you do lay an egg, it’s all good. Writing courageously means taking the chance that you might write crap if you do something new, or take a fresh approach. No one yesterday laid an egg, but the ground rules were that you could lay and egg and that was fantastic. One woman wrote a sex scene that made her flush, but she read it anyway, and it was very good. You have to take the chance and share what you write in taking that chance. After all, writing solely for oneself is hogging one’s talent.
- You should always appreciate days like that. Work’s been a challenge recently and writing’s been a scarce luxury. Yesterday was a mountaintop experience. And I’ll have more of them, even if I have to arrange them myself.
Writing is a solitary endeavor, but it’s something you need support for, too. It’s the communal solitary activity. And if you get the right people together, magic will happen.