Saturday, July 25, 2009

whatcha writin'?

What will you write? Another guidebook? Update the current one? Fiction? Freelancing? So many questions are coming from my friends about what I will be writing now that I have my new job. But first, before I begin a project, I must become a student.

When I was younger, I was a musician. I still am, though I rarely play the French horn these days. To be a musician takes practice. Hours of repetitive practice. Scales, challenging pieces. Exercises to expand your range. Keeping the embouchure in shape. Writing is a lot like music. It must be practiced regularly for one to develop and progress. When I took up the mandolin a few years ago, I started all over with scales, toughening the fingers, learning to hear what note would come next when playing by ear.

I've been a non-fiction writer for most of my writing days, dabbling in poetry now and then, but not really imagining that I could write fiction. Now I want to expand into fiction and I know it will take practice. In a lucky opportunity, the one evening I could attend the free public readings when UAA's summer MFA low-residency program was in progress just over a week ago, I found my answer for how to begin. The featured readers for the evening were poet Linda McCarriston and fiction writer & essayist Josip Novakovich. After McCarriston's often moving, sometimes political poetry, Novakovich began his readings.

His ability to inject humor into a piece about a man working in a forced-labor camp in the former Yugoslavia was captivating. His voice lent authenticity to the story, making it feel like the sequence of events really could have happened in the way he described. After the reading, I approached the table where books by all the presenters were offered for sale. I took the plunge and picked up Novakovich's Fiction Writer's Workshop. In it, I've found exercises for helping me tap into my creative side without the worry that I won't finish a piece, that I won't be able to figure out how to end it.

I've just begun working through the book with his lists of exercises, some which challenge me to write about topics that are not always comfortable. Subjects where I don't have all the information, but permission to just make it up as I go along. Freeing my mind to run with ideas that I never would have approached before.

I hope to work through a few exercises every day, just like one would practice an instrument every day. The thing I've noticed since starting on this new endeavor is that I've already begun looking at my world a little differently. Looking for clues and cues that can be taken and fabricated into a story. I guess I've always done that to some extent, but I'm watching and listening a little more intently now, becoming a student for all my waking hours.

It also may be time for me to start picking up the mandolin each day, maybe begin with a half hour at a time to toughen the fingers. Practice is practice.

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