Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Art of Taking Lessons

For those who don’t read Glimmer Train on even a semi-regular basis, you might consider at least subscribing to their online newsletter.

Oh, I know they have monthly contests that you swear you’d never win, and there’s a fee to enter. It’s so tempting, too. Yet, in their newsletter is a wealth of reading and writing encouragement, exercise, and plenty of practical lessons in the form of the essays by prize-winning writers.

Take the newsletter that arrived in my inbox today. One essay talked about overlaying history with fiction while another spoke to using one’s deeply  personal memories to capture the essence of a piece of fiction. The third told of one writer’s journey to learning how to use words precisely within their definitions but also by stretching those same definitions to cover more territory.

Each essay was short and sweet and left behind a special flavor on the tongue, forcing the reader to think about her own ways of choosing words and making each letter within them work overtime, or about how the funeral home smelled and sounded when a loved one lay in eternal sleep at the front of the room.

In a very real sense all things involve history. We decide how to present it to the world. Whether we think about it or not, all of history has colored how we think, what we feel is important, and how we choose to express our fiction.

It makes no difference whether we write for children or adults, young or old. Our own lives, as we know, get wrapped around our arms for the entire world to see the second we write a piece of fiction.

Here’s an example for you that some may not have thought of in many years. Most of us watch television on a regular basis. We have our favorite programs, whether fiction or documentary. Here are some memories of old--and not so old--programs which were fiction surrounding reality that got in your face and left you panting for another dose.

Quincy blasted into our homes for years with his crusade against ignorance and injustice. He allowed us to vent our own sense of intolerance toward those practices and issues that were reported in headlines across the country.

Marcus Welby, MD brought us knowledge of medical conditions that could endanger our lives. House took over for him a while back. The bedside manners are vastly different, but the information is no less real. And here’s something else about this comparison.  Dr. Welby represented the comfortable family physician who loves his patients as family--the one we knew as children. Dr. House represents the impersonal, and many times arrogant, specimen we call “Specialist” today.
There are lessons in the simplest of places. We get to choose which ones to pay attention to and which to disregard. If we're looking for education, it's out there waiting for us. How much time we wish to spend on it is also our choice.
And if you find yourself with extra time on your hands, you could consider subscribing to John Rember’s MFA in a Box website newsletter. This long-time professor of creative writing gives the same information here as in his book by the same name.

It’s astounding the kinds of info you can get for free on the information highway should you stop long enough to read the signs. Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve run out of time. And I so wanted to tell you about the great FREE writing courses you can take from universities around the country. And they’re online, too. I'm going for a few of the ones fron MIT. I guess I’ll just have to clue you all in on that next time around.

Have a safe and fantastic holiday weekend, all. See the sparklies on the Fourth and thank a serviceman when you see hin/her.

Until later,


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