Thursday, August 6, 2015

Free Fall and Writers Seminars

I thought today I'd do two things: a free fall piece, and Part Two of Attending Writer's Seminars.
It's timely, as this month has the weekend of When Words Collide.

Free fall prompt-Voices

Sometimes, when the November wind blows me down the concrete streets under the lamps and neon signs of downtown, and sensible people are staying out of the wind, I am grateful for the voices in my head. Edward says lowly, “That building there is Rocco revival, influenced by the Chicago school.”
I grunt, whisper, “School of architecture?” But of course Edward is silent. My voices never dialogue with me.
My hands are cold, under a full-slate sky. A stupid Macdonald’s bag skitters by. “Catch it!” Ricky says, excited. “Get it!” And I stomp on it, retrieve it, and carry in on to a garbage can. “Good man!” Ricky says, and I feel pleased.

The voices are smarter than I am. What do I know of Rocco building? And more moral than I am—it would be so easy to become detached and careless of the city.

Part Two of Attending Writers Seminars

I Check Myself Before I Speak
At a writer’s seminar the group may all be trying to solve a problem together, such as Why don’t people like poetry? Or, How could we use old Greek myths in our modern writing? When I am about to speak up to contribute to the group I can check myself by asking, “How will this contribution help the group?” If I don’t know, then I have choices: I could take a second to rationally think it through, or I could do a gut check, determining if I feel a hunch this contribution is meaningful. Or do both. If I feel blank, if I still don’t know, then probably I should stay silent.

I am a writer because I have an ego, and I bring this ego to a seminar. The good news is that helping the group also helps my ego. The bad news is that if I am not aware then I might merely indulge my ego without helping the group at all. Before I speak, therefore, I check myself by asking, “Will this contribution mostly help the group, or only help my ego?” Sometimes I decide to stay silent… there will be lots of other chances to speak.

Don’t Hijack the Seminar
If a writer’s gathering is in a hotel, running all day, with several seminars to choose from, without any breaks scheduled, then it is common to take a break for yourself by missing a seminar and heading to the bar. I remember being in a bar at a table with two young ladies, one of whom was engaged to be married. We were into a fascinating topic and I wanted to learn more. Just then the fiancĂ© showed up, came over to our table, and started speaking immediately, on a topic of his choosing, before he even sat down. In other words, he hijacked the conversation. That day we never got back to the fascinating topic, and the fiancĂ© was never aware of the topic he was missing out on. I lost some respect for him.

Here is the lesson: In a hotel writer’s gathering, with seminars running back to back, it is common to arrive at a seminar late. Don’t speak immediately; don’t hijack the seminar. It is best not to contribute to the group until after you have an awareness of what the current discussion topic is.

Count Heads
A good trick for a writer’s seminar, especially a smaller one, is to count heads.

I was once a member of a Toastmasters Club that met in a room next to a bar. One poor young lady, call her Shawna, confided in me: She felt distress because, in a social setting, her talking was “fluffy” and she felt she was talking too much. I couldn’t offer Shawna any immediate advice on being “fluffy,” but as for talking too much I had an easy solution.

I said, “When I go the bar (after our meeting) and we sit at a table I count heads. If I count seven of us then I talk only one seventh of the time.”

The next time I met Shawna she had a really huge smile, saying, “I took your advice and I counted heads and it really worked!” I was touched.

On Being Concise
As writers we learn to cut stuff out. Horror writer Stephen King, in his book on writing, advised people to cut out ten per cent of what they write. He said it as an equation: “Second draft equals first draft minus ten per cent.”

Interestingly, the word “concise” comes from the Latin concisus meaning to “cut up, cut down.” The word is formed from con, meaning “completely,” and caedere, meaning “to cut.”

When making contributions at a writer’s seminar, when you “think before you speak,” think of how you could speak concisely.

Sean Crawford
~As regards Free fall, seminars and essays, there's no word yet on what people prefer, so for next week I think I will post a few old Free falls, to allow more time for my manuscript. (Due before the first frost) 

~Recently I've linked to sf writer John Scalzi (the 'confederates are losers' guy) so I thought I would link again. Today I advised on verbal comments, meanwhile Scalzi, a well-known blogger,  has advised on how to do written comments. Here is the link to his lengthy nuanced piece.


  1. If you were a lawyer and had to present a case for your client, the worst thing you could do would be to face a jury and spout out random beliefs and opinions. More help with essays here

  2. Well Sam, if I click on your "videos, photographs, posts," or even your "about," I get nothing. Are you sure you're not a ghost?

  3. I used to be a hijacker. I now start every day asking myself if what I say will be a blessing or a curse to others? This question keeps me quiet 90% of the time.

  4. Cindy, I'm happy that my prose resonated in at least one person. Sometimes I believe in what I write, and I feel foolish wondering if anyone else will see any point in it.