Ripped from the Headlines, or Gently Massaged from the Podcast by Ethan Chatagnier

Law and Order and its franchises have made a multi-decade run ripping stories from the headlines. It’s a good practice for a police-and-courtroom procedural–perhaps even a necessary practice for one lasting so long.

Writers are sometimes wary of that kind of headline ripping, and other times not interested. It doesn’t feel as creative. It doesn’t feel original. And newspaper headlines are not always the most intriguing or inspiring fare.

But newspapers are only one possible source of information, and many–magazines, documentaries, podcasts–have the express goal of finding and delivering the most interesting stories possible.

As for creativity and originality, there’s no requirement that a you write a story the same way you heard it, and that’s rarely the goal. Shift an idea. Transform it. Move it to a new state.

What you want is to strike sparks from your imagination, and to do that well, you need to strike your imagination against the world. This is what we will be looking at in my ONLINE Workshop: Finding Your Material in the Real World. You can learn more about this 5-week class, in which we will generate ideas for stories, by clicking on the button below. I hope you’ll join us!

Developing Ideas for Fiction by Ethan Chatagnier

I don’t get any special credit for recognizing that Jurassic Park is a great premise. Two hundred million copies sold. Box office records. Everyone knows it’s a great premise.

It’s one of those books/movies that’s so finely tuned it’s hard to imagine it any other way. Imagine it as the tale of a grad student cloning a pterodactyl in a lab–no theme park–and the majesty and drama disappears. That’s where Crichton began his first draft of this story in 1983. It would be 1990, and several completely drafts later, before the book was published.

The idea of cloning dinosaurs from DNA is a good idea on its own. But it needs more development before it can take flight. What would make it more compelling?

Here are some of the ways Crichton developed it into the Jurassic Park we know and love:

  1. It’s set in a theme park, a place of wonder and discovery, and with the pretense of control.

  2. It’s set during a “soft open,” limiting the cast of characters to a handful of experts we can care about, rather than a horde of dinosaur bait.

  3. The island setting and tropical storm cut off the characters from potential help.

  4. The corporate espionage of an important employee throws all the park’s control systems into chaos.

There’s more of course, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern not the least of it, but with those four elements you have a seed idea transformed into a magic idea, one with thrills and drama built in.

The right development of an idea can make all the difference in the world, and that is what we will be looking at in my ONLINE Workshop: Finding Your Material in the Real World. You can learn more about this 5-week class, in which we will generate ideas for stories, by clicking on the button below. I hope you’ll join us!

Ideas that Work: Resonant Ideas by Ethan Chatagnier

What if blindness was contagious? What if everyone rode unicycles instead of bicycles? What if snow glowed in the dark? What if humans became unable to conceive children?

Most great ideas start with a “what if?”--but not all what-ifs are equal. Two of the ideas above are resonant, evocative. Two are not. Unicycle-world is quirky. There’s some magic to a world where snow glows. But neither is likely to strum a sympathetic chord within us. Neither is it tied to larger concerns and themes.

That’s what resonance is: the prolonging of a sound, the stretching of it. The way one frequency is tied to another.

Contagious blindness, the premise behind Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago’s Blindness, is connected to disaster and illness, to the idea of contagion, and the various metaphorical meanings of blindness.

The end of human conception resonates as well. Connected ideas: survival, fragility, sterility. Bonding and lack of bonding. Hope, or the end of it. Life and self-preservation. (This idea formed the basis for the book The Children of Men and its film adaptation).

Resonant ideas are a writer’s lifeblood. Always be on the lookout for them.

Five years ago, I listened to an interview with a pianist about playing music designed to be nearly impossible to play. I immediately thought “What if someone wrote music designed to actually be impossible to play?” Impossibility. Challenge. Composing. Performing. The difficulties and impossibilities of living any life.

It would be three years before I found the right form for that story, but it was on my mind the whole time. The idea hummed against other ideas.

When an idea does that, it means there is a story to be written, and that is what we will be looking at in my ONLINE Workshop: Finding Your Material in the Real World. You can learn more about this 5-week class, in which we will generate ideas for stories, by clicking on the button below. I hope you’ll join us!

Overcoming Writer's Block by Janée J. Baugher

Do you have difficulty getting started writing?  Perhaps you suffer from writer’s block.  But, as with most maladies, there is a cure. 

First off, figure out what’s got you blocked.  You’re bereft of ideas?  You’re feeling fearful?  You’re experiencing perfectionism paralysis?  Next, figure out what things you can do to combat your blockage.  For example, have you tried the Surrealist’s automatism techniques?  Have you tried focusing on process (rather than product) and simply writing as if no one is reading? 

Have you tried writing with exceedingly low expectations?  Author Julia Cameron of the book, The Artist’s Way says, “It’s not the writer’s job to think the thing up but to put it down.”  In other words, if you’re welcoming your thoughts into your writing process (i.e. the act of turning a blank sheet of paper into a page of words), you’re suffocating your writing before it can take its first breath.  You might be asking, “how can I write without my thoughts?”  Writing without conscious intent is the work of creative writers.  Going to the page without a notion of where our words will take us is how literary arts “write in the spirit of discovery.”  Read Peter Elbow’s essay “Freewriting” as an instructional guide about how to simply delight in the word journey.

As with anything that one aims to master, this process takes great practice.  However, if your writer’s block is truly just a matter of not having ample time.  Read my article in Fiction Southeast on how to capture just enough time each day to make the words count.

Now, get to it!  Write on!

Getting Letters of Recommendation for Your MFA

It can feel like you're jumping through a bunch of hoops just to get your MFA application complete. One of the things I worried over the most: letters of recommendation. For starters, I had been out of college for seven years and I wasn't a liberal arts major to begin with. I didn't know who to ask or how to ask them for what I thought was a BIG favor.

So, I made it as easy on them as possible by almost writing the letter for them. I figured my letter writers were busy and that I wasn't the only one asking them for a letter of recommendation. But, I didn't have a problem getting my letters. Why?

In each case I moved the due date up by at least a month. Instead of saying I needed the letter by December 15th I said I couldn't have it later than November 15th. This created some wiggle room if we needed it. Without fail, all the letters came in on time.

Even if your letter writers know exactly who you are, you should make it easy for them to write specifically about you and your work. This is doubly so if you are asking someone to write a letter who only has a faint recollection of you and/or your work. So I wrote a muscular paragraph in my Ask Letter on the following things:

  • I wrote a paragraph on why I wanted to get an MFA and why I was ready now.

  • I wrote a paragraph describing my work.

  • I wrote a paragraph stating my literary influences.

  • I wrote a paragraph telling them exactly what I wanted to accomplish in an MFA program.

  • I wrote a paragraph telling them the most interesting things about my background so they could know me better.

Now that I am asked to write letters of recommendation, I ask students who reach out to me to address the bullet points above. I'll often adapt what they write and add my own perceptions from the time I spent with them and their work. If you include this information in your Ask Letter you'll eliminate a step for your letter writer and make it easier on them to get you the letter you need for all of the schools on your list.

And, in the end, you shouldn't worry too much about the letter of recommendation. Yes, you need them. So make sure you get them. But the people you ask to write letters for you have been in your shoes before. They know you're nervous about asking for the letter and they expect to write some every fall. I know I do. And I don't mind, as long as I get the request with enough advanced warning.

As long as you don't ask for the letter a week before the real due date and you give your letter writers enough info to work from, you should be good to go. So finalize the list of places you're going to apply to and ask your letter writers sooner rather than later.

Oh, and don't forget to ask for their mailing address so you can send a hand written thank you note.

If you have any questions feel free to contact us. And if you'd like some help getting your application in order this year we'd love to work with you. Just let us know. Our instructors have MFAs from Iowa, Michener, UC-Irvine, Michigan, and beyond. We'd love to help.

How to Start a Career in Journalism with Cyrus Farivar

How to Start a Career in Journalism

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - 6:30PM

Cyrus Farivar has been a professional journalist for nearly 15 years—early on in his career, as a freelancer, he wrote the very first story for the New York Times about podcasting. He's reported both for radio and print, both in the US and abroad, as a freelancer and a staffer, and has published two non-fiction books. In more recent years, he's used public records laws to gain access to 4.6M license plate reader records from the Oakland Police Department, among others. In this seminar he'll teach you how to get started as a journalist, and in particular, how to use state and federal records laws to your advantage to tell compelling journalistic stories. We'll go through a series of examples as to how to go about crafting such records requests, and what to do if they're denied.

Instructor Cyrus [suh-ROOS] Farivar is a Senior Tech Policy Reporter at Ars Technica, and is also an author and radio producer. His second book, Habeas Data, about the legal cases over the last 50 years that have had an outsized impact on surveillance and privacy law in America, is out now from Melville House. His first book, The Internet of Elsewhere—about the history and effects of the Internet on different countries around the world, including Senegal, Iran, Estonia and South Korea—was published in April 2011. He previously was the Sci-Tech Editor, and host of "Spectrum" at Deutsche Welle English, Germany's international broadcaster. He has also reported for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, Public Radio International, The Economist, Wired, The New York Times and many others. He’s also survived three VfDs on Wikipedia. However, on a 4th VfD attempt in February 2007, he was, in fact, deleted. He was added back briefly in 2015, then deleted again. His PGP key and other secure channels are available here. He is based in Oakland, California.

Fee: $60 or $45 for former/current students | Live Stream Available!

  • Cyrus Farivar Presenter
  • Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - 6:30PM - 8:30PM
  • Seminar meets at The Drawing Board at 75 & Campbell: 1900 Jay Ell Dr / Richardson, TX / 75081
  • Live Stream is available for students who live outside of Dallas. Just let us know when you register.

Click the button below to register for the seminar. Contact us HERE if you have any questions about this seminar.

Tips For Your MFA Application

First, let us encourage you. Applying to MFA programs isn't fun, though it often feels like the right next step. We know. We've been in your shoes. An MFA gives you time to develop and an audience of attentive first-readers for a period of time. And that is valuable and wonderful and the very reason you should apply.

But people can't tell you what they're looking for before they read it, so spend the most time with your sample and send in work you're proud of. It will show.

It sounds obvious, but your writing sample is the key.

You need references and a statement of purpose and all the other stuff, but only the sample matters.

So, rely on your voice and style in the writing. The only thing we have as writers is our point of view and our voice, and that is what makes us unique. Don't prune the elements of your writing that make it distinctly yours. Don't write toward a workshop aesthetic or what you think people want to read. Take risks. Prize the sentence and the story. And be you. The best MFA programs are looking for a spark in your work that will make them excited to add you to a chorus of distinct writers who will most benefit from time and attention.

As you're getting your work into shape, let people who understand what you're trying to do encourage you. Support is invaluable. Hopefully you have a few first readers who can help you strengthen your sample before you send in your application. If you don't already have a community, find and take a workshop in your town. You can also find a bunch of online classes where you can be part of a cohort and receive valuable feedback.

Below are a few quick links we think you might like:

IWW graduate Carmen Maria Machado's story "The Husband Stitch" in Granta. Treat yourself to a great piece of fiction.

Where Great Writers are Made and a List from The Atlantic.

Advice on the Statement of Purpose

MFA Programs Database

5 Uncommon Tips on Your MFA Creative Writing Application

This lecture by Kurt Vonnegut on the shapes of stories demonstrates that everything has already been done except through your particular point of view. So work on being more you in your work.

Okay, we'll be cheering you on! If you'd like a second set of eyes on your MFA Application feel free to contact us here or click on the button below. We'd be happy to help.

Finding Your Material in the Real World

We tend to think of cooking as how you work a stove. Don’t let the chicken dry out. Don’t burn the garlic. Don’t overwork the pie dough.

What happens in the pan matters, of course, but it’s not the only thing that matters. You don’t have to watch many cooking shows before you hear a chef opine about the importance of working with quality ingredients. This refrain is as uniform in the culinary world as any piece of writing advice is in our literary world. And not for nothing: what could be more important to a dish than what it’s made out of?

To my mind, we often have a similar blindspot in the writing community. We focus on how to write this sentence, where to end the story, how to manage the pace. Only rarely do we speak of the other half of the process. As much art fails at the level of conception as it does at the level of execution. Stories are sometimes boring or overwrought because of the writing, but just as often the problem stems from an insufficient or poorly developed premise.

My upcoming ONLINE class, “Finding Your Material in the Real World,” is meant to remedy the lack of instruction devoted to finding and developing ideas. Improving the way you find and develop ideas can do as much to drive your writing forward as learning about drafting and revision. It can also be a lot of fun.

I hope to see some of you there. Click on the button below to learn more and register!

Memoir or Fiction: Exploring Voice and Vision in Different Genres by Eden Elieff

Let’s say you have a story that only you can tell—you’ve witnessed or experienced events and circumstances no one else has. Or maybe, you have a perspective and passion that give you a singular understanding of those events.

And yet, these unique stories that shape our lives are often the most challenging to write about. Their enormity and multifaceted nature can overwhelm us. It’s like trying to find entry into a castle that has no visible doors. 

I speak from experience.

When my family moved to Chicago’s northern suburbs from the city’s south side in 1970, we lived across the street from a family whose primary vehicle was a hearse. They always parked it in their driveway, in plain sight, never in the garage.

This was weird. And unusual. To say the least.

And at the age of fourteen, the least was all I could say. I was too young to make sense of it. Yet as I saw the hearse every day, familiarity diminished its shock value. The vehicle, along with Lake Michigan, the buzzcut lawns and old-growth elms, blended into my daily scenery.

Three years later, during which time my mother evicted my father and initiated divorce proceedings, an anti-Semitic neighbor vandalized our home on the Jewish New Year, our car was stolen, I was beset with social anxiety—for starters—I went off to college and forgot about the hearse. Good riddance. To everything.

For years, it never even occurred to me to write about our move. Its transformative impact was too immense, too bright to look at. Yet one day, some fifteen years later, the image of the hearse came to me, seemingly out of the blue.

With the distance years bring, I could instantly see that the metaphor gods had just served me up a big fat one, and damn if I was going to let it go by without taking a swing at it—speaking of metaphors. This sudden insight told me: the hearse was my vehicle now, my way into this foundational story that had always been just a swirling succession of traumatic events, one without form or clear meaning. Yet once I grasped that the hearse was actually the key feature of the scenery, that it had symbolic resonance as both an omen and expression of our family’s demise, I could connect and interpret the various events of my experience and thus tell a coherent story. The essay I could finally write, “White Flight,” became my first published piece.

So, let’s say you discover an iconic image that’s always been woven into the fabric of your life, hiding in plain sight, and you feel a sudden urgency to write the story it embodies. And yet…you stop. You’re not sure which genre or form might best manifest its power.

My class Exploring Voice and Vision in Different Genres will consider both fiction and memoir as potential platforms from which to tell your story. Which genre might offer the perspectives, techniques and formal possibilities to best realize your intentions? We’ll read both essays and stories and look at the recent phenomenon of autofiction, a hybrid genre which blends both autobiography and fiction. We’ll consider the boundaries and qualities that define each domain and develop a sense of how and when the line separating them might be blurred—and when such blurring undermines the integrity of each.

Ultimately, we’ll aim to discover where you might find your most authentic, expansive, and persuasive voice on the page. Philip Roth described his work as a fiction writer as that of “undermining experience, embellishing experience, rearranging and enlarging experience into a species of mythology.” Maybe your story will bloom with such imaginative freedom, or maybe memoir, as a direct account of your experience, will “unlock meanings that fictionalizing has obscured...and can drive home some sharp emotional nails,” as Roth said about his transition to his autobiography, The Facts.

You’ll have two opportunities to present your work during the eight weeks of the class. Come join us. Just click on the button below to learn more!

Promptapalooza: a Free, Fun Night of Writing Prompts with WWD

Promptapalooza:

a Free, Fun Night of Writing Prompts with WWD 

Sunday, August 26, 2018 - 6:30PM TO 8:30PM

Join us for an evening of linguistic invention. Choose from a huge array of creating writing prompts supplied by facilitator Joe Milazzo and start writing. The prompts span multiple genres — poetry, fiction and nonfiction (essay) — and cover topics such as sound, figurative language, theme, character, setting, collaborative writing and even interdisciplinary approaches (ekphrasis, hybrid texts, etc.). Participants will have an opportunity to share their original work and receive feedback on it during this session.

Instructor Joe Milazzo is a writer, editor, educator, and designer. He is the author of the novel Crepuscule W/ Nellie (Jaded Ibis Press) and The Habiliments (Apostrophe Books), a volume of poetry. His writings have appeared in Black ClockBlack Warrior ReviewBOMBThe CollagistDrunken Boat and elsewhere. He has taught creative writing at Southern Methodist University, The University of Texas at Dallas, and The Writer's Garret. He co-edits the online interdisciplinary arts journal [out of nothing], is a Contributing Editor at Entropy, curates the Other People’s Poetry reading series, and is also the proprietor of Imipolex Press..

Fee: FREE - LIVE STREAM ALSO AVAILABLE

  • Joe Milazzo, Presenter
  • Sunday, August 26, 2018 - 6:30PM to 8:30PM
  • Seminar meets at The Foundry Club at Mockingbird Station: 5307 E. Mockingbird Ln / Dallas, TX / 75206
  • Live Stream is available for students who live outside of Dallas. Just let us know when you register.

Click the button below to register for this FREE seminar. Contact us HERE if you have any questions about this seminar.

You got to THE END | Now What?

How many people do you know who have written a novel or a handful of stories? Do you count only yourself?

Writing is a singular endeavor, and it is doubly so when no one understands your compulsion.

So why do we write?

When you are in the middle of writing your first draft, it’s like standing in a stream. You can’t see the current, but you can feel it. This is the story flowing out of you and you should follow it. This is good work. You have found the sweet spot, the wormhole, into your story. I believe that all the novels you want to write are already written. They already exist inside you in a preverbal, rhythmic, motor place in your body. The trick is to find a way of tapping into them. Getting to this place can be elusive. Sometimes it happens early on in the writing process, sometimes very late; but once you find it, your story will flow out of you in a natural, organic way.

The above italicized paragraph comes from Richard Skinner's great article from earlier this week called Know Thyself...By Writing Your First Novel.

Read the article. I think you'll find it inspiring.

If you're nearing the end of a project or have just completed a novel or several short stories, knowing what to do next in the absence of a critique group or formal workshop can be confusing. Do you put your novel or story in the drawer for six months and return to it later? Do you revise it immediately, and if so, how do you know where the soft spots are, where the opportunities for improvement can be found? Are you going to query agents or upload your manuscript to a self-publishing platform? Or send your short story to a batch of literary journals?

What is your next step?

If you'd like to talk about what to do next, contact us HERE and we can set up a time to talk on about where you are in your process.

Maybe you're looking for a developmental edit on your novel, or an editorial letter for a few short stories. Maybe you'd like a coaching relationship as you chart a course toward your ultimate goal.

At the very least, take a moment to read Richard Skinner's article and allow yourself to be okay with the uncertainty. That is where all writers live. You're in good company.

Happy writing!

My best,

Blake Kimzey

Executive Director, Writing Workshops Dallas

Upcoming Classes: Fiction | Nonfiction | Poetry | Screenwriting | Seminars

Editing Services: Novel | Short Story | MFA Application Prep | Grant Writing | Individual Coaching

What’s Your Ideal Writing Conference?

Writing Workshops Dallas is teaming up with Bookfox to create a writing conference, and we’d love your opinion on what it should look like!

Take the 1-minute survey HERE and your answers will help us decide what topics and speakers to include. After all, we want to design this writing conference to meet your needs as a writer.

Plus, as a bonus for completing the survey, you’ll get a free copy of Bookfox’s “Writing Diagnostic” to help you accelerate your writing career.