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WE WANTED TO BE WRITERS – “How Do You Spell That?”

September 18, 2011

We Wanted to be Writers—Iowa Writers’ Workshop by Eric Olsen and Glenn Schaeffer

Skyhorse Publishing, 2011

344 pages, $16.95

This is the kind of book I would notice in a bookstore (great title!), but not pick up to browse or buy. Big mistake! Just like most of us hate Harvard because we could never get in there, a fare share of wannabe writers, like me, have that kind of prejudice against the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But the format here is so real when you read this book you feel, not like an outsider, but a participant in a discussion about the things you love, the challenges you face. And for writers, who are a solitary bunch, that is a welcome treat. You join a creative community that leaves you to do your own work in what Eudora Welty called an absolute state of Do Not Disturb.

Participants talk about what possessed them to write in the first place, how their parents felt about that, what their lives were like when they were accepted into the workshop, directions they took afterwards, agents, publishing and rejection. You also find out what books they have beside their beds.

And there’s some good advice for those of us still skeptical that writing can be learned:

  1.  You need to have a willingness to explore life through experiences (scenes).
  2. Build a dramatic arc. This is not expository writing. Play up opposites.
  3. Realize the resolution won’t be the one you envisioned when you began (You will turn the page to find out what happens, just like your readers).

I might have cut the book’s length by about a third, though it is the rambling of these responses that gets us thinking of what our answers would be. Here are my two favorite quotes. Though I have been living them for the last forty years, I have never heard anyone express them before:

Writers who can convince us of the real through the artifice of the story are similar to entrepreneurs: Both start every day with the barest essentials, hoping to change us or our experience of the world… They are chronic drafters; for every one idea they keep, they discard ten or twenty or fifty. They’ll think their next will be the best they ever had…

One of the most rewarding things about teaching writing is that at a certain point, you hand over the process to the students… I’ve never been a fan of “guru” teachers, who always hold the secret keys to what’s good and bad, who everyone is desperate to please. I like turning the class into the teacher.

You may find your own life-changing statements. For $16.95 that’s a bargain you can’t pass by. More than learning something you will find yourself in good company and part of the best discussion about writing you’ve ever had.

Order this directly from Amazon for $10.68.  Click the title here: We Wanted to Be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop

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