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The Writers Studio @ 30-Five Pieces of Writing Advice From Philip Schultz

We all write for the same reason: to reveal what lies hidden in ourselves, to uncover truths that we would otherwise be too self-conscious to unearth.
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From Lit Hub, May 3, 2017

Five Pieces of Writing Advice From Philip Schultz

Beware The Shitbird
By Emily Temple

In 1987, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Schultz founded the Writers Studio, which grew from a casual workshop in a West Village living room to an established school with four locations, online programs, a reading series, and a nonprofit branch that gives students free access to writing workshops. Last Saturday, May 6th, the Writers Studio celebrated its 30th anniversary and the release of the anthology The Writers Studio at 30 (Epiphany Editions)—which contains work by current and former faculty and students, as well as Writers Studio Advisory Board members including Jennifer Egan, Robert Pinsky, and Edward Hirsch—at an event at the Strand’s Rare Book Room.

Schultz himself is a longtime teacher—in addition to the Writers Studio, he also founded and directed NYU’s graduate program in creative writing—and so, in advance of this weekend’s celebration, we asked him to share some of his valuable insights on writing with us.

From Philip Schultz:

1. Aim high

Tell yourself your life depends on what you might write that day. That a great truth lies beneath the surface, just within reach, waiting for you to find the courage to discover it. Hemingway got himself to write each morning by reminding himself that he’d always written before and would now; all he had to do was “write one true sentence,” the truest sentence that he knew. The truth, after all, is what readers most want to hear; a truth that only you can tell, that is personal, peculiar to you. Because it’s theirs, too.

2. Escape the Shitbird

At the Writers Studio, the school I started some thirty years ago, we have a name for the negative force that makes writing so hard: the Shitbird. It’s a black bird that perches on our shoulders, whispering perverse, ugly things designed to stop us from finding the truth. Its purpose is to cleanse us of all our desires and dreams, to censure how we really feel. It tells us we’re not smart or gifted enough to say anything of value. It feeds our fears and undermines our confidence, tells us we can’t possibly stay cooped up in a room alone, that under no circumstance can we render ourselves vulnerable to others by revealing who we really are through our writing.

The Shitbird’s main weapon is invisibility. It can’t sell us its negative theology if we recognize who’s speaking. When we hear ourselves being negative, fearful and doubtful of our abilities, we can be sure it’s there, behind the curtain, saying things like I don’t know what this story is about, or Even if I knew, I probably wouldn’t be able to write something like this. Once we teach ourselves to recognize the voice of the Shitbird, we can ask ourselves out loud what we’re so afraid of in this material, what exactly feels so shameful. Surprisingly, more often than not, we know. And knowing will allow us to think about good things like form, structure and music, which will then allow us to move forward and write. The Shitbird works undercover, in a fog; the last thing it wants us to do is see it in a bright conscious light.

3. Try writing from someone else’s perspective

The method we teach at the Writers Studio is persona writing: using another writer’s narrator or personality to tell our stories. It’s a technique that allows us to look at our stories through the prism of an invented speaker who doesn’t suffer from our fears and inhibitions, who’s, say, more ironic, or funnier, or crazier than we are, and to whom we can therefore give permission to say what we can’t ourselves. A thirty-year-old J.D. Salinger used a seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield to dig up old buried feelings we all identified with; a fifty-year-old Mark Twain pretended to be young Huck Finn to recreate the lost world of his youth. Men write from the point of view of women, women from the point of view of men, all for the same reason: to reveal what lies hidden in themselves, to uncover truths that they would otherwise be too self-conscious to unearth.

4. Don’t be afraid to switch genres

I wanted to write fiction but discovered the brevity and depth of poetry allowed me to develop further as a writer. The poetic persona suits me better than the fictional one. At our school poets discover they’re really fiction writers and vice versa all the time. The right technique gives us permission to be wrong, and bad, and unfair, things we perhaps always longed to be; it allows us to be ourselves, irrevocably.

5. Become both ventriloquist and dummy

It helps to distance yourself from your characters’ anxieties so you can look at them more objectively. A good way of doing this is to imagine your story being played out on a stage, with your narrator, first person or third, directing all the characters. You can do this with a poem by turning it into a scene in which your narrator describes his or her feelings about what’s taking place. I once wrote a poem about fathers standing in the cold waiting to get a popular electronic game for their sons. In speaking about others, the narrator was free to reveal his own fears and vulnerabilities about fatherhood in a way I hadn’t been able to previously.

The ventriloquist isn’t responsible for what the dummy says; he isn’t really speaking, after all. By pretending to be a ventriloquist, we underscore the difference between ourselves and our characters. We might even be horrified by what they do and say.

As for the dummy: imagine your story being told by a favorite writer. Imagine how he or she might go about describing your most intimate fears and desires. Find the pleasure in the telling, the imagining. Objectify yourself to the point of casual indifference. Surprise yourself by what you hear yourself saying. Is this really the story you intended? It seems so strange suddenly, so unfamiliar. Try to amaze yourself with your own imagination.

$30 Discount To Celebrate 30 Years

Early Bird Discount for early registration.

Take $30 off any Summer Workshop.

Discount must be taken at time of registration, Online or by phone 1 (212) 255-7075. Offer may not be combined with any other discount.
Valid while supplies last. Expires 6/2/17.

Summer Schedule

Online Level I starts
June 5 Details and registration here
July 1 Details and registration here
July 25 Details and registration here

Online Advanced Poetry starts
June 1 Details and registration here

NYC Level I starts
June 21 Details and registration here
July 10 Details and registration here

NYC Advanced Poetry starts
June 5. Details and registration here

Hudson Valley Workshop starts
June 20. Details and registration here

Tucson Workshop starts
June 29 Details and registration here
July 1 Details and registration here

San Franciso Workshop starts
June 14 Details and registration here
June 17 Details and registration here

Take $30 off any Summer Workshop.
Discount must be taken at time of registration, Online or by phone 1 (212) 255-7075. Offer may not be combined with any other discount.
Valid while supplies last. Expires 6/2/17.
Questions? Comments? Reply. Or give us a call: 212-255-7075. Or write to info@writerstudio.com. Or check out our FAQ page here.
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Christopher Fielden- Short Story Tips and Writing Advice and Short Story Competitions for 2013

Christopher Fielden- Short Story Tips and Writing Advice and Short Story Competitions for 2013 
If you click on the link below you should get a list of short story competitions for 2013 with details of entry fees, deadlines, etc.


Sent from Ireland by Mattie Lennon

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The Society of Southwestern Authors’ February Forum-Donis Case THE ONE THING I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME

      Donis Casey February 15 Forum THE ONE THING I WISH SSOMEONE HAD TOLD ME

      If you had one piece of advice to share with an aspiring author, what would it be?  Be sure to get a competent editor?  Always us Times New Roman font?  Never eat grahm crackers over a laptop’s keyboard?

      Donis Casy will share pithy and humorous advice at our February 15th Forum.  Donis gratudated from the University of Tulsa with a degree in English, and earned a Master’s degree in Library science from Oklahoma University.  After teaching for a short while, she enjoyed a career as an academic librarian for many years at the University of Oklahoma and Arizona State University before becoming an entrepreneur who has evolved into a well-respected author.  Here popular mysteries are THE OLD BUSSARD HAD IT COMING, HONSWOGGLED, and THE DROP EDGE OF YONDER.  Her newest novel, THE SKY TOOK HIM, was released on January 17.

      The February 15th Forum will be held as always at the Four Points Sheraton Conference Center, 1900 East Speedway at Campbell Tucson, beginning at 11:30 AM  Reservations can be made by calling 546-9382 or email forums@ssa-az.org.

      Taken from THE WRITE WORD The Newsletter of the Society of Southwestern Authors  Vol. 37, No. 1 Feb-March 2009

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Randy-ideas for writers come from many sources and are fleeting, fragile, and tenuous

      Ideas for plays and stories come to me from all directions.   For everything that has happened to my family and me has potential.   For everyone in my family (and friends of mine) there is the risk that they could end up in a story or a play of mine.   There is a recurring ritual here: I take bits and pieces from various sources to fashion a new character or scenario.   This merging always seems to come during the writing.   It either fits together or it doesn’t.   It can’t be forced, but often the most original and striking material comes from combining divergent sources.

      An element of luck plays a part here.   For me it is better not to plan too much or think ahead too far (this fits my personality).   I’m after a surprise.   And if I’m interrupted or stopped in the middle of this process often I can’t get back to it (unless some of it is on paper and I go in a different direction) for ideas easily evaporate.

      Ideas seem to be fleeting, fragile, and tenuous, always within reach, but can get away so easily. (So please, don’t criticize something before it’s solidified.)   Or do I need to fear this?   (I remember that I once, after losing a whole short story due to a computer mistake, I was able to recreate every word of it.)

      Having faith that the right elements will emerge in this process is essential.   Being receptive to discovery is equally important.   I try to let the story tell itself.   But a major problem for me (even from just personal stuff) is that I have too much material to choose from.   The scope of my experience is almost unlimited: from my experiences in the Peace Corps to my many years as a Child Protective Services Investigator, including the pain and the joy, the dark side and the bright, to my personal experience with the molester and the molested, my working with law enforcement, my working in and out of detention centers and mental hospitals, and so forth.   Okay, I have to admit that, as a writer, I often don’t know where to start.   Lack of focus, for me, has been a big bugaboo.

Good night, Randy Ford

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Great Writing Advice – Blow Your Own Trumpet

The following is an excerpt from writetodone.com which is a great resource for writers.  This is a tale of a writer whose failure to publish set her dreams and success back 70 years.  Don’t find yourself in this situation:

You must learn to blow your own trumpet!

Lorna Page’s life story tell us why: Lorna wrote passionately for more than 70 years without sharing her writing with others. Then, in her late eighties, she decided to write a raunchy novel called A Dangerous Weakness. But did she show it to anybody? No, she put it into a suitcase and forgot about it. Until her daughter-in-law happened to find the manuscript and made Lorna send it to a publisher.

What happened next was any writer’s dream: A publisher immediately signed her up. The advance rolled in, and Lorna suddenly went from poverty to affluence at age 93. She bought a 5-room mansion in southwest England. Then she started hauling her friends out of retirement homes, and installed them comfortably in her house.

Now Lorna is writing a selection of short stories. Watch her talking on this clip

Now read the rest of the post

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Randy – Writing Traps

Life has many "traps"

Life has many "traps"

For a very long time I bought into the “I’ll-try-harder” formula for succeeding. This led me…as an actor…to fail. I’m not an actor, so failing in this sphere of endeavor doesn’t matter much. (I’m a good acting coach and director, you figure?) I failed because I came across as having ingrained in me a Victorian concept of acting while nothing could be further from the truth. I think I know how to make anyone on stage appear professional. The concepts are easy, and it all comes back to not trying too hard.

I’ve read books about writing (Stunks’: THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE comes to mind. And have you ever tried reading FOWLER’S from cover to cover? That may be as silly as trying to read Webster.) and I have taken writing courses. My imagination has been fed, and I have been challenged in many ways. I think I’ve had everything I’ve needed. My mentors gave it to me. But, it was from my acting experience that I learned that you’re sometimes better off if you don’t give a damn.

Well-written works often tire me. I can usually tell when a writer has searched for the perfect word. That tells me they’ve worked too hard.

One of the hardest things for an actor to learn is how to do nothing on stage. And writing is the same. To get an idea of this I suggest you start by reading Hemingway or Thurber (not to copy their styles: you can’t and get away with it). I couldn’t spell very well, which often forced me to simplify my writing (Cat is certainly easier to spell than feline, and in most cases, a better word to use.) And when, not knowing any better, I wrote simply, and when I didn’t try so hard I was generally happier with the results. And I’m more critical of my work than anyone else because I care the most about it. And that also is a trap.

They’re everywhere. Traps.


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