Last week I attended the Writers’ League of Texas Summer Retreat in Kerrville, Texas. I was in the Write Away section–didn’t take a class but spent all day writing–and I got a lot done. The week was pleasant. But I’d been to WLT retreats before, and this one just wasn’t what the others had been. Something was off.
It took me four days to figure out what was missing: Gale.
Austin Mystery Writer Gale Albright and I were retreat and workshop junkies, and we attended them together whenever we could. The highlight was the 2014 WLT retreat in Alpine. We took the class in That Damned Rough Draft, where novelist Karleen Koen told us she couldn’t teach us to write, but she could teach us to play. We spent the entire week engaged in activities designed to stimulate creativity–in other words, playing.
Gale didn’t really need to be taught to play. She was already an expert. Under her direction, we played all over the greater Alpine area–Marfa, Terlingua, Fort Davis, the MacDonald Observatory, Big Bend. We considered taking a side trip through Del Rio on the way home, but absence of a gasoline station in Marathon (I think we were looking in the wrong place) turned us around and sent us back the way we’d come. We enjoyed being crazy, but we weren’t stupid.
Gale died in 2016. Without her, retreats just aren’t the same.
This week, AMW repeats the post Gale wrote about that WLT Summer Retreat in Alpine in 2014 and some of the things we learned while Karleen taught us to play. ~ M.K. Waller
Rules for writing?
Outline? No outline? Seat of the pants?
Karleen Koen, instructor for That Damned Rough Draft at the Writers’ League of Texas summer writing retreat at Sul Ross University in Alpine, says there are no rules for writing. And she never said the phrase, “We don’t need no stinkin’ rules.” That’s my inner child cutting up.
She said she wouldn’t teach us to write, but would help us learn how to play. If you play, your inner child, your subconscious, will make itself known and your writing will be the richer for it.
And another thing. Writing a novel is hard–real hard.
We are adventurers, embarking on the quest of a lifetime, daring everything on a wild, reckless throw of the dice. Fame and fortune. Or maybe no one will pay attention at all.
According to Koen, a writer’s tools are her words. An artist has brushes and canvas, a sculptor his clay. We have only words to bring a whole new world to life, a world of our own creation. We must lure and seduce readers to enter our world with our use of words.
Not Rules but Suggestions:
Don’t talk your story away. Energy you need for the story goes out at the mouth.
Writers are looking for affirmation. We never get enough.
Grant yourself permission to write badly. The point is to be writing.
Poetry helps writers with their voice. Karleen Koen always reads poems before class begins.
Writing the rough draft is not a time to perfect your prose. Let your subconscious work with you. A rough draft is not linear. The novel is hard. You have to willing to commit to the marathon. Not the sprint.
Nobody can see our hard work if we’ve done our work right. It looks slick. Bumps come with writing novels.
Our suffering is invisible to everyone but us.
Magic and alchemy are part of a story. They take the reader to another world.
You need time and space to create.
Don’t compare. Everybody feels bad when you compete
I need to know what I don’t know. I want to get the story finished. Have I bitten off more than I can chew?
What makes a novel? Hook, plot, tension, character, dialogue, scenes, ending, middle, beginning–magic.
Painters have color
Sculptors have clay.
All writers have are words.
Karleen suggests these daily exercises to tempt forth your magic, muse, subconscious, inner child, whatever makes you tick.
Keep a writer’s diary and write about your writing self every day.
Write three longhand morning pages first thing when you wake up every day, no editing. Don’t think. Just write whatever comes into your head.
Don’t let your editor subdue your creator, even in revision.
Don’t share writing with just anyone. Writing is part of our inner child. Too much criticism shuts you down.
Your first reader is very important. All you want to ask the first reader are three questions about your manuscript:
- What did you like?
- What do you want to know more about?
- Where did I lose you?
This will help shape the novel and show where you are off pace.
Cool down between drafts.
Learn to play with words. Be creative and loose.
Find a niche that’s well calibrated to your interests and your talent.
You can only develop your voice by writing.
Enter your story and take us with you.
Know how your hero/heroine is going to be transformed by the end of the novel.
Sometimes revision can lead to beating a dead dog. You’ve been to the well too many times.
You adventurer, you.
By Gale Albright