Sunday, October 27, 2013


As much as we’d rather not admit to it, fear tends to channel much of what we do or do not do.  As a theatre director who works with students I’ve learned that the fear of looking silly or stupid is the primary reason they won’t shine for me with their acting.  As a parent of three, I realized early on that fear of getting hurt or failing or being made fun of prevented my children from doing something they might otherwise have tried.  And as a writing facilitator, I know that fear has hindered many a writer.
Writers have fears that stampede into one another:  They can’t write well enough; if they can write well, no one will publish their work; if they are published, their pieces won’t be read; if their work is read, no one will like it; if it is liked and well-received, then they won’t be able to produce a second “winner”; and it goes on and on.  Ultimately, writing is very vulnerable work, so the fear of rejection, in whatever form it may come, commands a writer’s attention.
While understandable, fear must be cast aside in order to be a writer.  As with my acting students, your best writing won’t reveal itself in the face of fear.  As with my children, your best writing might not even happen if you allow fear to rule.  To conquer a writer’s fears, the fears must be challenged head-on.
Can I even write?  Try it and see.  What if I don’t write well?  Take a writing class, join a writing group, read good books and learn.  Will anyone like what I write? Send it to a friend and ask, join a critique group, connect with a literary agent.  What if my piece is rejected? Send it to someone else, find another group, remind yourself that many prize winning books were rejected numerous times.  What if no one publishes it?  Start a blog, self-publish, enter a contest where publication is the prize.
In the end fear is only an excuse.  If you have something to say and want to write and want to write well, don’t let anything hold you back.  Today is the day that you choose to write.

Paula Castner

Monday, October 21, 2013

Uncork That Bottle

I want to write – but I don’t know if I really can. How do I figure this out?

We’ve all been there, wondering if we have enough inside our heads and hearts to share, and whether we could write out our thoughts reasonably well.

While it’s true that some writers are born with a gift, many, many other people must work at it through study, practice and sharing. Even the rare “natural writers” seek to learn, and teach, the craft. Just as visual artists, musicians and performers—at every level of talent—have the capacity to fulfill their dreams, writers can learn self-expression through step and misstep. So can you. If there is anything I’ve learned through the Seven Bridge writing groups at Thayer Memorial Library it is this: everyone has a voice. And, like any new instrument, it needs to be exercised to achieve the best sound. Without work, the best natural gift is wasted.
Human beings have always sought to express themselves artistically. From cave drawings and ancient myths to today’s multi-dimensional works of art, people strive to communicate what lies inside to the world outside them. If you want to try writing, here are some practical steps to get started:

1.    Sign up for a writing group at the library. They are available for beginners to advanced writers. And, they are free.

2.    Read Pat Schneider’s “Writing Alone and With Others,” the text our writing groups follow. Highly recommended as well are Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and “The Right to Write.” Cameron offers gentle encouragement and effective steps to get your thoughts aligned in an artistic way.

3.    Attend any writing sessions that appeal to you. Seven Bridge and Thayer Memorial Library offer regular workshops on craft, as well as appearances by authors and coaches. Or, explore Grub Street, the writing collaborative headquartered in Boston (, offering multiple opportunities to learn and practice the craft of writing. Attending such events also introduces you to others like yourself—and there is safety, and encouragement, in numbers.

4.    Look for writing courses at the junior college level. As an example, Mount Wachusett Community College, in Gardner and Leominster, offers courses in fiction, writing and publishing skills. They range from free—if you are a senior citizen taking a for-credit course—to a less than $100, and cover areas like the short story, fiction writing, computer use, self-publishing and, should your career need a boost, cocktail mixing.

5.    Read online. There is simply an endless resource in the internet. Searching for “how to write” alone will bring up dozens of free advice tools and sources of inspiration. As a tool, the online world offered by the internet is astounding.

6.    Learn grammar. Bad grammar won’t stop you from writing, but it will stop others from reading. Take a course, read a grammar book, or do what I do (still, with several decades of experience): keep a roster of grammar books on hand.

7.    Check out or buy some of the books for writers. Here are a few favorites:
“Sleeping Dogs Don’t Lay,” Richard Lederer and Richard Dowis;
“Woe is I,” Patricia O’Conner;
“The Constant Art of Being a Writer,” N.M. Kelby;
“The Making of a Story,” Alice LaPlante;
“The Power to Write,” Caroline Joy Adams;
“Bird by Bird,” Anne Lamott;
“On Writing,” Stephen King;
“The Writer’s Way,” Sara Maitland;
“Write Away,” Elizabeth George;
“Putting Your Passion Into Print,” Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.
(More craft books are listed under The Writers' Bookshelf above.)

8.    Finally: Don’t quit on yourself—keep trying no matter what to uncork that bottle of life inside you. 

     Ann Frantz

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Harvest of Events

Fall is a fertile time for literary events around the commonwealth. The Boston Book Festival begins today and runs through the weekend, a series of free (mostly) events celebrating all things books. Over 150 presenters will be holding readings, lectures, and panel discussions in the Copley Square area, including this years keynote speaker, Salmon Rushdie.  There is something for everyone including kids and teen events, like Meet The Medalists (that's THE Medal, the Newbury), with Kate Dicamillo, Rebecca Stead, Jack Gantos, and Lois Lowry on Friday night. For short story loves, check out The One City One story citywide read and disussion of "Karma" by Rishi Reddi.  Poetry, memoir, historical fiction, humor, politics, if you can write about it, the BBF has it covered. Click on the link above for more information.

Also the Concord Festival of Authors begins tomorrow and runs through November 2nd, with a series of 26 events.  Readings, panel discussions, and lectures will  held at various vensues in Concord, MA., with over 40 authors, including Drew Gilpin Faust, Sue Halpern, Jamie Quatro, and Jerrry Pinkney. A full schudule and listing of presenters can be found at the above link.

A Sense of Place

Saturday, October 19, 2013
10:30 - 12:30

Please Join us for A Craft Workshop

Creating A Sense of Place

          Period, locale, time of day, weather, these elements are all central to locating a reader in your story. But creating a sense of place is about more than setting. It is about developing mood and atmosphere. Without atmosphere, as Jane Burroway observed, “…your characters will be unable to breathe.” Atmosphere, like meaning, is a construct between writer and reader, essentially a sensory and emotional reaction to the furnishings of the fictional (or non-fictional) world.
          What role do the senses play in creating atmosphere? What is tone in fiction, and how does it contribute to sense of place? What is the role of language in locating the reader in the world of the story?
          With readings, discussion, and hands-on exercises, this two-hour workshop will explore the ways in which the writer constructs vivid, complex, evocative story worlds, worlds that expand beyond the page, in the hearts and minds of the reader.

          Your own work is the best teacher. If possible, bring an excerpt that focuses on your story’s time and place. 

Facilitator:  Hollis Shore

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Peripheral Vision

“Focus. Focus,” I heard a young mother counsel her daughter at the grocery store.  The girl was six or seven and snapping her head one way and another, giving attention to surrounding shoppers and the things they were shopping for:  spotted apples, tall bottles of oil with silvery spouts, bright blue cans of fava and kidney beans, sunflowers, avocados that really did look like alligator pears.

The store was fragrant and musty: ripening bananas, tiny squares of pizza still warm from a toaster-oven, the late-summer heat pushing through the doorway, coffee being processed through a grinding machine as tall as most adults.  And other sounds: wheezing old men, the intermittent blast of an air conditioner, babies calling, laughter, the beeps of the check-out process.

I don’t know what the child was supposed to focus on—perhaps a shopping list, maybe her untied shoelace or where she she saw her brother last.  But she was having trouble.  Had she been on the edge of tripping and crashing into shelves of canned beans, that’s one thing; but if she was thinking about becoming a writer, she was right on track.

“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that,” says Annie Dillard.  This is necessary for any of us who don’t want to drive into telephone poles or trip on our shoelaces.  But it hampers our ability to notice those details that make our writing vibrant and textured, those details that are in our peripheral vision, or hearing, or touch:  Did you notice that summer breeze?  The prickle of cheap carpet feet in your cousin’s den?

Psycho-neurologist tell us that if we gave even passing, nano-second attention to every bit of sensory data that surrounds and bombards us, our brains would short-circuit, and we would lose our minds, go mad.  Choosing what we hear, taste, and see keeps us mentally integrated, as well as safe.  But too much focus can steal the rich details a writer needs to tell her story.

Right now, you are missing the vast majority of what is happening around you. You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you.,” writes  Alexandra Horowitz in  On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.  We must become “investigators of the ordinary.”  If we don’t, we will depend on others to tell us what’s there—a condition neither safe nor satisfying.  And, for a writer, a recipe for boredom—for both the writer and the reader.

Stop focusing, give attention to peripherals: Smell the coffee in the corner, listen for the grind, reach across the bin and hold the leathery ripe avocado. Pay attention to what doesn’t matter.  Writers must let in as much in as we can—without going mad. Or tripping on our shoelaces.

Winona Wendth