Live Write Words

Workshops for Emerging Writers

Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 3)

What’s this Golf Workshop?

What’s This Golf Workshop About?

A friend talked me into offering it, not to teach new swing thoughts or achieve lower scores, but to discuss what few golfers do–why they obsess over the sport. Our discussion book would be M.Scott Peck’s Golf and the Spirit. The idea sounded good to me, so I added it to the website listings and scheduled workshops for March and May.

No problem back then, but when March loomed, finding me not one bit closer to knowing why I obsess, I started to worry. Fortunately something happened in early February.

The lady I’d met in tango class told me she loved golf, and we agreed to an exploratory nine holes. They went fine–she has a natural swing, and I did ok–so we moved to eighteen… securing a 2:30 tee time that would probably pull us up short before dark. Oh well.

Before continuing, a word about my game. I’ve been playing for twenty years, ten seriously, but still feared the risky proposition of getting clobbered by a woman I still barely knew who’s been playing only five or six years, not ten or twenty. That could easily happen; such things do in golf. But hopefully not to someone who’s already scratched out on the tango thing.

Fortunately, something good happened. Despite the extremely slow foursome in front of us, people who should be confined to putt-putt golf, not real golf, we started relaxing and just having fun. No wicked swing thoughts or troublesome fears of pulls and shanks. After a while we just walked up and slammed the ball where it was supposed to go. Fairway woods, so-so; irons, pure magic. (She even hit her five iron 20 yards farther than usual, over a pond to the far side of the green.) Greens, unbelievable. Once, having gained confidence from somewhere, I showed off before my new partner by putting from fifteen feet off the fringe, not with a putter, but with a #5 rescue hybrid, a shot my son had taught me and I’d practiced the week before at the range. Things like this can also occasionally happen on the golf course.

On the front nine she got one of her best scores ever, and I couldn’t believe my 39. It got even better on the back nine. Not the scores, but the game. Our adversaries in front disappeared and the afternoon stayed warm and beautiful. Didn’t that magical Arizona sunset turn skies red, and didn’t it stay light enough to finish? We launched our drives on 17 and 18 right into the dark, but they magically showed up on the fairway when we drove up, and the light held out to the last putt. It was all too much.

About this time I discovered what had happened that later allowed me to answer why I loved golf so much. We’d been playing intimate golf.

Who’s ever heard of intimate golf? It’s not that we’d been thinking about our bodies, except to make reminders about staying square to the target or keeping head up, but just that we’d left behind all small talk, guarded talk, or worst of all, political talk, and were just in the now. Mainly we laughed and joked. Somehow managed to get free of the thousand mental, physical, emotional, and–according to Scott Peck–spiritual traps that golf springs on unsuspecting souls. We were playing intimate golf, that was the difference. Scott Peck calls it playing in the zone, playing intentionally yet relaxed, playing humbly. I guess I’d just say playing in joy. We smiled and laughed all afternoon and all the way home.

At first I’d decided to confine the workshop to men, but now realize that was silly. Everyone can profit by occasionally playing and discussing intentional golf…particularly when it’s intimate intentional golf.

memoir versus novel

During our January 2017 memoir workshops we discussed why memoirs have to tell the truth, and how this affects a writer’s organization, subject, and theme.  We spent a fair amount of time beating up Strout’s My Name is Lucy.  Unlike her earlier Olive Kitteridge, this one reads partly like a memoir, partly like a novel.   I thought she never did find her real subject, hence theme–or even genre.   The readers on Goodreads also had problems with ambiguity, clarity, and purpose, although many did identify with the mother-daughter relationship.  Well, I’m a man, so didn’t.

Anyway, we talked about the six or seven quite distinct types of memoir, all sharing the commonality of being strictly personal (in first person or, like Karr’s Cherry, in second person which is really first), and also being one fairly short slice of life, and most important, going somewhere, not just being self-indulgent or leaving self-pity unresolved (e.g,, Alice Sebold’s Lucky).  We particularly liked Wave, about the tsunami that took away all of Sonali Doraniyagala’s family and is so powerfully written–and concluded.   I tried to explain why Hillbilly Elegy is so popular now, even though it’s so poorly written I’m surprised anyone published it.

After the workshops a friend admitted she didn’t really like memoirs, and I can understand.  Unless they’re spectacularly written, as with Glass Castle, they don’t fully satisfy…but then how many novels do, either?

Why I Enjoy Memoir Writing

                                                                  October 6, 2016

I’m overjoyed to have just finished the last revision of Part I of my new work, Red in the Morning.  It merges two different kinds of prose, memoir and novel.  (At least for me, they’re different in the writing, ‘tho I have read memoirs that read like novels and vice-versa.)  When I’m going from notes or a journal I don’t have too much trouble with memoir writing: dialog, narration, description, and interior monologue come easily, and I don’t have to worry about plot/action because in memoir what happens is what happened–you just tell the truth.   The hard part is remembering.

I’ve always had a hard time with novel writing since I’m still not good at plotting.  Whenever I start inventing it all sounds like pulp fiction, which I dislike.  I actually have finished, and revised, two and a half novels..and am finally returning to one, “Outwatch.”    But I’m enjoying this new work since I’ve found a creative way to blend truth and fiction.

Well, here’s another confession about my writing habits.  What I’m about to say will be believed only by those with similar experiences.  It just sounds too weird to say that I enjoy grief writing.

I used to tell everyone that people write grief memoirs to help move through grief, get to the other side.  That’s true, but for me there’s another reason.  I still haven’t left grief-land; too often find myself wallowing in it. Maybe those of us who have loved too deeply never get over the loss.  Anyway, when the fit comes, I rush toward physical activities–golf, pickleball, walking the dog, biking, running in place.   Physical activity helps for the time, but only for the time.  You can’t do sports all day long, but you can write until you fall asleep. Doing that helps more than running in place.

So, I keep asking myself, how is it that writing about painful stuff can lift a person’s spirit?  I don’t know, but it works for me.  I actually rush toward the computer, half-smiling, ready to do battle.  Something lifts inside.  The dark starts to lighten.  I think I’ll subtitle the Memoir Workshop, “Writing from Dark to Light.”


The Power of Revising


Everyone I meet who lacks confidence about writing thinks the hard part is coming up with something to say.  I thought this for years, way too many years. Then, late in life, I learned good writing is revising something poorly said, not finding something worth saying.

This discovery started long before with one of those ridiculous Modern Language Arts conferences we all had to attend. One night I met this guy with wall-eyes that throw you off track because you don’t know whether he’s paying attention to you or someone else. Well, I think it was him; it might have been the other guy who was the Dali Lama’s guru here in America.  No matter. What Peter Elbow said must have impressed me, because I bought his book and decided to give it a try in one of my Freshman English classes (I was forever changing my strategies for the perfect classroom). Elbow, I think, was the first to stress free-writing. Just pound out words; pay no attention to what you’re writing, and DO NOT try to correct your words as they flow. Just let them flow, knowing you’ll one day discard most.  Just like the freewriting in this paragraph.

The advice was the best I ever received for my Freshman English classes. It was always hard convincing students I meant it, but it always worked. It circumvented the invisible and inevitable “red ink editor” we’re either born with or have drilled into us in high school.

The funny part is that Elbow’s book, as I recall, itself hadn’t undergone much serious revision. I objected to it because it just went on and on, like we do these days using e-mail. But I may be recalling imperfectly, and again, it doesn’t matter. This point has to do with memoir writing and poetry, not Freshman English or Peter Elbow.

For most of my serious work, I revise, and revise, and revise. I revised “Can’t Stop Falling” more than eight times, not counting the times I put my mind on sail to just check for factual accuracies, spelling, inconsistencies, and the like. Those revisions took more than two years.

Note: this particular post has been revised only once, very slightly; for a heavily revised item, see my post entitled “Your Presenter Speaks”. That started out so mediocre I almost hit delete, but four or five hours later was glad I didn’t.

I have a hard time not revising, because I enjoy it so much. I love to see an ordinary paragraph sparkle. Now, I’m worried about the workshops: will I be able to convince people that revising is what writing is all about? Obviously that remains to be seen.

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