“I’ve always felt that my ‘style’—the careful projection onto paper of who I think I am—was my only marketable asset, the only possession that might set me apart from other writers.” ---William Zinsser

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Sound on the Page


Ben Yagoda’s The Sound on the Page translated his study of writers and writing to the page as inspiration. He examined what writers say about the process of writing and how the words sound on the page, saying “Just as reading is like listening, the act of writing is, or should be, linked to speaking.” On ever-elusive style, he concludes, “Like a face, a style is partly meaningless as a gauge of character, but partly very meaningful indeed. And although it may seem that one’s style is more malleable than one’s face—in writing, all you have to do is delete a word or replace it with another, as opposed to the fuss and bother of plastic surgery—it is in fact unexpectedly hard to alter.” Undeniably, we write in a style that's uniquely our own even as it's difficult to pin down. He proposes that style is made up of competence, iconoclasm, extroversion, feeling, single-mindedness, tension, and solicitousness. Then, he discusses style in the various forms of writing from persuasive writing to poetry. In the end, he gives up and says style cannot be taught but steps can be taken to develop it. He suggests that writers engage in active reading, imitation, copying, reverse imitation, active reading of own work, read aloud, rewrite, and listen to criticism. After acknowledging that “This work, the cleaning of brush to create a walkable path, is never-ending for a writer” Yagoda ends his book with: “Anyone who puts pen to paper can have a prose style. In almost every case, that style will be quiet, sometimes so quiet as to be detectable only by you, the writer. In the quiet, you can listen to your sound in various manifestations, then you can start to shape it and develop it. That project can last as long as you keep writing, and it never grows old.” That's encouraging.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Word Lover's Retreats

Being at a retreat is a leave-taking that can be disorienting. But because it is a leave-taking, it SHOULD be disorienting. It gets us out of our ruts. We become more vulnerable, yet more open to opportunities.

That openness to experience allows us to make connections with people. The bouquet of dahlias Mike brought into the Idlewyld conjured up memories of his wife Suzie looking at me intently to understand what I was saying at dinner during the Sharing Our Gifts, Artist’s Way retreat. I also recall a neighbor who plants dahlias every summer and digs them up each fall. Like constant gardeners, writers make prepare the soil by throwing life into the middle of things and making meaningful connections to their personal experiences.

That’s what good essay writing is: making connections and using anecdotal material, telling stories that will help the reader make the same connections. The word Ben Yagoda uses for it in The Sound on the Page is solicitousness. We look the reader in the eye and tell them about it. That was what we did at the Word Lover's Retreat in October 2008--we told our stories and we layered more stories on top of the stories we came with. My personal essay about reuniting with a college professor may prompt someone else to write a letter to someone and enrich some lives, not just the two people in relationship but the people that hear the story re-told, as I re-told mine.

Want to be vulnerable? Want to make connections? Come retreat with us in Lakeside on either the first weekend in May or the first weekend in November 2009.

Sharing Our Gifts - Looking forward to 2009

The Sharing Our Gifts Retreat at the Idlewyld in Lakeside (October 2008) was enchanting. That sounds like hyperbole, but it's not--we all came away feeling inspired and refreshed. We shared miracle stories and watched The Nancy Drew Movie on Friday night and by the time we met again in the Green Room of The Fountainview, we had some synergy going. 25 women strong, we enjoyed workshops on journaling, memoir, mandalas, book groups, liturgical dance, and emmeagrams. We all left with "kitchen wisdom" notebooks that we designed ourselves and filled with wise thoughts after having a parting tea with Joan the innkeeper. Next year can't really be better, but we'll try to best last year's event during the third weekend of October 2009.

A Winding Road - Writing

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My book, "Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries," an Arcadia production, explores the history of island and lakeshore wineries from the mid-1800s through today. I write travel, memoir, profiles, book reviews, local interest articles, and fiction. My writing is always of discovery--whether it's journaling, book reviewing, letter writing, or sharing an experience of life. I have written two novels and am working on a third novel and a memoir. I am passionate about sharing what life has to offer with others. "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron woke me up to a sense of possibility--life is too short not be enjoyed by living deeply and well. I created Igniting Possibilities, a conduit for creativity workshops and events, in the hope of guiding others to realize their full potential. The Word Lover's Retreats at Lakeside, Ohio's Chautauqua community, help writers find their voice and direction.