Anyone who’s followed this blog during the past few years knows that I am always on a quest to learn, to improve my skills, and to explore ideas and places that both lift my spirit and make me think more deeply. This past weekend I honored that quest by attending a “Walking and Writing” Workshop with Oregon author, Matt Love in Astoria, Oregon.
Matt is a prolific and passionate writer, a high school teacher, partner to a special husky named Sonny, and founder/publisher of Nestucca Spit Press. The first book I read when I moved to Oregon was Citadel of the Spirit, an anthology Matt edited in honor of Oregon’s Sesquincentennial. The next book I read was Of Walking in Rain. I loved Matt’s writing style and attitude. He seemed unconventional and bold and irreverent. So, I was both excited and a little nervous about attending a writing workshop with him. What would he really be like, and what would I learn from him?
I’ve had a few days to mentally process all we did during the workshop, and I’ve come up with eight great take-aways.
Here’s what I learned:
- Matt is a master teacher. There were no lectures, no whiteboards, and no PowerPoint presentations (thank goodness!). He led our group of 12 participants through some remarkable readings and active assignments that got us thinking, writing and, yes, walking! By the end of the day we had completed seven writing prompts, explored the town of Astoria, and finished a writing piece which we shared out loud.
- Everyone has a story. Our group ranged from bright young high school students to old, retired teachers (that would be me), and each one of us was able to reach inside and pull out the pieces of a story. Every person there shared a piece of themselves, wrapped up in words and bound together by dreams of being a better writer.
- Walking is powerful. We were inspired by synonyms for walking, quotes about walking, essays on how to walk and metaphors about walking. But, by actually walking the streets and waterfront of Astoria, we unleashed our own minds and creativity.
- Open-ended assignments generate diversity. Matt gave us specific directions but left every prompt open-ended enough that each writer could interpret it in his/her own way. We created characters, dialogue, emotions, fiction, non-fiction and stream-of-consciousness. Every time someone shared his/her writing, each one of us learned something new.
- Reading your writing out loud makes it better. Before we shared our last finished piece, Matt asked each of us to practice reading it aloud. Sure enough, when you read out loud you can hear where it catches, where you stumble, where you need to fix that sentence. It works.
- Even old non-fiction writers can write fiction. I’ve written non-fiction all my adult life. It’s always been a part of my job. Even my blogs and writing for fun has been about real life stuff. But on this day, one of our assignments – the one where we could walk around town and follow someone – motivated me to make up a story that included talking dogs walking along the boardwalk. It was fun to write in a completely different voice and style. I might even try it again someday!
- Being with other aspiring writers sparks new ideas. I jotted notes down every time the other writers shared their work – notes about words they used, how they structured sentences and emotions they evoked. They made me think differently about writing and reminded me that I need to seek out the company of other writers to get better at my own writing.
- Matt Love is the real deal. I’d read four or five of Matt’s books. I’d started following him on Facebook. I’d come to sort of idolize him. I didn’t want him to turn out to be some egomaniac jerk who was full of himself and just used these workshops to peddle his wares. I was so glad to find out that Matt is a real, genuine, down-to-earth, humble guy. We spent eight hours with him, and the entire time he focused on us, our needs, our writing. He did each assignment with us, he shared his writing with us, he gave every person in the room a chance to write and share and shine. Not once did he try to promote himself or peddle his work. He’s a good guy. He cares…and those kids he teaches are lucky to know him!
I’m eager to practice writing in new ways, integrating some of the techniques and activities from the workshop into my daily writing routine. Who knows…maybe my next post here will be some wild and crazy fictional short story. Stay tuned!
Are you a writer? Have you met an author you like? What did you learn from him/her?