Reading Like a Writer | Writing Like a Reader… Starts Apr 6

This 7-session series of workshops begins on Saturday, April 6 and meets biweekly in Burlington.

Riki Moss leads a new Saturday morning biweekly series, Reading like a Writer | Writing like a Reader …a circular game route following contemporary, published writers including: Sigrid Nunez, Ann Beattie, Denis Johnson, Margaret Atwood, Mike McCormack, Colum McCann, Tower Wells, Joy Williams, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, and more.

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Riki Moss Burlington Writers Workshop book selection

The other day I overheard a writer friend say, “I don’t read.”

Now, I understand there are times when writers abstain from reading, especially when beginning a new work and feeling particularly frail, lest unwanted voices seep into their thin-skinned pages. Refraining feels like cold turkey-ing an addiction and the hope is that you’ll fail so you can get right back into reading as quickly as your new novel will let you.

Because as a writer, you love to read. Because it was reading that brought you to writing in the first place and gave you the audacity to imagine yourself a place in the vast, colorful, exuberant, noisy alternate reality that is literature. It is the 100,000 years of language accumulating between humans that drew your attention, maybe starting in the womb (check out Ian McEwan‘s novel Nutshell narrated by a fetus watching his mother and uncle channel Hamlet.)

Once you ask for admittance, you realize it has to be earned. Not only do you have to write, you have develop as a sensual, feeling, thinking human in relation to the family that spawned you in the petri dish that is our culture, and that one of your tools is literature. More specifically, it is fiction, considering the unreliable nature of our memories  (please take a moment to check out a definition of postmodernism).

Artists are in a curious relationship to our culture…

We often feel like outsiders, we’re attracted to  subversive roles like journalism, installation artists, activists[1], documentary film makers and novelists. We document through our imagination. We’re the ones in the corner cafe table (check out Patti Smith’s M Train) raging against the experiences of others as they drift through our airspace. We’re the kids whose mothers find hidden under blankets reading Nancy Drew by flashlight, who later wait until everyone in the house is asleep before breakfast, who judge their friends by whether or not they’ve read Ulysses .

Language is the marks we make on a page or canvas, the steps in a ballet, the frames in a film, even that ridiculous video of a Jack Russell Terrier falling backwards into a drainage ditch. It took millennia for cave paintings to evolve into an alphabet, for storytelling to dress itself in the formats we now access: books, cinema, visual arts, music.  It’s going to take all your life to find your own magical form, and you’ll need all the help you can get. So, why not read?

History is the accumulation of perceptions over time and it’s mostly fiction, because no one ever knows what really happens, because everything is filtered through the lens of human perception. Fiction is how we learn about a world that never gets it right (check out Shostakovitch writing his 7th sympathy in The Siege of Leningrad). If you want to build a relationship with your child, your job, your city, your planet, or when you’re curious about why you love your cat and would never, ever have a dog and why this might trigger some lurid fantasy in your new lover (take a look at Bulgakov’s cat in The Master and Margarita), then fiction is the way to go.

Then there’s those splendid sentences that swell into incendiary paragraphs that make us want to weep, to walk through doors, make love, grab our grieving Great Dane and dance (Check out Sigrid Nunez’s Booker prize listed The Friend).

That’s the gist of why, in my humble opinion, writers need to read (check out Francine Prose’ Reading like a Writer, whose opinion is much less humble than mine,) Also, let’s face it, because other writers have twitches and pranks that we haven’t thought of, that we’d like to borrow. (let us kneel before Denis Johnson’s ability to make us weep over the humanity of a deranged, murderous, drug addled, psychopathic rapist.)

So, I thought, how about a craft workshop to talk about this stuff…

How about a series? We need to read all kinds of writing to teach us about structure, plot, narrative, voice, points of view, etc, etc. I confess that I’m selfish. These workshops will be as exciting for me, as I struggle through yet another draft of my slippery second novel, as I hope they will be for you.

Starting April 6, on alternate Saturdays, at 10:30 am, we’ll begin a new series called Reading like a writer and Writing like a Reader….a kind of circle game through contemporary, published writers like Sigrid Nunez, Ann Beattie, Denis Johnson, Margaret Atwood, McCormack, Colum McCann, Tower Wells, Joy Williams, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, etc. etc.  ) Not Ulysses, I promise you, not even Moby Dick, although, I tell you, the writing has made writers levitate for decades.

Melville's Moby Dick quote

Focusing on a particular theme, like writing bad characters, and good sex, driving the narrative, structure, beginnings, first drafts, revisions – we’ll analyze these stories and write from prompts meant to stimulate the individual work we’re involved in right now,

All writers interested in fiction are welcome…

And, although the question of “what exactly is fiction” will always come up, we’re not discussing personal narratives or memoir here, unless fictionalized; there are other dynamic BWW workshops for those.

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[1]The world is never going to be, in human time, more intact than it is at this moment. Therefore it falls to those of us alive now to watch and record its flora, its fauna, its rains, its snow, its ice, its peoples. To document the buzzing, glorious, cruel, mysterious planet we were born onto, before in our carelessness we leave it far less sweet.

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