Recommendation: Peter Roy Clark’s WRITING TOOLS

writingtoolsPeter Roy Clark’s book Writing Tools answers writing questions I never thought to ask. When should I list just one item versus two, three, or more? When is passive voice useful? What’s the most powerful placement in a sentence or paragraph for a given word?

Starting with the smallest details and expanding to ever broader ideas, Clark’s fifty writing tools struck me in the head like an unexpected apple from a very insightful tree. Opening with “Begin sentences with subjects and verbs” and wrapping up with “Own the tools of your craft,” Writing Tools offers unambiguous, concise, practical recommendations for all varieties of writing, starting each of of its fifty sections with an explanation of the point, then driving it home with illuminating examples.

Clark uses these tools as he explains them. For example, in summarizing “Tool 20: Choose the number of elements with the purpose in mind,” Clark says

  • Use one for power.
  • Use two for comparison, contrast.
  • Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness.
  • Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, and expand.

Along with pointing out ways to optimize writing, Clark trots out metaphors that show effective ways to accomplish key writing tasks, like keeping the reader happy (with gold coins left here and there in your piece) and explaining difficult concepts (by climbing up and down the Ladder of Abstraction).

Many of the good habits Clark describes can gradually develop without ever registering as specific techniques, as when an untrained but skilled singer uses vibrato and grace notes to add more feeling to a song. Certainly some of Clark’s points felt validating to me because I had already figured them out intuitively. Even then, though, Clark often sheds new light. Writing Tools adds, clarifies, and completes what we already understand about writing.

You may not agree with every one of Clark’s suggested techniques, and some of them may not be entirely applicable to your writing, but regardless of who you are or how long and well you’ve been writing, I’d be amazed if you didn’t come away from reading Writing Tools without at least a few insights that will be worth many times the price of the book.

Note: For a little more discussion of the “gold coins” tool, see my blog post.

Megan Mayhew Bergman Comes to Burlington!

Megan Mayhew Bergman

Megan Mayhew Bergman

Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise and the forthcoming novel Almost Famous Women, will read from her work and sign books at Hotel Vermont on Wednesday, May 28 at 7:30 p.m.

Her short stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Agni, Ecotone, Carolina Quarterly, and many other places. She’s posted a list of her publications here and you can sample some of her delightful stories. I’d recommend “The Pretty Grown-Together Children.”

This event is free and open to the public. Take a look at her stories and you’ll be totally convinced that this is a must-see reading. You’ll also have a chance to ask questions and get a book signed.

RSVP on Facebook.

RSVP on Meetup.

BWW Book Recommendations

It’s a workshop tradition:  we take turns introducing ourselves and answer one question. Last night’s question was: “What book would you recommend?” Here’s what the members in attendance last night recommended.

Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter by Peter Manseau
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen
Who Stepped on a Duck? By Jim Dawson
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
I Was Thinking of Beauty by Sydnea Lea
A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
A Million Years With You by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
The Client by John Grisham
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
Tirza by Arnon Grunberg
Alice Munro stories
Salinger by David Salerno
The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway

It’s a diverse list: short stories, thriller fiction, highbrow literary works, poetry, biographies, and one book about the history of farting (we were surprised to hear this recommendation, too). It speaks to the diversity of opinions in the average BWW workshop.

What books would you recommend?

Publishing Your Work: Debrief and Podcast

From Left to Right: Peter Biello, Jon Clinch, Dede Cummings, Jessica Swift Eldridge, and Jan Elizabeth Watson.

From Left to Right: Peter Biello, Jon Clinch, Dede Cummings, Jessica Swift Eldridge, and Jan Elizabeth Watson.

Last Saturday’s panel discussion on publishing was a huge success. Authors Jon Clinch and Jan Elizabeth Watson, agent and publisher Dede Cummings, and editor Jessica Swift Eldridge gave fantastic advice to writers.

“I’ve attended others like this through my MFA program and at the AWP conference, but the one on Saturday was by far the best,” said Annemarie Lavalette, who studies at Goddard.

“Excellent choice of panelists,” said Cardy Raper. “I found my head nodding at much of which they had to say.”

In the podcast, you’ll hear every word that caused such head-nodding. Each panelist shared the story of her/his journey to publication, or the stories of some clients. You’ll also hear some helpful nuggets of information on finding, keeping, and firing agents; what not to say when querying publishers; and why you absolutely must keep trying to get your work out there.

Here’s the podcast for your listening pleasure.

You may also want to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Just open iTunes and search for “Burlington Writers Workshop.”

We had more questions than we could answer in a reasonable amount of time. Fortunately the panelists agreed to respond to all your questions, so I’ll send them questions soon and post their responses when they’re all available.

Thanks to VPR for providing space for this and Hotel Vermont for providing some rooms for folks traveling from far away.

We’re also taking suggestions on what our next panel discussion should cover. What’s your idea? Send it to us here.

We Have A Font!

Janson FontThe people have spoken, and the choice is clear: you want Janson.

With 14 votes, Janson beat Linux Libertine (12 votes) and High Tower (8 votes). Janson has a nice literary look to it. It’s more elegant than Times New Roman yet just as readable.

Janson’s also tighter than Book Antiqua, the font we used last year. I went back to the Adobe InDesign document from the 2013 anthology and applied Janson to all the stories, essays, and poems. This small change alone yielded eight black pages.

This font, with the addition of 16 extra pages, will allow the editors to select more deserving pieces of literature you’ve created in 2013. It’ll also allow us to accept more long pieces, which are often hard to publish because they require so much real estate in literary journals.

More space does not mean it’ll be easier to place a story or poem in the next book. The growth of the Burlington Writers Workshop means more people are eligible to submit. I’ve already received several submissions, so competition will be fierce, and we won’t publish things just to fill space. We could, for example:

  • Include longer author biographies and possibly include photos (not my preference, but certainly possible).
  • Ask authors to write something about what inspired them (as authors in the Best American series do).
  • Save more space for a long introduction.
  • Bring the book back down to 128 pages.

I doubt we’ll have to scale back down from 144, since we’re also adding photography/artwork. We will have to turn away good pieces of art. I’m looking forward to seeing what you will submit and which pieces the editors will choose.

The deadline for submissions is December 1, 2013. Send your work to: submissions@burlingtonwritersworkshop.com

Seven Days: “The BWW Has Ballooned, and Published”

Lizzy Fox, performing her poetry on July 10, 2013.

Lizzy Fox, performing her poetry on July 10, 2013.

Seven Days has published a wonderful article about what The Burlington Writers Workshop has been doing. On the night of the interview, reporter Margot Harrison had originally planned to leave before 8 o’clock, but ended up staying beyond that time. If I had to guess why she decided to stay late, I’d say it’s because you’re all so awesome. Who wouldn’t want to stay late and chat with you?

To prepare for the buzz that this article will likely create, I’m launching some new meetings, which you can join for free at meetup.com. I want to make sure that if you want to attend a meeting, you can.

To that end, if you have suggestions on how I should go about scheduling meetings, please let me know: peter@burlingtonwritersworkshop.com. In fact, suggestions on ANYTHING are welcome! This is your workshop, so help me make it work better for you.

I’ve also got an idea for a three-part book-length workshop for folks who have finished manuscripts ready for review. This will probably be in October or November. More on that later.

And finally, one quick update on last night’s reading at the Essex Library. Success! I’ll post the audio and photos in the next few days. Stay tuned, and thank you for your continued dedication to reviewing each other’s work.

“Best of BWW 2013” Giveaway On Goodreads

I’m a big fan of Goodreads, the social networking website for readers. It allows me to create an ambitious reading list that I’ll never, ever finish, but at least that list exists, so that when I get spare cash, I can find that book I thought was so cool three months ago and buy it.

bww2013coversmall

Click on the book and enter to win!

The site has many features. Among those features is the giveaway. I’ve added three copies of The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2013 to the Goodreads giveaway page, and I hope you’ll enter the contest and add it to your “to-read” list. The deadline is later this month. It’s open to people all across the country, but I hope some lucky Vermonters win!  (Goodreads chooses the winners.)

And true to the whole BWW mission, I hope you’ll provide feedback on the book. I’ve been unable to pick my favorite story/essay/poem, but maybe you could list yours!

Digging Deeper Into The BWW

Photo06060834I sat down with Elsie Lynn at The Essex Reporter a few weeks ago to talk about the Burlington Writers Workshop. This conversation was longer than the one I had with Molly Smith at WCAX, and we had a chance to talk about workshop ethics, the fear of sharing too much, and my own penchant for fictional characters who screw up their lives.

I’m finding it hard to answer the question: “How would you describe the book?” These pieces are so different that I’d have to laundry list and summarize each one, and of course that’s not possible in an interview in any medium. I’m thrilled that nobody has asked me to pick a favorite piece–I’m not sure I could!

Anyway, here’s the interview. Enjoy!

The Book Launch

The sandwich board on Church Street.

The sandwich board on Church Street.

The Book Launch Party was a great success.

For me, this was a loyalty event, a hearty “thank you” to all of the people who have supported this project. If everyone walked away feeling like their contributions were appreciated, then I feel like we’ve succeeded.

Gabe McConkey spent his birthday reading poetry with us. Anne Averyt, Erika Nichols (our poetry editor), and Lit Tyler also gave stellar readings.

Check out this photo gallery of the evening’s events!

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We asked Twitter users to tweet with #bwwlaunch, and you can check out the tweets here. If you missed the launch, but would still like to purchase the book, please buy one here.

Our Amazon Kindle ebook is also a good way to check out these talented Vermont writers.

During the celebration, the audience was asked to write an “exquisite corpse” poem. So here’s what the audience came up with:

I saw a buzzfly when I was born–
Trepidacious, mortar, drained with lost panko bullfrog
And then they died…
Her face was aglow with happiness.
WTF
We can just be friends and take things slow.
But even as I said it, I knew it would never be true>
So I walked down to the lakeshore & searched for meaning amongst the delicately stacked rocks.
Instead, I found lizards.
Lizards with gigantic green eyes and claws that could slice up rocks.
Lights flash! Cars crash
The lantern flickered faintly in the distance, carried by a cloaked figure who ambled hurriedly down the dew covered hillside.
Gliding among filamental clouds with the starlings, a gaseous gust of helium escaped from under a sheath of oily feathers.
A heavy wood, old world ceiling in a stark space.
Happiness is subjective.
It’s comforting to write with a cardboard pen.
Oh my my. There are still no meatpies in Grimsby!
And I quit being a vegetarian a month ago.
At times I wonder if this was a mistake, waking in the night with the taste of chorizo on my tongue.
But I haven’t eaten chorizo in years. Now my tastebuds make do with blander meats on their pallate.
They fell down on their knees and begged that this cup might pass.
The man looked down at him and frowned.
His life seemed to be on the end of a blade.
So much had changed so quickly.
Change is what happens when you’re stoned too long.
I’m at a writers workshop. Very scary, since I am barely a reader, aside from Vogue. I’ll go to the library I promise.
She made a beeline for the black door.
The secret you told me spilled over the edge of my eyes.
And I said something I never thought I’d say.

Being from Fall River, I’m happy that chorizo made an appearance in this poem, but it’s spelled “chourico“!

So, in short, it was a great evening, and I’m now working with BCA to plan next year’s launch. Because there will be another “Best of” collection next year, thanks to you.