Uncle Orson's Writing Class.....

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Duane
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Uncle Orson's Writing Class.....

Postby Duane » Thu Mar 02, 2006 1:32 pm

Hey everyone,

I highly recommend taking Orson Scott Card's writing class and/or boot camp this June. It's taking place this year in WVa, I believe. I took the two day (175.00) course and had all my old myths about writing blasted away. He gives great information, both on the creative and business side of the writing process.

If you can't get to WVa this year, he'll hold it again next year in Utah.

His class is one of the reasons why I believe I'm going to get published this year.

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Chuck Messer
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Postby Chuck Messer » Thu Mar 02, 2006 2:53 pm

Well, maybe next year. Utah is closer and I should have a regular job by then. I can't think of too many people who'd be more qualified to teach such a course than Card. Thanks for the heads up!

Chuck
Some people are wedded to their ideology the way nuns are wed to God.

rich

Postby rich » Fri Mar 03, 2006 11:09 am

What kind of myths, Duane? Honestly, I think all writing classes are a waste of time and money, and having read some of Card's essays, I'm a little dubious about the man himself.

But, I'm curious when one of the more reasonable members of Webderland makes a statement like that.

So...can you go into a little more detail?

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David Loftus
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Postby David Loftus » Fri Mar 03, 2006 4:45 pm

I've read very little of Card. _Ender's Game_ was all right, but it didn't inspire me to read any more in the series.

However, I once ran across a Ray Bradbury tribute collection in which various other, younger writers paid tribute to the Great One by composing stories in the style of Bradbury or using his characters. Many of them were pretty limp, but Card had one -- the longest in the book, as I remember -- that had a strong young female character in flight from the LA, who meets up with a middle-aged Douglas Spaulding in the Midwest. Excellent piece of work. He even invented a board game described in the story that sounded like it would be fun to play.

But yes, I'd like to hear which myths you had in mind, Duane. Might make for an interesting discussion here.

Oh, and speaking of Utah. I'll never forget something an old girlfriend told me she heard on the radio once. The jock read a news item that said the average lifespan of a resident of Utah was something like 2-1/2 years longer than the national average. Do you realize what this means, he asked. People would rather DIE than live in Utah!
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Duane
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Postby Duane » Fri Mar 03, 2006 6:30 pm

I should have clarified a little better: When I said myths, I meant personal ones. You want detail, you've got it:

First, the seminars:

I've taken a total of four writing workshops since coming to LA. Rich is right: a lot of them are wastes of time and money.

The first was from famed illustrator and Ellison-buddy William Rotsler. Long story short, it was inexpensive, informative of the business side of writing, and at the end I discovered that of all the people in the class, he hated my writing the most. But I got to give him a lift to his home in Reseda, so that was interesting.

(Pertinent PS: I have no illusions about how crappy my fledgling efforts to tell a story are. I have not yet published a story that people outside my friends and family can pick up and read and enjoy. Until I do, well, there we are).

The second was at UCLA. It lasted a weekend, cost me 170.00 I couldn't afford, and ended up being nothing more than a Charles Bukowski love fest. A few pointers on dialogue, setting the scene, and a whole lot of discussing Charles Bukowski's impact on the LA literature scene. Did nothing for me.

The third was the Writers' Digest short story writing class by mail. That was actually beneficial. I learned the process of short story writing from ideation to final draft, had a great mentor who I sent drafts to and got very detailed responses in return (I can't remember her name, but I'll post it when I remember it.). It was great. The result was an unpublishable learning experience of a story that showed me exactly what my writing flaws and strengths were/are. Very beneficial.

((Pause to note that during this time -- about 8 years ago -- I sent a story I wrote called "Whimsical White Dragon" to F&SF. Got a rejection letter that said, and I quote, "Shredded and flushed over the Pacific at 35,000 feet." Yeah, with a pink dress wearing title like that, I would have rejected it, too.))

The fourth was OSC's. More on that in a moment.

A Word From Our Sponsor (Me):

Something that I think should be blindingly obvious: Like a lot of people who frequent this board, my goal is to write for a living. But, also like the same people, I have to do battle with the real world. I hold down a good job, have hobbies, family and friends, the occasional love interest. I also have a burning desire to write. I've been writing fiction in one form or another since second grade. So I set aside time in the morning before I drive to work to write. And what I end up doing is either little character scribblings, notes on settings, snippets of dialogue, or annoying the neighbors to distraction by banging my head helplessly on the floor because I can't come up with a stupid idea. So like all animals, I seek to avoid pain. Which means the time I spend inflicting pain on myself decreases as I find other things to do which, well, which don't hurt my head so much.

Instead of going to bed early so I can get up early and write, I watch tv until midnight, sleep through my 6:00 alarm, get up at 8:00, get dressed, and schlep myself to my day job.

You with me here? I know you are.

I lie a little to my friends, telling them the writing is going about as well as can be expected, saying things like "If they only offered entry jobs to aspiring novelists that paid $40 G a year with benefits," happy horsecrap like that. I'm sure some of you are here with me on this, too.

Time goes by and I'm enjoying those aspects of my life that give me pleasure. Then I happen to glance at a calendar and see that an entire year has passed and I haven't written anything meaningful during all that time. I see other people around me becoming successful doing what they love to do. Job situation is changing, the odometer starts spinning to some scary numbers, and I'm saying to myself "What in the hell is wrong with me?"

Then I slowly begin doing the worst thing imaginable: I begin to envy the talents of other people. I secretly wish I was this writer or that guitar slinger. I imagine how great it would feel to have this person's life, or that person's. In short, I begin to take myself down from the inside.

It's not looking good.

So as a last ditch attempt to save myself, I sign up for OSC's writing workshop.

The Workshop:

I had originally signed up for the "literary bootcamp" portion of his workshop; that is, the first two days of lectures (called the "writing class") and then the remaining four "literary bootcamp" days. The cost? 675.00. I could afford it, but past painful experiences convinced me to scale back and reregister for the first two days only (175.00). I sign up, fly up to Utah where I stay at my sister's place, and walk in to take the class.

The one thing that stands out to me as I remember those first few minutes of that first day was how excited his is about storytelling, and how anxious he is for his students to feel his enthusiasm. The first few hours were the usual writing class boilerplate -- introducing himself, getting to know the students (there were close to a hundred), talking about writing in general. Then he begins an amazing exercise (no, he doesn't do pushups). He begins by taking an obscure idea from a member of the audience, then he leads the class through the process of questioning it: "What happens and why? Ok, that's an obvious response, but can someone come up with one that's not so obvious?" etc. It's a blindingly fast three hours, but in that time he has showed us exactly how a poor, obscure idea can be transformed into a fully formed one, complete with characters, situations, settings, emotions and motivations.

It was at that point that I realized exactly how I was getting in the way of my own writing. Yeah, I had heard a lot of the ideas he presented in other settings, or read them in books, but it was SEEING IT HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE that showed me how I was, personally, overthinking some aspects of my writing and underthinking others. That's what I meant by "Myths being blown apart." They were my own personal ones.

Then it got REEEEEEEEAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLYYYYY interesting: He divided us into teams of three and had us interview random people on campus who we had never met, asking them questions about where they were from, what their goals and passions were. Then we went to the library to gather source material: find five interesting, completely unrelated ideas from different sources, synthesize them (along with the characters) into a storyline, and condense that story line onto a single 3x5 card that asks and answers the following question: What happens and Why? My idea ended up being a story about a native American from the 14th century who receives visions by laying under a sycamore tree and staring at the sun as it filters through the leaves. He goes blind when he receives a vision about something that happened to a young girl. He reveals the nature and secret of the crime and becomes the new medicine man.

We each got to present our cards in front of the class, and right there, along with a hundred or so students, was A GIANT IN THE F&SF FIELD critiquing my idea, offering helpful suggestions, giving several different ways in which the story could be presented, and in general, SHOWING ME HOW TO BE A WRITER AND TAKE MY IDEA AND FLESH IT OUT!!!!


Denouement:

Yeah, I kicked my butt all the way home for not taking the full class, in which I would have been able to write and complete that story under his watchful and supportive eye. I asked him later if I could sign up for the full class next year, and he told me I could, but to see if I could get something published first, because, and I'm quoting him here, "From what I've seen of your writing, you may not need it."

People, his class CHANGED MY LIFE. I don't know how to say it other than that. It may not have such a transformative effect on everyone, but it was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. I have three different stories I'm working on (the original one has hit a bit of a snag and I'm setting it aside. However, if you see a story published in F&SF called "Song of the Indian Calf Maiden," you'll know there was at least one story I wrote that wasn't shredded and flushed).

There comes a time in every frustrated writer's life when he needs a boost out of a rut he just can't kick his own ass out of. For me, that boost was OSC's Writing Class. Whether that is your boost or not, I hope we can all find and get what we need to make our burning desires come true.

You with me here? I know you are.
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Chuck Messer
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Postby Chuck Messer » Fri Mar 03, 2006 8:44 pm

I'm with you, Duane. And I appreceate what you wrote here. Thanks!

Chuck
Some people are wedded to their ideology the way nuns are wed to God.

rich

Postby rich » Mon Mar 06, 2006 8:44 am

I second Chuck's response.

And I'm definitely with you.

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Hathor
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Postby Hathor » Mon Mar 06, 2006 2:45 pm

"Too much LDS"- Kirk trying to explain Spock's abnormal behavior, "Star Trek IV"

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Postby David Loftus » Mon Mar 06, 2006 3:09 pm

Very much with you, Duane -- although I never desired to write fiction, never thought I could WRITE fiction, and my game for much of my earlier life was assuring myself I didn't really WANT to be a writer . . . while I was writing one thing or another, most of the time.

Your story here, itself, was well written -- or at least, well told, which is nearly the same thing.

The phrase that leaped out at me was: "how excited his is about storytelling, and how anxious he is for his students to feel his enthusiasm."

This is a cardinal sign of a good teacher (or at least, a useful teacher), whatEVER the field of endeavor.

Thanks for sharing. I don't think anybody minded the length or detail one bit.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Duane
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Postby Duane » Mon Mar 06, 2006 3:50 pm

Thanks for your responses. Boy, I can be quite the drama queen, can't I?

By the way, my Writers Digest Writing Course mentor's name is Ardath Mayhar. Classy chick.

Hey Hathor, "Do you want to know more?" I've got a few pamphlets around here somewhere......

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Postby Hathor » Mon Mar 06, 2006 4:42 pm

Actually, I'm going all "T.J. Newton" at this point and time, and I figure what I don't know won't hurt anybody. 8)
All Snarks ARE Booguns, you see, it's just some search parties have louder mouths than others.

Me, I'm on a snipe hunt. We use a sack, NOT A GUN. :lol:

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Postby Steve Evil » Fri Mar 10, 2006 7:55 pm

Indeed Duanne, it all sounds terribly familiar. I too once (still?) harboured delusions of being a writer, but am so far from that goal, it is really just a pipe dream. In fact I've gotten worse over the years, not better.
In high school, I seemed on the right path. Writing steadily, reading all I could on the topic, researching the market. Then, in University, something happened. I don't know what. It stopped. And the blank screen seems pathological. No matter how many ideas flow, the words don't translate to the keyboard. The ability to sit still and write anything that isn't conversational seems a herculian task, even a three hundred word news brief.
Ye gods. We'll see.

rich

Postby rich » Sat Aug 02, 2008 9:32 pm

I should probably start a new thread, but I'll hijack Duane's AND give him thanks for this thread.

So I'm sitting in San Diego airport waiting for the red eye to Dulles (thankful that San Diego seems to be one of the last airports to offer Wi-Fi for free) after having gone through Card's Boot Camp. I went with the intention of becoming known as the guy that threatened to punch yet another science fiction writer in the nose, but, alas, I failed miserably in that regard so I'm still just known for pissing off only one science fiction writer.

Anyway...I'm not going to lie and say I got just as much out of this as Duane, but I DID get some good stuff out of this. I found that I can write a story in about 8 hours that gets shredded by Card, and torn apart by the other boot campers (all justifiable critiques, by the way). I found out that I am not a very good critic of others' work, and I found out that there was one boot camper who submitted a story that was 99% perfect. And it wasn't science fiction or fantasy and I hope that it becomes a movie so that I can tell people that I saw it first.

I did come away with a couple ideas, including a novel that involves Edison and Tesla (which I know have been done before, but I, of course, will put a different twist on it), and I've got the genesis of that zombie story I was working on.

I do not subscribe to Card's political views, though I will say that in person his views aren't quite as extreme as they appear in print. Having said that, for every 3 good things he said about writing, there was 1 completely off the wall comment. (No examples 'cause I don't want to start anything, especially when I think he said them just to try to get a rise out of the people.)

I know he doesn't like first person, which my story was--and I knew that when I turned it in--but even with his insistence that I write it in 3rd, I know it's a 1st person precisely because of the other things he said regarding writing, and he was always quick to point out that the AUTHOR of the piece is the one to decide what he/she should do in writing the story.

He said that you cannot make money by writing short stories, and that if you want to be a writer and get paid stick to novels. So I've got my "novel" that got me into another workshop next year, and I've got my "novel" idea that I came up with during the Card workshop. But no money.

Met some good people that were turned off by my zombie story (and I got TWO misogynistic comments about it, including another who said she stopped reading it she was so disturbed by the content) so it is good to know that I can still bug/annoy/disgust people without even trying.

Good stuff. I was a little dubious about going, but I'm glad I did.

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Postby David Loftus » Sat Aug 02, 2008 9:34 pm

Thanks for the report, rich. I wasn't aware you were an aspiring/launching author. Best of luck, guy. I'll look forward to seeing your work, down the line.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

rich

Postby rich » Mon Aug 04, 2008 7:43 am

Thanks David.

Oh, and for the aspiring writers out there, the one epiphany I had was this: Just finish it.

We've all read crap novels/stories, but what separates them from us is that those novels/stories are actually completed. Works better for novels, but here's the workshop as developed by Rich and doesn't cost anything: Finish the fucker and send it out.

Yeah, you may have the best novel since Moby Dick, but you've gotta finish the goddamn thing and send it out. And when you're finished with one, work on and finish the other one you've got brewing.

Experience the two-day workshop that is sweeping the country. See what authors are saying about it:

Stephen King says, "If I was still doing drugs, I'd go."

John Grisham says, "It was the most fun I had watching someone make an ass of himself."

Harlan Ellison says, "That &%$##!! If I &^#@%ing see that &%$##!! I'm going to punch through his latissimus, emerging through his chest cavity with his little black heart quivering in my &*&($(*%$ fist!! The &#$%@)($%*!!!!!

Harold Bloom says, "Who?"

J.K. Rowling says, "Finish the Fucker is the best workshop I never attended. Now will you please put the gun down?"


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