Thursday, June 5, 2008

Writing Workshop

Welcome to The Incredible Writing Workshop, where we look at actual pieces of writing and see where we can go from there. Look for both critique and publishing advice, specific and readable and downright fun. This week we're looking at "A Manifesto," the previous post on Innovative.

By now I think most of you have read the previous post "A Manifesto." Today we're going to look at (geez, I feel like a talk show host) how to turn a brainstorm, diary-style piece of writing like that into something publishable! Seatbelts and other protective garments prepared, let's go.


You had a horrible day, you let it out on paper and kazaam! You get something like my post previous. But now your ambition takes over and you want to write an essay about this Horrible No-Good Day. How would you structure it?

Categorize examples. Make a list of all the things that went wrong: "rejection from team," "no phone calls," "bad job," "frustration," etc. You can use these as points in your essay.

Connect to an outside theme. Essays or op-ed pieces work best when you connect a personal experience (a bad day) to a universal or outside theme. This could be an international event (the tragedies in China or Myanmar) or a culture trend (depression medication) or a historical person (Sylvia Plath.)

Work on tone. You want the entire essay to feel like those two paragraphs of brainstorm did, without being in that form. As you write the essay, try to recapture the same emotion that prompted you to write in the first place.


You've had a horrible day, wrote something like my post previous, and bazoom! it's a short story, right?

Create the situation. What you have is an emotion, what you need is a setting and a cast of characters. The "easiest" thing is to make it like your own sitch: a teenager with a bad day, staring out the window at a rainy future, etc. The "harder" thing would be to take these emotions and attribute them to a person most unlike yourself: a grandmother fearing Alzheimer's, a quadriplegic watching the Olympics on T.V., an insurance salesman who's just been laid off.

Translate to dialogue. Internal monologue (when the protagonist talks to himself, or to the audience) is not always as readable as dialogue. All those awesome phrases and examples of depression can be turned into a dialogue between two feisty/depressed characters. Your message will still come across, but it will be more interesting.


You had a terrible day and abacadabra! you're writing a Pulitzer poem. But how does it happen?

Take exact phrases. Poetry is the jewelry-making part of writing. Poets are delicate and precise with words, so in this case you would take the exact phrases from the piece and style it into a poem form of your choice. I'd recommend free or blank verse for this kind of thing.

Translate paragraphs into stanzas. The last part of the post previous was in paragraph form. To make it into poetry, take the most important ideas from your diary-style writing and form them into lines.

You eat chocolate
Conquer the world one day
One miserable day
One beautiful day
At a time
With chocolate
[ etc.]

I don't think this is how Maya Angelou wrote it, but take a look at her poem "Still I Rise." You can see how potentially she could have worked from paragraph/diary-style form into a poem with a fantastic rhythm and powerful message.

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