Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Too much Caffeine, and Inspiration

I’m jetlagged, jittery with joe (Peet’s Italian roast, yum), and overflowing with ideas. I’ll probably crash in about four hours, zzzzz…

John’s post last Thursday was indeed inspiring, and I had a similar experience at the Jackson Hole Writers’ Conference. The director, Tim Sandlin (Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty), limits the conference to about 120 attendees. The conference is not limited to any particular genre; Tim invites guest faculty from an assortment of writing backgrounds. This year included assorted fiction writers for adults and younger audiences, including Janet Fitch (White Oleander), Susan Juby (Alice, I Think), and Louis Bayard (The Pale Blue Eye), magazine editors and contributors, poets, agents, and editors from four publishing houses.

Aside from this wellspring of enthusiastic inspiration, what grabbed my attention was that at least six attendees were under 18. These young people were fully participating members of the group. They attended panels, talks, workshops, and –best of all—spoke up with questions and comments. I hope they know how happy this made the adult attendees. Tim is all over this, too. He has a special conference fee for a Parent/Teen combo.

Along with the motivation of youth, Lise McClendon (Blackbird Fly) and I did a day-long fiction writing seminar we called “Truly, Richly, Deeply.” Our goal was to help attendees to learn to trust their unconscious and find their true voice. We also planned to work on solving plot problems and creating characters who matter. One of Lise’s ideas was to involve our class in a guided meditation. I hoped I could pull it off. Crisis of confidence, definitely.

The whole meditation concept scared the crap out of me. When I confessed to her that I wasn’t a meditation type, or at least I didn’t think so, she pointed me toward Robert Olin Butler’s book, edited by Janet Burroway, From Where You Dream. Butler stresses that to write well, writers must get in touch with their unconscious and write from this place, using the senses.

This resonated, but I let Lise lead the exercise. After the fifteen-minute meditation, which was similar to the last part of a good yoga class, we left our students to write for about 45 minutes. When we came back, we asked who wanted to read. Everyone did—and it blew my socks off. The writing was astounding. It was much, much better than most of the manuscripts the same students had submitted. It was from the heart: uncontrived, sensual, unusual.

Students came up to us over the next four days, thanking us for the breakthroughs they achieved with their characters. Lise and I sighed with relief, naturally. And we’re going to build on the idea for next year. But most of all, it was a win-win situation. We were inspired, too. I’m going to leave you now—and meditate a bit.

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