Notes on our 14 June Meeting

I wanted to talk about how we figure out what we’re doing/where we’re going when we have a (loosely) defined project that needs to (somehow) move forward.

I found exercise #200 in Brian Kiteley’s 3 a.m. Epiphany: Q and A: “Write a fragment about something in your [piece] that bothers you like a bad tooth. Write this in the form of twenty questions and answers. . . .”

We wrote questions for ourselves for our various (in progress) projects. We then discussed the projects and the questions we wrote. It was a very lively and very fruitful conversation!

Several people were kind enough to send me the questions they wrote. They are collected below (in random order and ever-so-gently edited). Several of the questions are very specific to the projects about which they were asked, but I like to think that the questions in this list, despite their sometimes specificity, could be used to open a door or two in your brain when you’re writing and find yourself at an impasse–not unlike Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies.

  • Do you intend to ever finish this project?
  • Are you providing enough detail about the characters and their environments to spark the imagination of the reader?
  • At what point will the story end?
  • How much of the previous generation (uncles) should I include?
  • I am sure that I have a story to tell, why am I struggling to take the time to write more?
  • The main character’s life, on the surface, does not seem that interesting or dramatic. What exactly about the character do you think will resonate with readers?
  • Should you pick/plan XYZ number of time periods, à la Here, from which/with which to work (within chapters)?
  • Can I stand alone with this if friends and family walk away?
  • Is it too singular based?
  • Am I writing to be clever, to show case just how smart I am?
  • Why is the main character so angry? Have you addressed this clearly enough?
  • How much more reading do you want to do before you start writing?
  • Where’s my ego involvement?
  • Is it worth the stress and worry?
  • Should I use real names? In particular would it be better to mention the officers of higher rank just with their initials? Could I be sued by decedents of some of these officers?
  • Why does the main character abandon his friends in his twenties? His motives are not clear.
  • Am I too attached to my idea of how this needs to speak?
  • Am I writing to be understood?
  • Am I replicating tropes, formulas, or stereotypes in an annoying way?
  • Can I change larger sections without emotional kickback?
  • Is it too sentimental? If so: does it work? or can I get rid of it without a large change in the voice?
  • Is it self-indulgent?
  • Are you convinced of the structure you’ve already set up for yourself?
  • Or should each chapter focus on one story and its implications through time?
  • How do you intend to link the anecdotes and snippets into a cohesive whole?
  • What are the work’s literary ancestors?
  • Who am I going to piss off in my life?
  • Do you want to first write, find out what stories organically present themselves, and then write those?
  • Why can’t I write more comedy?
  • Or should each chapter be its own time period/story?
  • Is there a political or social message?
  • Am I writing to be witnessed?
  • What is your true motivation for writing these stories?
  • Should I write it in German or English or both languages?
  • How about the scenic background? Theodor Fontane published extensive descriptions of one of the areas they lived in, this could be useful.
  • What does “indeterminate place” mean for the writing?
  • Am I okay when none of this happens?
  • Are you willing to make friends and family uncomfortable and maybe even upset or angry when they read these stories?
  • How would you like your readers to respond to the main character? Sympathy? Disgust? Pity? Etc.
  • Am I writing for redemption?
  • How do I describe the main character, Hélène? Is she really as meek as her husband describes her or should I add a touch of Kate Chopin?
  • What would the different characters tell each other? For example, would Hélène’s father-in-law tell her about his smuggling activities during his formation knowing that her father is a custom’s official in the Prussian State?
  • Are you convinced of your idea about meandering sentences/paragraphs/chapters?
  • Are you finding a good balance between concise writing and providing enough context and background?
  • Can I be vulnerable like Brene Brown?
  • What will my family say?
  • Does this spark joy?
  • What does “indeterminate” (“place”) mean for the writing?
  • Are you prepared to use real names? Is that fair?
  • Is adherence to the facts even possible? Memories are notoriously unreliable as records of history. Am I somehow betraying myself if I embellish the stories?
  • Why do I write so much [auto]biographical fiction?
  • What story/stories do you want to tell?
  • Am I writing to help create understanding and or compassion?
  • If I am not writing to help create understanding or compassion, and it’s ego, or wanting to prove something do I have the awareness and depth of practice to let it go? Even if it means shelving the project?
  • In terms of setting, is it very specific, or very vague?
  • Are you prepared to make yourself extremely vulnerable by exposing some very uncomfortable and unpleasant aspects of the main character? Would this transparency benefit the stories?
  • Can I take it apart and rearrange the narrative?

Please feel free to send me your own questions, and I’ll add them to the list!

And finally, here’s a quick reminder that our annual Summer Reading will be held on Saturday, 23 July @17:00 in the ever-lovely Cafe POW! There will be a bigger announcement soon!

Monthly Meeting: Tuesday, 14 June 2022 @ 19:00

The title says it all. We’ll meet on Jitsi again, and I’ll send out a link about an hour before the meeting. I know of one person to whom the link will need to be sent via email, and I think she knows who she is, but if anyone else requires that service, please send me an email. If you haven’t yet joined our Telegram group, please consider doing so!

I don’t yet have a topic or a theme for next week’s meeting, and I’ll be in Berlin until 5:30 a.m. of that day, so I may just wing it the evening of. If, however, there’s something you’d like to talk about, or an aspect of writing you’d like to explore and/or work on, please let me know.

Maybe though . . . I recently had an idea for a novel I’d like to write, and, at the moment, I’m in the planning and research phase of that. Perhaps we could spend some time talking about how one moves from the idea phase to the research/planning phase, and into the writing phase (and how not to get stuck in any of them).

I am very much looking forward to seeing all of you on Tuesday!

Notes on our 10 May Meeting

E.M. Forster said this difference between a story and a plot is this:
“The King died and then the Queen died” is a story.
“The King died and then the Queen died of grief” is a plot.

We talked about what constitutes a story, and I suggested that, if we’re using Forster’s definition, any (related/told/narrated) series of events is a story.

So we looked at this: https://harpers.org/harpers-index/

and there was a lot of discussion around whether or not the above list is a story. Does a story have to have a theme? Forster’s theme is (royal) death. Does the above list have a theme? Does a story have to have characters? Forster’s has two. Does the above list have characters? etc.

We then spent ten minutes writing. This month’s prompt was, again, from Brian Kiteley’s book The 3 A.M. Epiphany: #124 Listful (“Write a story that is a list.”)

After writing, we again spent some time discussing whether or not a list could be a story. I wanted to point out one of Forsters’ story’s main features, “and then,” and remind the group that when children are learning how to tell stories, they frequently string events together with this particular phrase. (Amanda writes: “‘“and then,” and remind the group that when children are learning how to tell stories, they frequently string events together with this particular phrase.’ —> And also anyone learning a foreign language when they’re put on the spot! Easiest connector from memory.”)

and then

I shared this: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45173/jubilate-agno

and then

We talked about our next meetings:
-Our next regularly scheduled meeting will take place on 14 June 2022 at 19:00 (probably again on Jitsi, as we did not seem to have too much trouble).
-We agreed that we would continue with online meetings into the foreseeable future so as to accommodate group members from out of town, but that we would start meeting in person quarterly/seasonally!
-The first such seasonal meeting will be this summer on Saturday, 23 July. More info as to where and exactly when is forthcoming!

Thanks to everyone who attended! It was lovely to see and speak with you. I look forward to seeing you all again next month!

Our next meeting: 10 May 22 @ 19:00

What happens next?

The above might be the most important question in narrative. So let’s talk about it next week at our monthly meeting!

I’d like to do two things next week: 1. the “standard” warm-up writing exercise, and 2. play a game wherein a story is begun, and the next person tells us what happens next. Before we play, we can talk about story logic, linear vs. non-linear storytelling, worldbuilding, and other things of that nature.

We will also talk some more about what happens next in the group!

This meeting will take place on Jitsi (I’ll send the link via our Telegram group an hour or so before we start–please send me a mail if you want the link some other way). If free, open-source software isn’t technically robust enough to handle us, we’ll look for another solution for our June meeting.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Announcement

Dear Reader/Writer,

Please note, the Freiburg Writers’ Group is no longer associated with the Carl-Schurz-Haus / German-American Institute Freiburg eV.

We would like to thank the Carl-Schurz-Haus for its support over the last seven years. We would not be who or where we are without it.

If you have any questions about this change, please feel free to contact us.

Best,

Your Freiburg Writers’ Group Team

April Meeting

Greetings, Freiburg Writers’ Group! Here is another blog post announcing a meeting on the very next day. Tomorrow, Tuesday 12. April we will meet at our usual time, 19:00, through our habitual, digital means of Zoom. 

Last month’s meeting on 08. March started off with exercise 3. “Unreliable Narrator.” from Brian Kiteley’s The 3A.M. Epiphany. While the February exercise of writing “something in a blatantly exaggerated style of another author or text” seemed to work very well and was fun for the participants, this Kiteley exercise was more difficult. I’ll try to select an exercise for tomorrow which puts us into a writing flow.

Last month we also discussed how the FWG will proceed in the near future. We will talk about that again tomorrow. If you would like to be part of that conversation, please make sure to attend. As always, however, the best reason to participate is to dedicate time to your art and creativity!

The Zoom link for the April meeting will be sent out via the Telegram chat about an hour before its start. If you need the link through a different means, please contact freiburgwritersgroup@gmail.com. See you tomorrow!

March Meeting

This reminder is coming later than usual; our next meeting is tomorrow evening, 08. March at 19:00. Kelly (that’s me!) will be moderating again. Tomorrow we will spend some time talking about how the Freiburg Writers’ Group will continue in the immediate future, including the date of the Summer Reading in July. If you would like to be a part of that discussion, please make sure that you are there!

Last month we had a special prompt which we knew about ahead of time, but tomorrow’s writing activity will be shared (as usual) at the beginning of the meeting

The Zoom link for the March meeting will be sent out via the Telegram chat about an hour before its start. If you need the link through a different means, please contact freiburgwritersgroup@gmail.com. See you tomorrow!

Meeting Wrap-up 08 February 2022

The Freiburg Writers’ Group’s last meeting took place on 08. February. This time around we did a little something different. Instead of writing to a prompt which we heard for the first time at the start of the hour, we wrote to a pre-agreed-upon writing exercise. In January we set the writing activity for the February meeting:
Write something in a blatantly exaggerated style of another author or text.


Here are the texts and authors which were chosen:
Raymond Carver
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Lydia Davis
Elena Ferrante
Allen Ginsberg
Fernanda Melchor
Terry Pratchett
Kurt Vonnegut

This served as a stimulating writing activity, with positive feedback from everyone and shared pieces from about 60% of the participants! We spoke about the imitation of someone else’s style as a way to “free” our own writing, as if the pressure was off. If you produce crap, it’s not your style which is crap, it’s you trying to write like someone else which doesn’t work. But it does. Naturally, without trying, each of our own styles had a type of new flavor to it, a freshness in its being approached from a different perspective.

Shawn will be back as host and moderator for the next meeting on 08. March. I have had a wonderful time being the substitute moderator for these last 6 months. Thank you to everyone who participated!

February Meeting

Our meeting this month takes place next week on 08. February at our usual time, 19:00.

Next week we will start with a writing exercise, as we usually do, but this time it will not come from our trusty companion, The 3A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. Instead, we will do a writing activity which we agreed upon in our last meeting in January. The task of this activity is: 

Write something in a blatantly exaggerated style of another author or text.
The preparation necessary for this is:

  • Choose an author or text, perhaps that which you are currently reading. 
  • Identify the style or stylistic tendencies of this author or text.

In our writing exercise next week each person will try to exaggerate in imitating the style of the author or text he/she/they have chosen.

The Zoom link for the February meeting will be sent out via the Telegram chat about an hour before its start. If you need the link through a different means, please contact freiburgwritersgroup@gmail.com. See you next week!

Meeting Wrap-up 11 January 2022

The first Freiburg Writers’ Group meeting of 2022 began, as our meetings usually do, with a writing exercise. We referred to Brian Kiteley’s The 3A.M. Epiphany with #99; Rashomon (pg. 133), which proposes to write about different people who share a common experience. As is to be expected, our group had various interpretations of the shared experience that would form a group: a witnessed accident, a family reunion, animals as part of the group, the act of sneezing, fondness for a tree, an apartment building break-in. We discussed the difficulties of realistically portraying multiple narrative voices, which are genuine and credible, in a single piece.

In light of the New Year just begun, we discussed if anyone had made New Year’s writing resolutions.

We also planned a writing activity to start the next meeting, which is on 08 February. The task is:
Write something in a blatantly exaggerated style of another author or text.
A bit of preparation is thus necessary:

  • Choose an author or text, perhaps that which you are currently reading. 
  • Identify the style or stylistic tendencies of this author or text.

Next month, as our writing exercise, each person will try to exaggerate in imitating the style of the author or text he/she/they have chosen.