Attending writing workshops is another thing I’m doing for fun these days. Duct Tape Writing was the latest offering by the Georgia Writers Association at Kennesaw State University. I almost didn’t go. For one thing, I’m not writing fiction and for another, I knew nothing about the author presenting this workshop.
But the title was intriguing. A southern girl knows that duct tape is a redneck’s best friend, but could it be useful to a writer as well? Besides it lasted only two hours and it’s location would put me in the vicinity of a Trader Joe’s, so I went.
Good choice. Karen White presented and I did know her work after all. She wrote The House on Tradd Street which I read for my book club last year. Her 14th novel, The Beach Trees cracked the New York Times Best Seller list at #14 and she’s under contract with Penguin Publishing to write five more books, including two more Tradd Street books. One of my best friends who reads everything, and particularly loves White’s brand of southern women’s fiction (grit lit), didn’t care for her earlier books. But she’s going to read the newest and tell me what she thinks about White’s evolvement as a writer.
The workshop was terrific. White was so engaging, very relaxed and funny. Without divulging specifically her Five Things That Will Make Your Characters Stick, hence Duct Tape Writing, I’ll share some of her tidbits of wisdom.
- “You have to be a reader to be a writer. If you don’t like to read, give up writing now.”
- “If a book doesn’t grab you within the first three pages, stop reading it. There’s just too many books to choose from to waste time on one that doesn’t speak to you.”
- “Reread books where the characters stuck for you, became part of your family. Analyze them. What made the characters real?”
- “Sure, a book has about 200,000 words, but don’t look at it like that. See it as one sentence at a time.”
- “Writing is 100% art. But once you turn that book in it becomes shampoo, and you have to spend time marketing it.”
- “Before sitting down to write, read a little something to provide inspiration.”
If, for example, you’re using setting as a character as she often does, read passages from books where the author does this well, such as Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca.
Or keep examples of other writing you like nearby to reread to help you slip into writer mode. I got really excited when White read many selections from The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. On the advice of a writing teacher a long time ago I started collecting samples of beautifully written passages from books I read, or wonderful similes, or writing that showed an imaginative use of words. The Kite Runner holds the record for the number of passages I took the time to record from any book ever! So now, in my eyes, not only is Karen White an engaging speaker, but she’s a kindred spirit as well! And the first passage she read to us is my very favorite one from my collection:
“Sometimes, Soraya sleeping next to me, I lay in bed and listened to the screen door swinging open and shut with the breeze, to the crickets chirping in the yard. And I could almost feel the emptiness in Soraya’s womb, like it was a living, breathing thing. It had seeped into our marriage, that emptiness, into our laughs, and our lovemaking. And late at night, in the darkness of the room, I’d feel a rising from Soraya and settling between us. Sleeping between us, like a newborn child.”
Isn’t that awesome? Don’t those magic words help you feel the loss that separates this couple? Karen White and I think so.
Even though I don’t see grit lit as my genre, I’m glad I attended this workshop. Writers are a unique breed who want to help and nurture fellow writers. They freely share writing tips and work habits. They love stringing words together in pleasing combinations, as does everyone else in the room. Kindred spirits.