Writers' Craft Workout in Five Quotes
Guest post by Doug Brittain, Tokyo, Japan
“Write about your last six months of writing.”
The prompt on the whiteboard that greeted participants seemed simple enough. For some SCBWI Japan members attending the March 14, 2015, “Writer’s Craft Workout,” presented by Naomi Kojima, Mariko Nagai, and Holly Thompson, this brought to mind stories started, finished, or revised. Others were able to recount little actual writing, but lots of new ideas, plots considered, and already-broken New Year's resolutions to do more writing. The first of five sessions, “Reflections and Goals,” was a time to figure out where we are and where we want to go as writers. The remaining sessions helped with first steps.
“Can I take a look at that?”
The books shared by everyone during the “Speed Book Talks on Craft” session came from a wide range of genres, countries, and notoriety. Some members lovingly described the writing, illustrations, and structures of their selected stories, as well as the way they are used as mentor texts or inspiration when working on stories.
“Invent a character who has your bad habit, but a much worse case than you.”
Once our writing trainers Naomi, Mariko, and Holly had a handle on our creative fitness levels, it was time to get our writing muscles back in shape. Over the next 45 minutes we thought about current stories as we made our way through each of the eight “Circuit Prompts.” Character, plotting, dialogue setting, and more played in our heads as we wrote silently for five minutes at a time. What would happen in your story of a stolen ring, a fear of spiders, and a stranger?
“Writing is like a sumi-e painting. With only a few brush strokes you can evoke an image.”
In the first of the three craft-focused sessions, Naomi invited us to think of the rhythm of a picture-book story. An invitation, a buildup, a rest, a conclusion, and a hint at what’s to come are what make a story feel and sound right. Mariko compared writing to making a brick wall, where you have to make the bricks. She told us about how keeping a writing journal of thoughts, research, and plotting ideas can help to make those bricks. Finally, Holly offered a question for all of us to ask during our revisions. “How small can I make it and it still works?” It sometimes takes only a few words to evoke a scene, backstory, gesture, or emotion. Writers do love their words.
“If nothing changes, there’s no point.”
While this quote from Cheryl Klein’s distance critique group was shared during the final Q&A in reference to moving stories forward, it could also apply to what we all learned that day. One visit to a gym isn’t enough to undo a winter of neglect; this information from the first of hopefully many writing workouts must lead to better habits. It felt great to shake off winter writing rust and step confidently into spring.