Monday, August 11, 2014

Notes from Barcelona: Gwyneth Lewis

Parq Guell
At the residency weeks in Barcelona, our days were divided up by classes, workshops, and tutorials. (I'll get back to that in a sec.) During the mentorship months this fall and spring, I will have the pleasure of working with Gwyneth Lewis, a Welsh poet and memoirist with a delicious British accent and no-nonsense approach to teaching. She is the author of Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book on Depression.

This is the knocker on the door to our classroom building in Barcelona. To seek entrance to l'escola, you must take the apple from Eve. Gwyneth says the pinkies raised slightly are an indication of vanity. She says the knocker is a little joke, a smirk. You must fall before you can learn. 
— at Escola d'Escriptura (Ateneu Barcelonès).

The mentorship will be completed online via hard-core writing deadlines, webinars, and professional line-edits (etc.). The design is convenient because I can keep teaching and writing for DH in Utah while Gwyneth completes a visiting poet stint at Princeton.

Dragons were all over the city, but I like this picture as a simile for having your work critiqued by other writers. Sometimes it's like shoving your head into a dragon's mouth and thanking the beast when you bleed. That said, my Cedar Crest cohort was amazing, respectful, helpful, and encouraging. Teachers too. I love this program. 

...Back to Barcelona (sidebar: the natives pronounce it Barthelona).

These are notes from Gwyneth's class  as well as some helpful comments on my WIP, A KISS WITHOUT A MUSTACHE, in both the workshop and tutorial.

  • "Trump up the action. Don't cloud it with rhetoric." 
  • How much does the writer know? The narrator has access to childhood memories.
  • Make it more active. 
  • "What is the framework? What shape is your work going to be?" 
  • The reader should know the stakes from the beginning. 
  • Plan out the trajectory of your characters.
  • "Try flip-flopping the first paragraph. Put the last sentence on top." 
  • Remember to have a reflective narrator.
  • "Don't defuse the punch."
  • "Don't let the humor get in the way of the story." 
  • Consider setting first. Think about the "wide shot". 
  • In chapter titles, don't give away the plot. 
  • For intense scenes, "write it like a bombshell. Don't let me know that you're leading up to something." 
  • Emotion leads to thought, which leads to plot or analysis.
  • Don't be mysterious for mysterious's sake.
  • In non-fiction, consider "is this interesting to me because it's my family or will the anonymous reader find it interesting too?" 
  • "Make sure you get the choreography clear for the reader."
  • "Keep it life-and-death simple." 
  • "Very effective, but prune words."
  • "Pacing--The intro to [this chapter] is uncharacteristically slow, so we're alerted to [what's] coming. For maximum impact, be more casual on the approach--so that the reader, like you at the time, has no idea what's coming. That will make it more lifelike."
  • "Assume you have a secular audience and explain some of the Mormon terminology." 

Port de Diablos. Little kids with fireworks on pitchforks. Just something you might see on the streets of Barcelona. 

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