AWP for Introverts

‘Twas the night before AWP, when all through the land,
The writers were fretting, “This is so out of hand!
The schedule is packed, but my suitcase is not;
My elevator pitch is postmodern and fraught;
My couchsurf is booked, but I’m ready to balk—
For what will I wear, and to whom will I talk?”

If you’re an introvert attending the massive writers’ convention in Seattle this week, check out my survival tips over at The Writer magazine’s website.  The Introvert’s Toolkit has tips on easing off the pressure, being a weirdo, and knowing when to stay away.

Doing a panel or a reading at AWP? You’re welcome to post your own panels and readings in the comments below.

(Where’ll I be? I’m skipping the convention this year, but following it on Twitter. Every alternate year of AWP is about enough for me!)

What’s in your toolkit as an introvert, especially if you’re going it alone this year?

My tiara does the talking.

 

Book Structure: Conquering the Beast

So happy to have my first piece in The Writer, the oldest U.S. magazine about the craft of writing.  It’s on a topic close to my heart, something that most of my coaching clients struggle with mightily — structure!

How do you choose or develop the right structure for a book? It’s very tricky,  and pre-existing formulas only take you so far.

Here’s the piece: the five great structures for books.

Writing from the Chakras 2013

announcing…

Writing from the Chakras

An Online Writing Workshop

June 1 – July 31, 2013

with Minal Hajratwala

Are you ready to jumpstart your writing and discover new, exciting sources to fuel your creativity? Writing from the Chakras is a body-based writing system that leads to fast, energized, powerful, breakthrough writing. In this 9-week online course, we will tap into the seven levels of human experience that make up rich, versatile writing. Whether you want to write ancestral memory or science fiction … a high-impact fight scene for your action movie screenplay (root chakra! survival!) … or a moment of epiphany in your subtle and elegant short story (crown chakra all the way!) … this workshop will offer a plethora of tools and play to make your writing come alive. Fun creativity exercises, tools for engaging mind/body/soul in our writing, and work that heals trauma and busts through blocks: Join the journey. Isn’t it time to get in touch with the most powerful possibilities in your creative work?

(image by Izolda Trakhtenberg)

This online workshop is suitable for all levels of writers, from beginning to experienced, and you can join from anywhere in the solar system. You will have the opportunity to share work and receive feedback in a supportive, vibrant, temporary community. The focus is on generating new work and developing robust creative skills in order to free your writing to take a great leap forward.

All genres and genders are welcome.

Fee: $425 US.

Dates: We start June 1 and finish July 31, 2013.

Registration: Pay $425 by PayPal to hajratwala {at} gmail {dot} com to reserve your space.

Questions? Please scroll down for Frequently Asked Questions, or email me.

Delphi: Interview with Minal Hajratwala about Writing from the Chakras

About the Instructor

Minal Hajratwala is the author of Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), which has been called “incomparable” by Alice Walker and “searingly honest” by the Washington Post. The book won a Pen USA Award, an Asian American Writers Workshop Award, a Lambda Literary Award, a California Book Award (Silver, Nonfiction), and was shortlisted for the Saroyan International Writing Prize. She spent seven years researching and writing the book, traveling the world to interview more than seventy-five members of her extended family.

She is also the editor of Out! Stories From the New Queer India (Queer Ink, 2013), a groundbreaking anthology of contemporary LGBT literature since the decriminalization of homosexuality in India.

Ms. Hajratwala spent 2010-11 as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar in India researching a novel, while also writing poems about the unicorns of the ancient Indus Valley. Her creative work has received recognition and support from the Sundance Institute, the Jon Sims Center for the Arts, the SerpentSource Foundation, and the Hedgebrook writing retreat for women, where she has served on the Alumnae Leadership Council. Her one-woman show, “Avatars: Gods for a New Millennium,” was commissioned by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco for World AIDS Day in 1999.

As a writing coach, Ms. Hajratwala believes language is magical, and she loves helping individuals and organizations access the power to express themselves in words.  She has taught writing workshops nationally and internationally at universities, community organizations, and online, including as a 2012 memoir faculty member at the Voices of Our Nations Arts summer program for writers of color on the University of California-Berkeley campus. She is the creatrix of Blueprint Your Book, an intensive and inspiring six-lesson program for manuscript development; and Writing from the Chakras, a body-based system that leads to fast, energized, powerful breakthroughs by tapping the seven levels of human experience that make up rich, versatile writing.

As a journalist, she worked at the San Jose Mercury News from 1992 to 2000 as an editor, reporter, and the newspaper’s first reader representative (ombudsperson). She is a graduate of Stanford University and held a fellowship in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in 2000-01.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How do I sign up for Writing from the Chakras?

A. 

The quickest way:

Via PayPal.com, submit a payment of $425 to hajratwala {at} gmail {dot} com. You can use Paypal funds or a credit card. You’ll get a confirmation from PayPal immediately, and a welcome email from me within 72 hours.

If you’ve never used PayPal, don’t worry. It’s easy and takes about 5 minutes. Grab your credit or debit card, then just follow these simple steps:

• Go to www.paypal.com

• Click on “Send Payment” and then “Send Payment Online.”

• In the TO box, type “hajratwala@gmail.com” (no quotes).

• In the FROM box, type your email address.

• In the AMOUNT box, type $425.

• Where it says “Send payment for,” choose “Services.” (This means that you won’t be charged any shipping fees.)

• Click “Continue.”

• Enter your credit/debit card info and follow the directions to create your account and finish. That’s it!

If you prefer to mail a check:

Send a check for $425 to:

Minal Hajratwala

847 East Angela St.

Pleasanton CA 94566

Please drop me an email *after* you have put the check in the mail.  I will consider that your registration date and start sending you materials, so that we don’t have to wait for the snail mail to arrive.

Or send your owl / passenger pigeon / unicorn. Please do not pay in leprechaun money, though.

Payment is due in full before your first class, unless… scroll to the bottom of this FAQ.

Q. I understand that it’s online; is there any kind of group interaction? Are there specific days/times when we must sign on?

A. You can take this course from anywhere if you have access to your email once a week. There are no required times to sign on. Interaction with the group includes virtual workshopping and optional live sessions (see the syllabus below).

All of the weekly homework (or, as I like to call it, home play!) will be on your own time.  You will receive a weekly lesson with writing prompts and a weekly schedule for giving and receiving feedback from your peers, as well as from me.

Q. Is yoga a requirement?

A. No. We’ll explore a cornucopia of ways to tune into the energies of the physical/metaphysical body. Some of those might be about things to try in the context of your own physical practice — whether that’s yoga or dance, reiki, skateboarding, walking the dog, ec. All of the ‘assignments’ are optional so if it doesn’t work for you, choose something else; you’ll get plenty of choices each week.

(If you happen to be in San Francisco, Oakland, or Chicago, bonus news: I’ve taught Writing from the Chakras with yoga instructors who teach regularly in those cities. In case you’re looking for a yoga class to complement our chakra work, I’d be delighted to refer you to a teacher who is familiar with the concepts we’ll explore here. Again, not a requirement at all, just a bonus!)

Q. Can I get a sneak preview of the syllabus? How much time should I allot?

A. The assignments are flexible and each week, you’ll be given a choice of things to do. You’ll probably want to allot at least 2 hours a week, perhaps in 30-minute segments. If you got excited and did everything on the list, you might spend up to 4 hours a week — or even more, if you decide to write write write!

Our Syllabus

Week 1: Intro plus the Root Chakra

Week 2: The Sexy Chakra

Week 3: The Power Chakra

Week 4: The Heart Chakra

Week 5: Floating Chakra exercise / Integration

Week 6: The Throat Chakra

Week 7: The Third Eye

Week 8: The Crown

Week 9: Integration, Final Workshopping, & Celebration

In addition to the written materials and virtual workshopping, I’ll host three optional live sessions as follows:

(1) Building a Strong Foundation: Writing from the Lower 3 Chakras. Your questions about fight scenes, sex scenes, power struggles, ancestor work, our deepest dramas.  Week of June 10-15.

(2) Manifesting in the World: Writing from Heart, Throat, Hands.  Are you saying what you really want to say? Dive in, unblock, and get to the truth of the matter. Week of July 1-6.

(3) Connecting to Source: Writing from the Third Eye and Crown; Integrating the Energy Spine. Vision and transcendence, writing that flies off the page and into the ether, the future, alternate universes and beyond. Week of July 15-20.

Exact times will be based on a survey of availability and interest of those who enroll, and will be scheduled so that everyone who wants to participate can come to at least one session. The format will be Q&A and shared freewriting, and content will be entirely student-guided. We’ll use Google+ hangout or an equivalent.

In order to create a safe space where participants can share concerns and work in progress, the live sessions will not be recorded or disseminated; however, you may ask other students to share notes on the sessions.

Q. How will the online course work? What technology do I need?

A. At the beginning of the course, I’ll send you a syllabus and welcome document that will include technical details, logins, etc.

The tech basics you will need are:

• An email address.

• A computer with access to email once a week.

Optional tech:

• A gmail address for accessing the full features of google groups.

• A computer with audio or video capability to dial into the optional live sessions.

Q. Can I take one session at a time? What if I’m going to be away part of the time?

A. Each lesson will build on the previous ones. We’ll be sharing work and creating a temporary community. So, in order to keep it safe for everyone and manageable for me, there will be no drop-ins.

If you are going to be away for some of this time, don’t worry. This is a self-paced class, so you can always catch up on the exercises you’ve missed. Or you can just skip them and go back later, after the class finishes.

Q. I just saw this and it’s already past June 1! Can I still join and catch up?

A. Before June 5, yes. You’ll have a little catching up to do but it should be fine. After June 5, please email me.

Q. What level of anonymity will there be?

A.You’ll post your own writing and give feedback using whatever email address you choose. It’s absolutely fine with me if you want to use a pseudonym or create an alter ego for the purpose of this workshop. Our group agreements will include not discussing or sharing anyone’s work outside the workshop.

Q. How many students do you expect or will you cap?

A. I’m really not sure, right now I’m open! If it gets too big or unwieldy, I’ll probably split it into two smaller “sections” rather than close it off. Since I don’t know when I’ll have the time to teach this way again, I’m reluctant to say no to anyone who’s ready and willing to move into this work now.

Q. Is there any provision for people with financial hardship?

A.Yes. Times are tough, right? Instead of paying the full registration fee up front, if you need to, you can make payments on the following schedule:

$150 due May 31 or before your first class

$150 due June 20

$125 due July 10

Please note that when you sign up, you are committing to the whole course, so this is NOT a way to “try out” the class and hedge your bets! I trust you to honor your commitment. You can pay via PayPal or, if you prefer, you can mail 3 checks to me, postdated, and I will cash them on the appropriate dates.

If you are based in India AND have limited finances, you can apply for a special reduced rate of 11,000 rupees, which is about half the US student rate.

Q. Are you accepting international students?

A.Yes. Please contact me at hajratwala {at} gmail {dot} com for payment options if you cannot access PayPal or if you have a question about currency conversion. Thanks!

Q. My question is not answered here.

A.No problem. Ask me at hajratwala {at} gmail {dot} com .

Testimonials

I’m working on a new website (unicorns! services for writers! hoorah!). Amid all the chores, there is one delightful task: to solicit testimonials from happy clients. Here are a few … couldn’t wait for the new site in order to start sharing! Thank you SO much for to these lovely beings who’ve written such kind words about me.

(And, erm… she said shyly … if you’ve worked with me and you feel like adding your own testimonial in the comments or by emailing me … I would be MOST HAPPY and grateful!)

If you want your book to sizzle, you want Minal Hajratwala to touch your project. In Minal, you get a whip smart, inventive and big picture editor, an insightful reader, a dedicated partner, and most importantly a gentle and sensitive friend that sees you from early draft to published prose. (T.L. Coulter, memoir writer)

My sessions with writing coach Minal Hajratwala were chock full of helpful information that addressed my creative impulse at large, my specific novel-in-progress, and provided invaluable encouragement and advice to me as a writer. Here’s an example: In April on 2011, I wrote to Minal to see if we could schedule a coaching session. I wanted help preparing my application for a writer’s retreat. Not only did we schedule a session, but Minal’s experience and tips made my application so successful that I was added to a select group of 30 writers who would become Lambda Literary Foundation Fellows! By the way, Minal was in India at the time, and I was in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil! Nothing daunted, we made excellent use of Skype and email. Thanks, Minal! (Dawn Robinson, novelist)

Minal is a writer’s editor. She provided the perfect mix of encouragement and helpful suggestions that made my manuscript sing. She has the rare ability to see the macro and micro and give specific instructions on how to make your text clearer, more pointed and more poignant. I was thrilled with her coaching. (Sarah Richards, journalist, Author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: Life Off the Biological Clock — Simon & Schuster 2013)

Minal Hajratwala was an immense help in the development of my writing project. She gave me many suggestions that contributed to greater focus and direction. She helped me build more creative tension in the manuscript. And she passed on many practical tips that made for a smoother, yet more dynamic reading experience. Minal saw the potential in the project, understood the writing process, and remained supportive throughout. (Paul Joseph, Professor of Sociology, Tufts University, Fulbright-Nehru Distinguished Chair 2011)

I took a first draft of my essay book to Minal Hajratwala for two reasons: she’s smart on politics, race, gender, and all that good stuff AND I love the way her prose leaves me feeling like I’ve just read a book of poetry. Working with Minal, I found a third reason to sing her praises: she’s gentle on the soul and sharp on the writing. She read my manuscript with a fine eye and gave me guidance on where to go next, but she did it all with a great generosity of spirit and respect for me as a writer and for my book-in-progress. I left our coaching session renewed! (Daisy Hernandez, essayista)

The writer’s coach’s writing coach, Minal Hajratwala, opens my head up, unscrambles the stories in my brain, and sets me on a course for completion. She is my writing compass and my personal crazybrain surgeon. From Minal, I have learned how to coax my most complex and deep ideas out of the darkest corners of my mind and out into the light, onto the page. I would never be able to finish my novel without her.

In 2010, I wrote this about my first round of work with Minal as a writing coach:
“Working with Minal set my process free. She helped me to digest the fantastic feedback I’d gotten and then empowered me to pick and choose from that feedback. With Minal’s support, I developed a third draft and then set it aside again, to participate in NaNoWriMo 2010.”

Now that she’s reviewed a manuscript for me, I’ll add that she is a most loving and careful reader. Her feedback after reading the fifth draft of my novel has propelled me forward. She delved even deeper than I’d hoped in terms of attention and devotion to my manuscript, really partnering with me in the challenge of cracking open my big ideas and smoothing out my jagged parts. (Kristy Lin Billuni, The Sexy Grammarian, novelist)

State of the blog

Finally got around to looking at the JetPack report on my blog stats from 2012. It’s a nice presentation format and the numbers are interesting, in an entirely narcissistic way.  There’s a nifty map showing the 98 countries where yall came from.  I hope that you, dear solo reader from Belarus, got what you needed.

An excerpt:

“600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 11,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 18 years to get that many views.”

Um, yeah.  Plus, no risk of hypothermia.

The full report, in case you’re really feeling idle: http://jetpack.me/annual-report/6439983/2012/

 

 

First, do no harm

How not to build your platform

Doctor and aspiring author Jan O’Hara wrote this interesting post over at Writer Unboxed about how writers should follow the medical maxim, “First, do no harm.”

Her point: Too much focus on blogging and tweeting can get in the way of writing a book.

So true! But then there’s a bunch of stuff about how, instead, a writer should buckle down and never miss a deadline and so on.  This way of thinking can knock down a bunch of “shoulds” … only to replace them with a whole ‘nother pile of “shoulds.”

This made me think about how the greatest harm is in compromising what you really want to say.

My feeling: Social media ‘rules’ aren’t sacred, even deadlines aren’t sacred, but the work is.

Sometimes you have to blow deadlines to get to a deeper level of your work.

Be open to that possibility. If your deadline doesn’t let you produce the book you really need to write, let the deadline go — but do your real writing.

But don’t I need to work on “building my platform” at the same time?

No.

For first-time authors, the number one thing is to crank out the first draft of the first book.

Later, in your period of revision, getting feedback, etc., you’ll have time to build your platform. Everyone’s attention span is like a guppy’s these days, so I can’t see any point to fretting about this years in advance.

Plus, technology best practices are guppyish too. Three years ago it was “you MUST blog”; now it’s “no one reads blogs, be on Tumblr.”

So your knitting book released this very minute would certainly benefit from a Pinterest following, but if you haven’t even started the book?  Write, knit, purl, edit—and three years from now, when you’re done, you’ll still have time to set up your Pintwitterbook account.  By that time, you’ll be able to upload holographic pictures of your scarves, like the ones that people wore in Star Wars.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, writers should focus.  Ahem.  Right.

My point: Don’t worry about your platform until you can see the precise date when you’ll need to climb up onto it.

Then, after you publish, something magical happens.  Your first book (plus the website, email list, etc. that you build to promote it) becomes your base. Hey, look, you made a platform! Out of, like, sentences and paragraphs and stuff. Instead of tweets.

There are, of course, tons (tonnes!) of other reasons to blog and tweet. If it feeds your soul, gives you a healthy rant outlet, or nurtures your work in progress by giving you real-time feedback and/or research directions and/or friendly cheerleaders … by all means, blog your little heart out.

But if you’re just doing it because you’re “supposed to,” please stop. Really think about what you’re getting in return.

For me, at this point, I try to ration my blog/tweet/etc time. I try to invest time in it only when:

1) It’s not interfering with my writing goals, but helping me to clarify my thinking (like this) or part of my down time (like Facebook).
AND
2) It’s fun.
AND
3) It’s not taking up huge amounts of time.

Alternatively:
4) All of the above may be untrue, BUT It’s going to result in immediate gain (turnout at an event, income from an upcoming workshop, etc) that is worth the temporary loss of writing time.

In that last sentence, note the connection between “immediate” and “temporary.” (I put those words in bold to help you. Because I’m snazzy like that.)

“Vague general gain to be harvested at some point in the future” tends to lead me into “the great sinkhole into which writing time is sucked up by the evil forces of gravity created by the sucky demons who live below the earth.”

Finding myself in the sinkhole of sucky demons tends to make me very cranky.

Now, as the original poster wrote: “I’d love feedback. … Did reading this article give you a net benefit, or should you have written instead?”

*

The platform of the future.

Blueprint Your Book

NOTE: The 2012 class is over, and more than 20 writers made great leaps forward toward completing their books! Please email me if you’d like to receive an email when course enrollment opens in 2013, or if you’d like to work your way through the class materials as an independent student.

A 6-Week Course for Crafting Your Manuscript
Sept. 15 – Oct. 22, 2012
with Minal Hajratwala

Blueprint Your Book is a six-week crash course in structure — to help you transform your ideas or rough drafts into a cohesive, compelling manuscript.

Every book makes its own shape in the world, just like a body.  As Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”  We’ll chisel deep into the foundations of great storytelling to find the shape that works best for you.  You’ll end up with an organic form and an action plan that gives you full freedom to sculpt your story whole.

Each week, I’ll send you tools and exercises that you can put to work now.  You’ll spend the week exploring, applying the new ideas to your own work, and workshopping your results with your classmates.  You’ll also receive personalized feedback from me.

In six weeks, you’ll learn:

• The top five successful book structures
• How to create your own organic structure  (a.k.a., this is not your grade-school teacher’s outline)
• What you most need to know about plot and narrative drive
• How to sort out overlapping timelines
• How to let your characters’ motivations drive the story
• How to get crystal-clear about your themes (i.e. What the heck is this book about?)
• The strengths and unique qualities that others see in your project — even when you might not
• How to structure your time and your support system
• How to deal with your inner critics
• How to strike the balance between form and freedom, to create a form that lets you write everything your book needs to say

You’ll also get:
• Insightful, personal critique from me on the work you generate in class
• Encouraging, thoughtful workshopping from peers
• Dozens of easy, 15- to 30-minute writing prompts to bring out the book that’s in you

And you’ll end up with an action plan to drive your project all the way to completion.

You can use this course as the perfect setup for National Novel Writing Month: the challenge of writing 50,000 words this November.  (Join me: I’m going to use these very tools to create my very own workplan for NaNoWriMo 2012!)

You’re ready to Blueprint Your Book if you:
  • Yearn for a clear plan to help you make progress on your manuscript.
  • Wrestle with character arcs, plot, and theme — but can’t imagine reducing your gorgeously complex story to a mere “outline.”
  • Want a solid foundation to get you started.
  • Are halfway through and need a jolt of clarity to propel you to the end!

Fee: $365 US.
Registration: Pay $365 by PayPal to hajratwala {at} gmail {dot} com to reserve your space.
Dates: We start September 15 and finish October 22, 2012.
Requirements:  
An email address and internet access once a week.  You can join from anywhere in the solar system. All genres and genders are welcome.

Questions? Please scroll down for Frequently Asked Questions, or email me.

 

About the Instructor

Minal Hajratwala is the author of Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), which has been called “incomparable” by Alice Walker and “searingly honest” by the Washington Post. The book won a Pen USA Award, an Asian American Writers Workshop Award, a Lambda Literary Award, a California Book Award (Silver, Nonfiction), and was shortlisted for the Saroyan International Writing Prize. She spent seven years researching and writing the book, traveling the world to interview more than seventy-five members of her extended family.

Ms. Hajratwala was a 2010-2011 Fulbright Senior Research Scholar based in India, researching a novel while also writing poems about the unicorns of the 5,000-year-old Indus Valley civilization. She is the editor of Out! Stories From the New Queer India, forthcoming in 2012 from Queer Ink. Her creative work has received recognition and support from the Sundance Institute, the Jon Sims Center for the Arts, the SerpentSource Foundation, and the Hedgebrook writing retreat for women, where she has served on the Alumnae Leadership Council. Her one-woman show, “Avatars: Gods for a New Millennium,” was commissioned by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco for World AIDS Day in 1999.

She has taught or coached writers in numerous venues including the Voices of Our Nations memoir writing workshop, Kearny Street Workshop, Bay Area Solidarity Summer for youth, Stanford University, the Asian American Journalists Association, and DesiLit’s Kriti Festival. For more about her coaching style, click here.

As a journalist, she worked at the San Jose Mercury News from 1992 to 2000 as an editor, reporter, and the newspaper’s first reader representative (ombudsperson). She was a National Arts Journalism Program fellow at Columbia University in 2000-01. She is a graduate of Stanford University.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How do I sign up for Blueprint Your Book?

The quickest way:

Via PayPal.com, submit a payment of $365 to hajratwala {at} gmail {dot} com. You can use your Paypal funds or a credit card. You’ll get a confirmation from PayPal immediately, and a welcome email from me within 24 hours.

If you’ve never used PayPal, don’t worry. It’s easy, takes about 3 minutes, and you don’t even need to set up an account. Grab your credit or debit card, then just follow these simple steps:

• Go to www.paypal.com

• Click on “Send Money”

• In the box that says, “Send Money Now,” enter the amount $365. Under “My payment is for,” choose the option that says “Buying Something.” (This means that I pay the PayPal fee, not you.) Click Continue.

• Under TO, enter hajratwala@gmail.com. Under FROM, enter your email address. Click Continue.

• Enter your credit/debit card info and follow the directions to finish. That’s it!

Other good ways:

If you prefer to mail a check or deposit directly to my account, ask me for my details.

Or send your owl / passenger pigeon / unicorn. (Please do not pay in leprechaun money, though.)

Payment is due in full before your first class, unless… scroll to the bottom of this FAQ.

Q. What is the time commitment?

The assignments are flexible and each week, you’ll be given a choice of things to do. You’ll probably want to allot at least 2 hours a week  to read the materials, try out a few of the exercises, and participate in the workshopping.   If you got excited and did everything on the list, you could spend up to 10-12 hours a week — or even more, if you decide to write, write, write!

Q.  Can I get a sneak preview of the syllabus? 

Of course!  Here you go:

Week 1:  Time. Timelines, flashbacks, cause and effect, time period research, chronological and non-chronological elements of storytelling.

Week 2:  Place. Maps, memories, geographical research, world-building.

Week 3: Plot. Arcs, acts, mysteries, suspense, tension/trauma points, narrative drive, post-outlines, emotional maps.

Week 4: Character. Development, motivation, interviewing, interactions, quest/journey.

Week 5:  Theme. Image, metaphor, symbol, central argument, throughline, core meaning.

Week 6: Writer’s life.  Support circle, critique, inner critics, calendaring, goals, action plan.

Q. Seriously, we’re going to do all that?  

Well, not exactly.  I’m  going to offer you all that —because that’s what makes this a crash course.

Then you’re going to choose what you most need right now — because that’s what makes you the writer in charge of your own process.

The truth is, I’ll give you way more than you can possibly do in six weeks.  Somewhere in there will be the gems that will transform your writing, right where you are now — so you won’t waste time doing anything irrelevant or that doesn’t resonate.

Remember, the purpose of this course is to set you up to finish your book.  Use the tools you need now.  Keep the rest for when you need them, weeks or years later.  (I still use exercises and frameworks that I learned in the writing classes I took in 1994.)  You have a lifetime ahead of you as a writer, and your book has a whole life cycle ahead too.

The wealth of material here guarantees that you’ll get exactly what you need at this stage, as well as a box full of toys/tools to play with as your book grows up.

Q.  What stage should my book be in to join this class? I’m not sure what my book is about… I’m not even sure I’m writing a book … I’ve already finished a first draft, can I still learn from this class? 

All of the tools and exercises are designed to use prior to new writing OR prior to a major re-write/revision.  Here’s the rundown:

If you want to write a book but you’re not exactly sure what, this class will be awesome for you.  You’ll get ideas and tools that will help to you shape your ideas. You’ll be able to move forward from the cloud of vague ideas that you have now, to focus on a clear, specific, actionable project.  And a plan for getting it done.

If you are at or near the beginning of your book, this class will be fantabulous for you.  You’ll get a bunch of new tools and a head start on a lot of stuff that will save you time and hair-pulling in the writing process.  Go sign up, ok?

If you’re partway through your book, or have a draft or two done, but you sense that there are major issues with structure/theme/plot/character, this class will offer you huge relief.  We’ll sort out the things that are confusing you, and get you revved up with a bunch of new strategies so that you can finish your manuscript with confidence.  Sign up!

If your book is almost finished and you know exactly what it’s about and you don’t really need to sort out any issues, congratulations!  This class would probably be most helpful if you want to get a headstart on your next project.  Or you might want to ask me about my manuscript review services, because I am a fantastic editor.  Or, you know, maybe you want to go get a glass of wine and pin some stuff on Pinterest instead.

Q.  What’s your connection with NaNoWriMo?  Actually, what is NaNoWriMo?

A.  Besides being what Mork said to Mindy (OK, now I’m totally dating myself), NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month.  It’s actually international but they haven’t gotten around to changing the name to InNoWriMo because anyway, that sounds yuck. Anyway, it’s a month — November, to be precise — when a whole lot of fools courageous souls sign up to write 50,000 words in a month.

I don’t have any official connection to NaNoWriMo, but I think it’s a fantastic tool that I recommend to my writing students.

The first time I did NaNoWriMo, I wrote 50,000 words of a novel. I just freewrote like mad, which was fantastic AND had the result that lots of things didn’t end up connecting. I realized that I’ll get even more out of it this time if I do some good planning ahead of time.  I’m going to make specific plans for what I’ll be writing.  It’ll probably change along the way, which is perfect — I just want to have a working structure (not a straitjacket) in place so that I can keep going instead of wasting time wondering what to write about.  I figured some of you might like to join me in that process, so I’m excited to share my toolbox/toybox with you.

Q. How will the online course work? What technology do I need?

All you need is a gmail address and weekly online access.

Everyone in the workshop will receive password-protected access to the “Blueprint Your Book” Clubhouse — a secret spot on the web (ok, on my website) for participants only.  We’ll also have a google group to communicate.

If you don’t have gmail, I’ll walk you through how you can create an account for free.

If you think Google is the devil, that’s cool; you can still participate in most elements of the course, but you might not get to be part of some optional elements like Google hangouts.

When you sign up for the course, I’ll send you a syllabus and welcome document that will include technical details, logins, etc.

Q. I’m on the east coast — I understand that it’s online; is there any kind of group interaction? Do you have to be in the Bay Area to participate? Are there specific days/times when we must sign on?

This is an online course that you can take from anywhere, as long as you have access to your email once a week. The course will be self-paced; you post your work and you comment on others’ work on your own time. All of the weekly homework (or, as I like to call it, home play!) will be on your own time. Interaction with other students will be via a web forum where you can log in at anytime.

Q. Can I take one session at a time? What if I’m going to be away part of the time?

Each lesson will build on the previous ones. We’ll be sharing work and creating a temporary community. So, in order to keep it safe for everyone and manageable for me, there will be no drop-ins.

If you are going to be away for some of this time, don’t worry. This is a self-paced class, so you can always catch up on the exercises you’ve missed. Or you can just skip them and go back later, after the class finishes.

Q. What level of anonymity will there be?

We’ll communicate via a google group, and you’ll post your own writing and give feedback as whatever email address you use for that. It’s absolutely fine with me if you want to create an alter ego for the purpose of this workshop. We’ll also lay down some ground rules which will include not discussing or sharing anyone’s work outside the workshop. If you and I know each other socially, I will always keep all elements of our coaching/teaching relationship private, including the fact that you’re taking my workshop.

Q. How many students do you expect or will you cap?

There is no firm limit. If it gets too big or unwieldy, I’ll probably split it into two smaller “sections” rather than close it off. Since I don’t know when I’ll have the time to teach this way again, I’m reluctant to say no to anyone who’s ready and willing to move into this work now.

Q. Is there any provision for people with financial hardship?

Yes. Times are tough, right? Instead of paying the full registration fee up front, if you need to, you can make payments on the following schedule:

$120 due Sept. 15 or before your first class

$120 due Sept. 30

$115 due Oct. 15

Please note that when you sign up, you are committing to the whole course, so this is not a way to “try out” the class and hedge your bets! I trust you to honor your commitment. You can pay via PayPal or, if you prefer, you can mail 3 checks to me at once, postdated, and I will cash them on the appropriate date.

See also below for people with financial hardship based in India.

Q. Are you accepting international students?  Is there a reduced rate?

Students from everywhere are very, very welcome. In the past students from Australia, Canada, India, and Ghana have studied with me.

If you live in India AND you have limited finances, you may request a scholarship at a special reduced rate of 12,000 rupees, which is just over half the regular student rate.

Please contact me for payment options if you cannot access PayPal or if you have a question about currency conversion.

Q. My question is not answered here.

No problem. Ask me at hajratwala {at} gmail {dot} com .

~

Start blueprinting now! Class begins Sept. 15.

The Eye of the Beholder

I got really excited when I saw the new Darksiders II character sculptures, because:
OMG! A Unicorn of Despair! How awesome and original.

 

*
I adore nonconventional unicorns. In a world of this:

it’s refreshing to see this:

 

Lady Gaga as unicorn

so I was all, Go DARKSIDERS!  (Whatever the heck that is.)

*

But then, Twitter buddy and former colleague @ohmgee pointed out to me that, hey, that thing sticking up out of the Darksiders creature’s head? It’s probably just an ear.

As a different view makes clear —

oh yeah. It really is.
(I still like my reading better, though.)

A long digression, with no unicorns

One of my early jobs was as a kind of ombudsperson for the Newspaper Of Silicon Valley. I was called the reader representative, and one of my fun-filled tasks was to handle our paper’s responses to every reader complaint.

People felt the ink rubbed off on their fingers too much, or smelled bad. They complained that the news coverage was biased, and the weather forecasts always wrong. (When I organized a public forum with the meteorologists who provided our weather report, hundreds of readers showed up — way more than the two PR chicks who came in to meet our then-new Washington D.C. reporter.)

A number of readers also felt that, since I was supposed to connect with readers, my name should be easier to pronounce.

Yeah, sorry ’bout that. (Not.)

The thing I learned in the two years that I did that noble job was that at the end of the day, what people say about your work usually says more about them than about you.

That’s not to say people’s complaints were unfounded. They were often spot on.

The diehards who don’t believe in adding fluoride to the U.S. drinking water, for example, are correct: Yes, journalists are not on your side and think you’re kind of crazy.

The Sri Lankan community representatives, too, were correct: The newspaper did not provide enough coverage of the war. We had a great brown-bag meeting with them on terminology and background and the various factions; the foreign desk wire editor told me he learned from it. And we continued to cover it the same way: one paragraph every four days or so.

Our political coverage was often less than objective, but rarely in the ways or for the reasons that people suspected. Despite a regular stream of reader accusations, no one, to my knowledge, deliberately chose photos of either Bush or Clinton in order to overemphasize, respectively, a dumb dazed what-the-hay-is-goin-on expression or a possibly drunken bulbous reddish nose. That was just, well, how those guys’ faces looked.

We also, for the record, did not on purpose choose pictures to make Hilary’s hair look bad, nor to make Laura Bush look so much older than her husband, implying some kind of Harold and Maude thing.

And yes, newspaper ink does rub off on your fingers.

Back to the unicorns, or:

What to do about ‘What will people think?’

Conclusion of the long-winded nostalgia trip above, in case you skimmed it: People will experience your work according to their own biases and inclinations.

So yeah, my pro-unicorn prejudice has absolutely nothing to do with what artist Brian King created for Darksiders II — which, by the way, is apparently some kind of video game. In case you were wondering.

Arguably, my bias totally interfered with me experiencing his art in the way he meant it.

It also got me to spend a lot more time with his image than I would have otherwise, and to share it with you, so, you know, I’m sure his panties aren’t all in a bunch about it. It’s not like I’m some big God in the Darksiders world. (Oh hey, SEO algorithm: Darksiders, Darksiders, Darksiders. Sorry, my marketing people keep telling me I’m supposed to do that.)

OK, I’m getting to a point here.

The thing I try to tell my students, especially the ones who are writing about their own lives in memoir or autobiographical fiction, is that you just can’t worry too much about how other people are going to read your work.

No — that’s not right — you can worry about it!  A lot.

In fact, you can worry about it so much that you don’t write for years and years . Or ever.

What you can’t do is control other people’s reactions.

To a small degree you might try to manage the reactions of the people closest to you; you can share drafts, or mentally prep them, or explain your motivations. You can try your best to be ethical in your process.

But as my book seminar professor at Columbia, Sam Freedman, used to say, “You can’t stand next to the book in the bookstore and say, ‘What I meant to say on Page 11 was…’”

The work stands on its own and it goes out into the world and then, somehow, miraculously, you’re actually free of it. I get beautiful emails from strangers about Leaving India. I get, much less frequently, criticisms and jabs.

Obviously I like one kind of feedback much more than the other — but it’s not as big a deal as my early-stage writing self would have thought.

The book carries its own burdens now.

Those 140,000 words?

They’re not mine anymore.

They’re all yours.

Writing the Sixth Sense

My great-grandfather Motiram Narsey, who was the first in our family to travel from India to Fiji in 1909

 

Someone on a Facebook thread today asked about how to cultivate her psychic powers, as a way of connecting to her ethnic heritage.

I felt compelled to pipe in since, as readers of Leaving India know, my great-great-grandfather Motiram (at left) was reputed to be psychic.

At the risk of sounding woo-woo to some people, I’ll say that in writing intimately about my long-gone ancestors, I found it extremely helpful to develop my own spiritual relationships and connections.  So I said:

For me, writing really helps the most. Keeping a dream journal. Writing questions just before sleep, then being ready to write answers if they are present when I wake up. Nurturing my imaginative space with images, metaphors, beauty, experiences in nature, art. Developing a personal metaphorical language so that I know what stuff “means” to me. Like, if you know a certain color resonates — or images, or gems, or a tarot image — try carrying it around or wearing it or looking at it every day for a week/month — inviting it in and getting to know it. What happens if I wear red every day for a month, what energies shift around me? Or blue?  Taking notes/noticing that sixth-sense level of reality as much of the time as I can. Squinting, peeking, peering, opening my eyes (+ 3rd eye) to see what others don’t see/say.

Writing is a psychic power, after all. So is art-making. Care-taking. Loving.

Activism, too.  Later this week, I’m teaching a writing workshop as part of a five-day camp for young South Asian American activists.  We’ll work on cultivating the sixth sense: Seeing what others can’t or won’t see.  Developing the resilience to keep on looking, witnessing, speaking out.  Learning to articulate a new vision.  Scrying into the future, toward a better world that we believe can exist, with our own earnest vision.

I think that’s better than all of Bruce Wayne’s paramilitary-industrial-complex “superpowers.”