Writing Workshop with Susan Fletcher at the North Mason Timberland Library

About a week or so ago, while returning an unruly stack of books to our local library (North Mason Timberland Library, www.TRL.org) I couldn’t help but notice that the display case in the lobby was stuffed full of books and dragons. Upon closer inspection, because let’s face it who is not going to go and look at a glass case filled with dragons, I discovered that it was to promote an upcoming series writing workshops (one for teens, one for elementary school aged children, and one for adults) lead by author Susan Fletcher.

Needless to say I was excited! Very excited!

Normally, attending an event like this involves a lengthy drive (more than likely into Seattle, Tacoma, or Olympia) and a fair amount of logistical preparations rendering a midweek adventure such as this next to impossible. But now, thanks to Elizabeth, our new children’s librarian, and the generosity of the Friends of the Library, this event was going to be held right here at home, in one of my favorite libraries in the world. Our little library is fantastic, it’s open architecture and bright airy space make it a great place to work, read, or search for something new – especially if it is raining (which happily it does quiet frequently here in the Pacific North West). Dry inside you can hear the rain pelting off the metal roof in its comforting rhythm. As I pulled my planner from my purse, causing me to drop the unruly stack of books mentioned earlier, it began to rain. Perfect I thought, and scribbled down the necessary information before sheepishly picking up my mess and scurrying off to return my books.

Once the children were in bed, I began to do my research, first by strip mining Ms. Fletcher’s (www.susanfletcher.com) site for information about her work and then by beginning to read Dragon Milk, the first book in her acclaimed series “The Dragon Chronicles.” Both turned out to be quite impressive. I particularly loved how she chose to included stories on her web site about her adventures in researching her novels (a theme I was glad she carried over into her presentation) rather than just listing the typical almost obituary like biographical blurbs found on many sites:

State Author’s Name

  • born
  • graduated
  • published: list books here
  • Married, with: insert list children and pets here

Unfortunately the next morning, my 10 year old daughter who had just finished reading the most recent installment of the Emily Windsnap series the previous day was on the prowl for something new to read. Like a lioness on the hunt, she spotted my copy of Dragon Milk, asked a few calculated questions and then in the blink of an eye she took off with it when she learned that it was about a girl who took care of dragons. I can happily say, I have never been more pleased to have a book stolen. Ok, who am I kidding, this is the first time I have ever been happy to loose a book. But as I watch her voraciously tear through it, I cannot help but smile.

In fact she liked the book so much, she asked if she could attend the workshop as well, so that she could meet Ms. Fletcher and possibly get my, now her, copy of Dragon Milk signed. What could I do but grin madly, and agree.

So yesterday, the day in question finally arrived, and following a series of unfortunate delays that included a dental mishap and a traffic jam (in a town that only has around 700 people), so did we. Having missed almost half of the presentation for children (grades 2 – 5) we slunk in and grabbed a seat in time to participate in a writing exercise Ms. Fletcher had prepared for the children. The exercise in question required the children to replace “boring” words with descriptive ones. The results were as entertaining as they were surprising. The children really took her advise and encouragement to heart and turned the starter paragraph they were handed into specific, descriptive, and more often than not, funny stories that were as unique as they were.

Her prepared presentation over all too soon (due to our late arrival), Ms. Fletcher graciously answered all of the children’s questions, including (much to her credit) the brutally truthful (though not always tactful) questions that only children can ask. However, the fun was not quiet over. While closing the workshop, and thanking Ms. Fletcher for coming and the children for participating, the Youth Services Librarian surprised all the children by buying them each a book of their own. Sage Bookstore (of Shelton) had set up a small both in the back of the room.

My daughter took our stack of books from home, and the new one she had just received, and asked Ms. Fletcher to sign them. All 5 of them! Over the moon, with her treasures in hand, we headed home.

After throwing down a quick meal I returned to the library, this time for the adult writing workshop. Happily the traffic had thinned back to its normal trickle allowing me to arrive on time and grab a seat (of which there were only a few left).

Following a series of announcements and introductions, the workshop began.

Originally, Ms. Fletcher had planned on leading with a list of 25 different tips on writing. However, given that the entire workshop was only slated to be an hour long, she pared it down to 10. Not, her top 10, as one might expect, but rather the 10 with the best stories! Perfect!

What followed was an extremely encouraging, and entertaining presentation, that left me ready to go home and continue to slog through my manuscript and hopefully excavate the treasure buried deep within all of the imperfections currently surrounding it.

The tips I will happily share as they are fairly similar to the advise most successful authors give when asked about writing.

Tips

(Please note these are paraphrased and are not exact transcripts)

  1. Learn how to take criticism.
  2. Don t take yourself too seriously.
  3. Take your work, your writing, very seriously. (If you won’t, who will?)
  4. The critic (your conscious, critical, organized mind) has no place in the creating process, that is the job of the genius (your unconscious, disorganized, childish mind). Invite the critic in to organize and polish your creation only after you have allowed yourself to write it down.
  5. Solve your writing problems in your sleep. Just plowing through a problem doesn’t always yield the best answers. Write your questions down, set them aside and read them every morning. Eventually the answer will just come to you.
  6. Be mean to your characters. Characters have to suffer for readers to care about them.
  7. Follow your protagonist’s desire(s).
  8. Your current novel will teach you how to write that novel, but not your next. Each book is different, and you will have to learn with each new book how to write that book.
  9. Do your research. (Even if this means flying off to Iran, traveling to London, or riding a camel.)
  10. The work is what satisfies. When discouraged, return to the work.

Following the end of her prepared list, Ms. Fletcher opened the floor for questions, which she answered with the same patience and grace she had earlier for the children. To be honest, classy is the word that most comes to mind.

I ended the evening by buying The Falcon in the Glass, Ms. Fletcher’s latest novel and had her sign it for me. One day, I might even let my daughter read it, although not until I am certain she will actually give it back.

Until next time.

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