As some of you may know, I was recently asked to join the faculty of the Story Is a State of Mind School, founded by Canadian author Sarah Selecky. One of Selecky’s online writing courses, The Story Intensive, is being offered again in Fall 2017, and I am one of the TAs. There’s going to be a masterclass with Ann Patchett! Needless to say, I’m excited.
But what I’m most excited about is sharing with you how transformative Sarah’s teaching has been for my own writing practice. After years of “playing at writing,” my work has now appeared in Geist, The Writer Magazine, Sou’wester, Grist, and many others. In the last two years I’ve received four writing grants from the Ontario Arts Council to help me complete my collection of short stories. I’ve also done tons of online writing here and elsewhere, and in 2012 I founded a literary journal, where I oversee a team of eight editors. We’re working on our tenth issue right now. I owe much of this writing success to Sarah’s teaching and truly believe her methods have a transformative quality that allowed me to break through the barriers holding me back from great writing.
If you’d love to take The Story Intensive but haven’t yet made the leap, I greatly encourage you to just go for it. You won’t be disappointed.
When I was invited to join the SSM school, I was also asked to write an introductory letter to potential students. Here’s that letter:
Like most writers, I have lived many lives. I have been a career woman and a stay-at-home mother. A world traveller and a recluse. A skeptic and a believer. A million things in between.
Storytelling is the lens through which we make sense of these lives. We write to come to terms with relationships past and present, to explore whys and what ifs, to reinterpret experiences from another point of view. Our stories are so valuable, we sometimes feel an overwhelming desire—even a right—to create publishable work in the least amount of time. But it’s precisely because our stories are valuable that we should resist such notions. Life-changing writing transcends catharsis and publication; life-changing writing is craft.
The Story Is a State of Mind School is exactly what today’s writers need and exactly what I needed when I first discovered it. Sarah’s expert guidance and exercises gently lead us away from the instant gratification of purgation and product and toward an extended exploration of process. Well-crafted writing emerges from frequent, deliberate practice, and The Story Intensive is a testament to the powerful effect of practice in the context of community.
I enjoy my own company. Alone is just fine by me. Yet, over the years of writing I have discovered that my moments of greatest growth have been the direct result of collaboration. Those times I’ve embraced discomfort and shared my stories, more experienced writers have been able to provide me with the type of insights I now keep in my pocket and pull out whenever I pull out my pen. The type of feedback that has changed not just my writing, but me in some way.
One of the most gratifying experiences I have as the editor of a literary journal is the opportunity to pass along these insights in ways that have helped shape fellow writers’ work. Likewise, I’m excited to share The Story Intensive experience with you—to invite you to be curious, to remove your filters, to alter your perspective, and especially to develop the patience to write stories of enduring value. I look forward to watching you grow and discover who you really are and all that your writing can be.
A Sample Writing Exercise
The following is a piece of first-draft writing I did from The Story Intensive course materials. I stress that this is unedited work—what you see is exactly what I wrote out by hand. While there’s plenty of room for improvement and fleshing out, I found that the process of completing this exercise naturally provided my writing with depth and voice.
“Where,” she says,” did you expect me to be?”—this from my daughter, her hands on her hips and a shake of the head that seems to me to be learned from somewhere—someone—else.
She is standing just inside the front doorway, blocking out the fading daylight coming through the screen, and I am standing, ineffectual, at the door to the living room with my empty cup of peppermint tea, the bag still sopping at the bottom. Mariah is fifteen years old, or not quite fifteen years old but close enough to make me think of her as such. Mariah has not cared for a word I’ve had to say to her since the day she turned fourteen, and it has been the longest almost-year of my life.
I hold my teacup close to my chest as if it is still full and as if I plan to casually take a sip of it at any moment. “I expected you’d be where you told me you were going to be when you left the house this morning,” I say. “At Elizabeth’s house.”
Mariah throws her backpack on the plastic runner in front of her and kicks her wedges onto the dusty shoe tray next to all of her other shoes. I keep my shoes in the closet these days because there is no space for my shoes, no space for me, wherever Mariah is. “As if we were going to be sitting around at her house all day.”
‘That’s where you said you’d be if I needed to get a hold of you.”
“I wish you wouldn’t try to get a hold of me.”
“I do understand, dear,” I say, and walk past her into the kitchen where I pretend to look for a snack in the fridge. I’ve already eaten almost everything there is to eat in the house while wondering where my daughter and her friend are when I call and call and call throughout the day but no one answers. “I understand you need to feel some level of freedom—” I pull out the last slice of cake left over from when I made cake for Mariah and I to share, but she had said, “I’m not into chocolate these days.”
When you work with Sarah and start to embrace the process of writing, you’ll be amazed and what you come out with in a first draft. Honestly, my first drafts today are better than my final drafts from years ago.
Is The Story Intensive Right for Me?
The Story Intensive is appropriate for both beginning and experienced writers. You don’t have to prove yourself to be “good enough” before you take this course.
Sarah also still has office hours open for Story Intensive info calls this week. If you have important questions holding you back from joining the course and you’d like to talk directly to her about those, make an appointment.
This program is amazing, loving, and strengthening for life. It is unlike any other writing program that exists out there.
Give yourself permission to write. Join me for the Fall 2017 Story Intensive.
But hurry, because registration closes on Friday!