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Part 1 

The Writers: Authors who create work greater than themselves

The Lesson: Read and write and read and write and read and write.

Read everything, write all the time. Sit in a chair and drub out the words.

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Bill Peschel, author of Writers Gone Wild, has something to say about  writing.  Seven things, actually, that got me thinking back to when the writing group was wholly immersed in reading and writing memoir. We’d talk about how memory is selective, how those bits and pieces that tease the mind are true.  Or a shade of true. And we read a ton ~ Jeannette Walls, Annie Proulx, Anne La Mott, Mary Karr, Isabelle Allende, Anna Quindlen, David Sedaris, Pat Conroy, Madeline L’Engle, Alice Sebold, Annie Dillard, Gail Caldwell, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Tobias Wolff, Pete Hamill, Frank McCourt, Diane Athill, Azar Narfisi, Larry McMurtry, Elizabeth Gilbert, Joan Didion, Reynolds Price, Rick Bragg, James McBride, Ann Patchett, Esmerelda Santiago, Wendall Berry, Ivan Doig, Kathleen Norris, Pablo Neruda, Elie Wiesel, and yes, even six-word memoirs by writers both famous and obscure.

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Peschel knows what we know. Authors can be helpful ~ on the page and on the web. Aside from the legendary feuds (Gore Vidal over William F. Buckley Jr.; Mario Vargas Llosa over Gabriel Garcia Marquez in a KO ~ one punch; Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy ~ Hellman defaulted by dying; Norman Mailer with everyone). Writers go out of their way to give advice, encouragement and praise.  And extend the hand of friendship to rubes like us.

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We read and discussed Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times and moved onto Off The Page: Writers Talk about Beginnings, Endings and Everything In Between. Entertaining, gossipy and honest ~ anecdotes, rants, digressions, confessions, impressions. Lary Bloom and Art Plotnik, candid and insightful guys, didn’t just say Go sharpen your pencils~ they showed us how to sharpen our wits. Our current ‘teacher’ is Gene Weingarten ~ observer, thinker, writer, magician.

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Joyce Carol Oates offers this nugget to us neophytes ~ work and keep writing and keep thinking about the writing and, almost always, a pathway will open to you.

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Value the process.

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She quotes artist Chuck Close ~

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.” 

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Author-inspired Tune #1

Hemingway’s Whiskey (Kenny Chesney)

If the secret of success is showing up, then Ernest Hemingway took the prize. He was wounded in World War I, covered the Spanish Civil War and World War II, made you care about bullfighting, hunting and fishing. His four marriages, drinking bouts, fights with critics and writers ~ including one Key West dust-up with poet Wallace Stevens ~ inspired biographies, memoirs and mystery novels.

There’s more to life than whiskey, there’s more to words than rhyme

 Sometimes nothing works, sometimes nothing shines. 

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So, I guess you just gotta show up. Grab a deck chair, put on some Kenny Chesney. Then go write your five hundred words.

Toni 5/29/11

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