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Want to be a Brilliant Writer? Attend a Reading!

Want to be a Brilliant Writer? Attend a Reading!

Readings are inspiring in more ways than one. As writers, we often think that writing workshops and classes are the best ways to improve our writing, but we mustn’t overlook the power of listening to words, and their ability to transform us.

In my case, my first poetry reading sparked a life changing event. It was fall of 1994, and I was still at the Art Institute flailing about with my visual artwork, when one afternoon my art history teacher (and fabulous poet), Bill Berkson, mentioned a poetry reading he was participating in at the Cowell Theater. The reading was to celebrate the release of Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, edited by Paul Hoover.

I had never been to a poetry reading. I figured, what the heck? I’ll check it out. I went alone and brought my notebook. I was awed by the variety, complexity, beauty, breadth, and humor of the work I heard that night. This was like no poetry I had ever read or heard. I didn’t know poetry could be funny, or visual, or rhythmic without classically rhyming.

Something clicked, something transcendent was happening inside me, and for some reason I thought, “I can do this, I want to do this, I must do this”— and by “this” I meant play with language, explore the possibilities of language and words as filtered through my own mind. From that night, I set out to become a poet.

And every reading I’ve attended since then— while not being as life altering— has made me a better writer. Here are three benefits I’ve discovered from attending readings:

Inspiration

At the first poetry reading I attended, there were a variety of readers who were characters in their own rights: Larry Eigner in his wheelchair, moaning forth his disjunctively odd and sublime poems, then being translated by Jack Foley; Alice Notley and her beautifully insistent lyrics; Ron Padgett with his dry wit and humor; Bob Grenier flipping through his scrawl poems, reading them upside-down in a high-pitched growl. All of this was truly inspiring.

The opportunities to gain insights about character development, dialogue, cadence, and more abound at readings. Attending one can pull you out of writer’s block, help you write that hook you’ve been working on, and inspire you to get more creative with your characters.

Motivation

Being a writer comes with its challenges, one of which is fear— in multiple shapes and forms. Fear is what causes us writers to back off from our writing, to distract ourselves from doing what we love most. There is fear of rejection, of failure, of being vulnerable, of sharing our personal struggles with the world.

But seeing writer after writer perform readings of their works is a useful reminder that if they can do it, you can do it, too. There is also something about seeing people achieve their goals that makes you want to achieve your own goals. So, if you’re lacking motivation, attending a reading is a great way to get reinvigorated.

Writing Skills

As many writers know, perpetual reading is an excellent method for improving your writing skills. Attending a reading has the same effect, but the author is there and available to interact with you. How many times have you read something in a book and wanted to ask the author where they came up with that idea?

Attending a reading gives you access to other writers. Sitting and listening are only part of what happens at a reading. The rest of the time is often filled with discussions about books, writing genres, and methods for improving writing skills. Plus tips and secrets about the publishing industry, if you’re lucky!

Do you have an experience or story to share? Have you ever attended a reading that’s changed your life? What other benefits from attending a reading can you think of? I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts!

Reach out to me through email, Facebook, or Twitter and let’s chat!

Dave Eggers LIVE Event Accommodations

Are you excited to study with a best selling author? I know we are! We want to be as helpful as possible for our event attendees, so we’ve compiled a list of accommodations that are in the area. Haven’t registered yet? Get info about the event here: Dave Eggers LIVE

If you are looking for a more affordable option than the room rates at the Meritage Resort, here are some accommodations that are a short driving distance to the event. This list is not based on personal recommendation, but on price and location. Prices are an approximate only. For reviews, we advise checking TripAdvisor before you book.

Wine Valley Lodge
4 stars on TripAdvisor
3.5 miles (7 min drive) from Meritage Resort
Price range $89-$199/night
http://www.winevalleylodge.com/

Chablis Inn
3.5 stars on TripAdvisor
8 miles (12 min drive) from Meritage Resort
Price range $139-$149/night
http://www.chablisinn.com/

Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Napa Valley
3.5 stars on TripAdvisor
3 miles (6 min drive) from Meritage Resort
Price range $195-$245/night
http://www.hawthorn.com/hotels/california/napa/hawthorn-suites-by-wyndham-napa-valley/hotel-overview

Motel 6
3 stars on TripAdvisor
8 miles (11 min drive) from Meritage Resort
Price from $100/night
https://www.motel6.com/en/motels.CA.NAPA.4688.html

3 Palms Hotels
3 stars on TripAdvisor
4 miles (10 min drive) from Meritage Resort
Price range $169-$299/night
http://www.3palmshotels.com/reservations.cfm

Chardonnay Lodge
3 stars on TripAdvisor
8 miles (13 min drive) from Meritage Resort
Price from $156/night
http://www.chardonnaylodge.net/

The Napa Inn
4.5 stars on TripAdvisor
5 miles (12 min drive) from Meritage Resort
Price range $199-$329/night
http://www.napainn.com/

Best Western Plus Inn At The Vines
4 stars on TripAdvisor
3.4 miles (8 min drive) from Meritage Resort
Price range $215-$300/night
http://www.innatthevines.com/

Fairfield Inn & Suites Napa American Canyon
3.5 stars on TripAdvisor
6 miles (9 min drive) from Meritage Resort
Price range $221-$300/night
http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/sfoac-fairfield-inn-and-suites-napa-american-canyon/

Didn’t see anything you liked? Another option is to use kayak.com or airbnb.com to search for available accommodations.

3 Steps to Becoming a Brilliant Writer of Memoir

Guest post by Jasmine June Cabanaw

Think of the most influential books you’ve read. I bet at least one of them was based on a personal journey, of someone overcoming their hardships and gaining valuable life lessons. This is the beauty of memoir writing— the protagonist doesn’t have to achieve something extraordinary in order for it to be inspiring. In fact, some of the recent bestselling memoirs, such as Eat, Pray, Love and Wild are based on events to which most people can relate.

If you have a personal story to share— one that you hope will inspire and motivate others— there are some things you can do that will help you be a brilliant writer of memoir and stand out from the crowd. Here are three steps to get you started:

Understand Memoir vs Autobiography

An autobiography encapsulates an entire life, while a memoir is a collection of memories from that life. This is an important distinction because oftentimes new memoir writers will make the mistake of trying to fit too many details into their story.

With a memoir, it’s okay to omit people, events, and other information if it isn’t relevant to your theme. A memoir is not a diary entry. You don’t need to write your memoir chronologically, or even start at the beginning. Writing more than one memoir is appropriate, too, if you have multiple stories to share.

Learn from other brilliant writers

One of the best (and pleasurable) ways to become a brilliant writer is to be a voracious reader. And if you want to be a brilliant writer of memoir, then you should be a voracious reader of memoir writers. Read everything from Ernest Hemingway (A Moveable Feast) to Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). What do you think worked for those authors? What gripped your attention and kept you turning page after page? Make notes, jot down thoughts, and highlight passages that truly inspired.

Another option is to take classes and workshops from memoir writers. It’s a good idea to read their memoirs first, take notes, and then ask the authors to expand upon them during the workshop. Many authors are happy to do this, especially if it is during a designated Q&A. The bonus to this option, of course, is getting to meet a brilliant writer in person, and maybe even getting a signed copy of their book.

Have a story arc

A memoir may be a series of memories from a specific time period, but there still needs to be a story arc. Otherwise, you’ll be left with disconnected islands and nothing to join them together; you need to either build bridges or give your readers a boat. Plan a beginning, middle, and an end, and a theme or two that ties them all together.

Remember, you are writing about real life, with all of its challenges, twists, turns, and lessons. Your memoir doesn’t have to be dramatic, but it should be relatable. This is the gift that memoir writers bestow; their writing inspires, motivates, and helps us get through the challenges in life, if even just a little.