Week One: Heartbreaks, Hot-Damn Work, and Deep Diving into the Divine.
A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it. — Roald Dahl (Boy: Tales of Childhood)
An overview of the course:
How to navigate (it’s easy!)
Gateless guidelines to keep you safe and happy
Why the Critic keeps breaking your heart
A little bit of brain science
Good news about the Critic
Nonlinear thought and other spatial landscapes and why the Critic hates them
How to break the heavy-thinking habit (hint: you are doing it right now!)
Your sponsors and cheerleaders
Demystifying and mystifying the act of words to page
How to move past panic into letting the Intuit lead and why this has been proven again and again to create mind-blowing, ecstasy-inducing prose
Pregnant with words and language: creating hot-damn work in the tub
Week Two: First Draft Addiction and the Child in the Stream of Sunlight.
The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words. —William H. Gass
First draft: what the hell it means and why you should never, ever show it to anyone except your Gateless dream team
To read or not to read, that is the question (and you probably already know the answer!)
Voice, glorious voice: those voices in your head and why it means you are a divine channel. And why this is a good thing. And why they chose only you. And why this means there is no such thing as competition.
What writers really mean when they talk about voice and the answer to your question of whether you have one
Why vulnerability is so important to finding your voice
The common act of betraying your true voice
Who you are writing to: the child in the stream of sunlight and how this creates your signature voice
Week Three: Beautiful Beginnings
The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible. —Vladimir Nabokov
How to kick off that big bad baby and why what happened before the book began is so fiercely important
Starting at base camp and how to create the famous “arc” using stakes, meaning, and the secret sauce few writers talk about when creating a crazy-beautiful beginning
Why your lowest point is your greatest asset
Frame it: global frame, community frame, politics, fashion, songs on the radio, and your personal map to getting your characters on the grand stage
Week Four: Structure and Scaffolding
To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man. — Aristotle
Disclaimer: How structure kills the first draft
A last scene and deliverable horizon point and why it tends to show up when you are sleeping or driving or changing a diaper
Pacing: running time in the book, how to weave it, how to pass it, why you need to know the color of your great-grandmother’s underwear
Show versus tell: when to do each, how one earns the other, and the common myth everyone believes about tell, tell, tell
The climax, the great circle, the denouement and how power flips places
Week Five: Character Dahlink, Character
Follow your inner moonlight, don’t hide the madness. — Allen Ginsburg
Why character is important to all writers, even and especially how-to writers
The character dump: the person who talks too much at the bank
Secrets, addictions and other seductive poverties
Villains you want to f*#@ (and this includes you, memoir writers!)
Characters in opposition: creating conflict in the reader and how the best books are actually co-written with your reader
Point-of-view characters in fiction, and voice in nonfiction
The character riff: letting her talk your ear off: conception, gestures, fashion, external and internal wants, shames, poverties, gifts
Friends and love and the sprite and the fool: the archetype and how to dance those babies around on the page to further your story
Collapsing characters to create complexity—how to do it without killing your best friends in the process
Talk to me, baby: delicious heart-stopping dialogue, why we never talk like we do in books and how to make that talking sing
Week Six: Conflict
The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. — Thomas Paine
The systemic nature of layering the stakes: what it really means and how to do it effectively on a macro and micro level
External pressure cookers—the frame that creates the tight rope of tension, a peg leg and other layering techniques, how not to avoid action, and the trick of timing in creating crisis
Flashbacks and flashforwards: the most common mistake and how to avoid it, why flash is different than scene, the impact of memory verses flashback in scene and how the two are so drastically different, why flash is so absolutely necessary in the how-to
What we avoid in life, so we avoid on the page, the personal blindspot and how to recognize that deadly companion
Week Seven: Descriptions to Beat the Doldrums
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. — William Wordsworth
The cinematic nature of the contemporary book, how to do it and why that’s not just for dimestore novels
Description to elicit mood and description in action and the lessons of Cormac McCarthy and other literary iconoclasts
The description dump versus the weave and how it saves you from talking heads dialogue
How to work with description swaths to get to that perfect slice of life, otherwise known as description in the white space
Generic description versus kick-ass fresh description the reader has never heard before and how to do it
Week Eight: Lights, Camera, Action! The Construction of an Extraordinary Scene
As a writer, you ask yourself to dream while awake. — Aimee Bender
Scene construction and how it mimics the structure of your entire book
How-to scenes and why they must mirror the reader’s experience without dragging the bucket along with the horse
Letting scenes write your book and what that skill entails (hint: this may mean lots of leisure hours!)
How-and-why scenes make how-tos, novels, and memoirs into bestsellers
Grounding your reader again and again as micro frame, how and where to do it so that your reader can't turn away from the page
Two scenes per chapter? The importance of story/scene in the how-to, What you want from the scene, how to know if you’ve gotten it, and how not to repeat it
The emotional scale in scene and what it means to begin with sorrow and end with ecstasy
Week Nine: Revision, Rewriting and Editing
If you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down. — Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon)
Theme and agenda: why these come last and how they choke the reader
Layering through your drafts, curiosities, and inquisition
The scene dump, the description dump, the character dump, and why you must go to the dump to create fast-moving, crazy-beautiful prose
Saving the darlings: the whole is bigger than its parts and what Faulkner really meant by “going in for the kill”
What works and stays, why the red pen and the cross-out are carcinogens to the Muse
The importance of wait-time and common challenges, including the importance of filling the neediness with love
Week Ten: Improv Just for You
[Writing is] being able to take something whole and fiercely alive that exists inside you in some unknowable combination of thought, feeling, physicality, and spirit, and to then store it like a genie in tense, tiny black symbols on a calm white page. —Mary Gaitskill
What, what, what, oh WHAT would you like to know?
Tell me true what you are missing. What are your fears, loves, challenges, excitements? Tell me about the beatings of the Critic, the inner Little Match Girl who thinks it’s never going to happen, and the swinging Tarzan who believes she’ll be on the Ellen Show. Ask me about the Grand Canyon and the color of my grandmother’s kimono. Ask! Ask, Ask.
A time to say goodbye (but not forever) and how wonderful you are and how you really are going to swing big and break through and how just taking this beautiful step for yourself has not only shifted your work, but also activated your (happy!) neurotransmitters, improved your health, and brought you ecstasy.
Next Up: The Skinny
Publishing, platforms, agents, book deals and publicity: a six-week bootcamp, open to those who have completed the mastery class.
I couldn't sacrifice my heart for a publicity stunt. — Kim Kardashian
Six-Week Publishing Bootcamp Includes:
What in the world do you do once you are finished?
Do you need a platform? If, so, how do you get one?
How do you know if you are ready for an agent?
Should you go indie or big four?
Do you need a proposal and if so how do you build a killer one that stands out and actually SELLS?
What does a bestselling query look like?
Who are the best agents in the industry and how do you land one?
What are the no’s and yes’s of this relationship?
How much should you change your work to get published?
How many do you send, how long should you wait?
How do you build your career as an author beyond the book?
This is a very small group class for those who are ready to move into the spotlight. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to give your writing some golden wings.