Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “workshop”

Author’s Corner: The Creative Period

I was recently asked in a workshop how I find time to write. I had just surprised the audience when I asserted that I can write a 90,000 novel in 100 days. I have done this twice this year and would keep writing if I didn’t have to attend to marketing and promotion. All this while holding down a challenging full-time job and being an active and involved husband, father and community member.

Finding a couple of hours on a road trip

Many authors have their own personal framework: the sacred space in the house, listening to music, the writer’s retreat, and many more. Whatever works for you is right, but my desk in our kitchen. I swivel my chair around and I am at the dinner table. I can write in coffee shops, on the BART train ride as I commute, while several boys enjoy a rambunctious play-date in our tiny house.

It is a state of mind. When I am writing a novel, I am in an intimate relationship with my characters. Given that I do not plan my novels, I am absorbed in the plot, sharing the thrill of what might happen next, just as my readers and characters do.

I am able to switch off, to leave my characters while I focus at work or home, and switch back on when I have an hour to write. What I do think is important is that I am writing consistently. When I am in the creation process, I must write every day. In fact, I suspect that I can become quite insufferable when I am not keeping up with my characters.

Writing our 1st Fantasy novel on a camping trip - a team effort!

It is an amazing thrill, a rush, to see the novel taking shape under my fingertips. It is what makes the periods between writing so frustrating, and what keeps me coming back for more.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

The Power of Story

I have just finished attending the annual professional conference for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, the organization for whom I work in San Francisco.

The theme of the conference was Collecting & Connecting Stories and I was honored to be one of the facilitators for the 5-workshop seminar that unfolded throughout the conference.

Marshall Ganz - his own story is a powerful lesson

The workshops began by focusing on why we tell stories, focusing on the work of Marshall Ganz. While there was the obvious and sometimes surreal fusion of my life as a ‘Jewish professional’ and as a social activist writer, I was just as struck by how much you learn from a person when you listen, really listen, to their story, including the spaces between the words.

I remember a writing coach saying that the reader not only learns from the words on the page, but from the white spaces (what we don’t say). For example, when someone tells you a story about their children, they are telling you how important their family is in their lives. They are sharing their values and priorities.

We learned how when you share a personal story with someone you are making a commitment towards friendship as you share a piece of yourself and you are honoring them by offering a level of exposure. Likewise when people share their story with us, they are inviting us to get to know them on a deeper level.

In a conversation with a colleague at the conference I explained that I write novels that highlight social injustices and promote individual empowerment to create change,  and she tied this into a model of how I envision my work in the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center.

My biggest takeaway from these workshops was the realization that to compartmentalize stories within the pages of a book is only one facet of storytelling. We use our personal stories to reach out to others and offer an insight into our character, a lesson from the moral of our stories, and the opportunity to bear witness to the stories of others, validating their experiences and values. Stories are all around us. They form an integral part of the fabric of social interaction.

Stories are all about delivery, but they are also about listening. How much better can we make our world if we can find the comfortable space to tell our stories and learn to truly listen and learn from those of others.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

An Author’s Code of Practice

Earlier this month I gave a workshop for the California Writer’s Club on Transformational Fiction and exploring fiction as a tool to change the world. It was a great session with a group of committed and serious writers all of whom provided insightful material.

At the end, I shared the following takeaway, though not part of the actual workshop, I believe it touches on many of the challenges that writers face. I would like to encourage people to create their own code of practice and hang it in full view from where they sit to write. If you do write your own, please share it with us.

THE SERIOUS WRITER: 9-FOLD CODE OF PRACTICE

These nine tips are inspired by the teachings of Stephen King in his book On Writing. The credit is his, the honor to pass it on is mine, the opportunity is yours.

1. Write Every Day

No excuses. None. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, but write the next day. If you can, set a consistent time of the day, but either way, this is a daily practice like anything else for which one strives for excellence. If you can, dedicate a place in your house purely for writing. When you are there, do nothing else. Don’t wait for inspiration. Write, write, write.

2. Write a draft. Then let it rest.

King recommends that you crank out a first draft (don’t stop to edit or contemplate) and then put it in your drawer to let it rest. You need to transition from creator to editor and a break helps build the correct perspective.

3. The Ten Percent Rule.

When you revisit your text it’s time to remove all the superfluous words and sentences. Kick out the clutter and your message gains clarity and power. King advises to cut by 10%. Tough to do, but you won’t regret it.

4. Sacred Space.

This is a profession, a business. If possible, have your own physical place to write. Treat it like an office desk. It should be clean, uncluttered, but you should own it. Just entering and sitting down, puts everything else out of your mind. If you can’t have a physical space, create a mental one. I have certain playlists on my iPod and wear headphones. Kids? Yeah, they are in the house somewhere.

5. Shut Up And Listen.

King has a professional network to back him up. Most of us use family, friends, writers’ groups, and other networks. Solicit honest, constructive feedback – compliments are nice for our ego but don’t advance our manuscript. You don’t have to take every piece of advice that every person suggests. But you do need to listen and consider.

6. Read a Lot.

When you read, you learn. It might remind you of what you should be doing: a cool technique, style or voice. Sometimes you learn what not to do. There are always lessons to learn. Read (or listen to it – the audio is brilliant) Stephen King’s On Writing annually. You won’t get bored.

King reads his own book - v. powerful to listen to.

7. Network.

Writing is only a solitary art if you want it to be. Meet writers at writers’ groups, clubs, conferences or online. Support others and you’ll find support (no leaching). Proclaim that you are a writer. Some may smirk, but you’ll discover new friends and contacts, often unexpected.

8. One-third:One-third:One-third.

Allocate your time to thirds: 1. market what you have published (or plan to), 2. edit what you have written, 3. write your next book.

9. Enjoy and Believe.

It’s the only sustainable way.

10. Deliver More Than is Expected. Always.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Transformational Fiction Workshop

I have expounded in previous blog posts what motivates me to write in the political fiction genre and why I love the term Transformational FictionThis coming Sunday, April 10th, between 10am-1pm, I will be teaching a workshop for the California Writers Club entitled: Fiction As A Vehicle For Social Change: Using the Novel for a Better World.

There are many ways today to reach out and influence people. Traditional media has been supplemented by websites, blogs, non-profit promotion, and traditional activism. But most of these options are often no longer than 5-minute sound bites, or an afternoon of flurry.

The novel has long held the ability to create powerful images and characters that stay with the reader long after they read the final page. What if the novel can precipitate a transformational change not just within the story, but in how it impacts the reader? What if the emotional connection between reader and plot, or reader and fictional character, can motivate the reader to fight social injustice?


I am now in the middle of writing my fifth politically focused novel (The Accidental Activist is the third). Each novel features a character who experiences a transformational process, emerging with a stronger consciousness and a desire to help make a difference.

I am interested in your answers to the following questions:

1. What novels have helped make you the person you are?

2. What characters (and from which novels) have stayed with you a long time after you read the last page?

I appreciate your answers. If you are interested in participating in the workshop, or have any questions about it, please contact Barbara Ruffner at:  bdonruff at lmi dot net.


Finally, one last question. Do you think novels can really help change the world we live in? ——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

 

 

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