Workshops and Retreats
I. Finding the Real Story: The Essential Elements of Story in Fiction and Memoir. Levels one through four.
In this workshop we explore the essential elements of writing story for both fiction and creative nonfiction writers, and how to allow these elements to embody the deeper truths and powerful emotions which move us into writing.
We will work on discovering narrator and point of view; the unfolding of plot; letting subtext work for the story; deepening characterization; context and simultaneity; dialogue; the music of prose; the story’s metaphor; revision; and full development of your story, novel, or memoir.
We work with the mystery of human behavior in story form, to deepen characterization and discover plot rather than be constricted by it. We will tap into the power of the visions and voices of our narrators and characters, and the mix of truth and fiction that creates a world both imagined and real. We’ll learn how to unveil and deepen the subtext of our stories, understand point of view, and use the power of metaphor. We will explore narrative summary, active scene and dialogue; begin new stories and discover ways to complete old ones.
I provide writing suggestions in every session for explorations that both free and deepen participants’ writing, and we share our work in an atmosphere supportive and challenging, tailored to the needs of each participant.
This story work is done in four cycles of classes of 8-12 weeks each. In each cycle we return to every element of story at a more advanced level, with more customized work for each participant. Level “One” does not mean basic, although I aim to answer questions that may not have been answered in the past about this work of writing story. It is just the beginning of my approach to all the elements of making story, and through the other story classes I work to spiral back and beyond all that we have already discussed and worked with.
I also do workshops with this material, whether a series of weekends or longer retreats. For writers at all levels of experience.
II. Power, Possibility, Polish: Intensive Critique Groups in Fiction, Poetry, and Creative Nonfiction.
Each participant will receive solid blocks of time throughout the cycle of classes for comments from other participants, and, from me: manuscript critique; guidance for developing, revising and finishing your work; and suggestions for various kinds of explorations to open and deepen your writing process and help you work past obstacles in your creative work.
Each week we will also look at some potent aspect of craft, respond to participants’ questions, and work in a very custom-made way with individual writers and group interests. Past cycles have for instance included, in response to people’s requests, some very fertile exploration of the way the shadow aspects of the self work in the writing process regarding the development of characters; dealing with “impossible” subjects; writing love and sex within the context of their novels and memoirs; beginnings and endings; and finding the most energy and freedom possible in the creative process. You will find in these groups the sparkling flow of ideas; stimulating writing explorations; and focused and revealing responses to your writing.
This work is done in cycles of regular class meetings or in weekend workshops or longer retreats.
III. Claiming Our Stories: The Power of Autobiography and Autobiographical Fiction. A 2-part series.
How do we begin to tell the stories of our lives? How do we convey our truths that may include, and yet go beyond, the specificity of facts and dates? Are we aiming for autobiographical accuracy, or would we rather use our experience and history in a way that transforms our stories into fiction or discovers our story truth in creative nonfiction? This workshop journeys in many directions to develop ways to powerfully use our lives as the stuff of writing.
We will work to discover our narrators. What kind of persona — a kind of writer’s mask — will be of use in freeing up what we want to tell and conveying it powerfully? We will explore in writing some of the many voices that are ours, and begin to utilize autobiographical material in ways that grow out of our deepest struggles, knowledge and yearnings.
Through a series of writing explorations, memory and sensory exercises, focused and open-ended freewrites, and oral storytelling, we will draw on what is deepest in each participant to write the stories we have always wanted to write, locate the narrators of our lives, and find the structure of our telling.
There are two parts to this workshop series, the first one working beautifully for large or small groups, and the second, perfect for a retreat with 12-20 participants. In the second workshop, the agenda provides an opportunity for intensive work with each participant on their writing project. I will work with each individual to help them locate their story and its beginning, its powerful images, its potent moments and its metaphors, as well as assist each writer to further develop the narrative voice that is best able to tell their story. And we will, of course, do some in-depth writing throughout each day of the workshop.
For writers at all levels of experience, in fiction and memoir.
IV. Discovering the Unlived Life: Writing Through the Mystery of Human Behavior in Fiction and Memoir.
How do writers gather the inspiration, courage and imaginative power, the craft and the grounded knowledge of the world, to walk truthfully beside their characters and tell their stories, share their discoveries?
Character work is central in discovering story rather than imposing the story on characters that must fit a pre-designed plot. In nonfiction as well as fiction, this work is crucial not only to flesh out characters, but to discover who holds/tells/withholds the story, resulting in the telling of a richer and more fully contextualized truth than we originally imagined.
Good writing probes the mysteries of human behavior and motivation. Each of us is unique, formed out of an endless range of factors: culture, history, economics, region, race, family, experience, happenstance and mystery do not complete the list. Our characters deserve no less specificity, no less fullness. But working with back story alone, with what has happened to a character up to the moment that we meet them, is only part of what we will examine in character development.
An unlived life is hidden within the life each character must live to get by. In this writing workshop, we will explore that land of the unlived life which is bordered by frustration, overwork, social pressures, forgetting, distractions, and violences, large and small. It is a land of yearning, and charged by the deep human desire to create and to express, and to fulfill the individual and social self in creativity and community.
Through a series of diverse readings and focused writing explorations, we will work to deepen our ability to bring the power of developed and authentic beings into our writing, and to begin to extend our range to include characters we may dislike or fear, characters that puzzle or fascinate us, as well as those with whom we identify. And we will work with the power of the unlived life, and how it moves our characters.
For writers at all levels of experience, in fiction and memoir; useful also for poets working with character and voice. Provides a wonderful focus for a retreat where writers have a chance to “live with” and develop their characters. This workshop shares material with Yearning and Justice: Writing the Unlived Life, from the series on Writing for Social Change, but emphasizes material on deepening characterization.
“A dream can be the highest point of a life.” —Nigerian writer Ben Okri, The Famished Road
Anya is a master teacher. Her grasp of world writers and of craft allows her to liberate this knowledge for those of us outside the academy, so that we can learn to wield the pen with power.—Demetria Martinez, novelist (Mother Tongue), poet (The Devil’s Workshop), nonfiction writer (Confessions of a Berlitz Tape Chicana: Collected Columns), journalist for the National Catholic Reporter), activist
1. Re-Dream a Just World
2. Place and Exile / Borders and Crossings
3. Yearning and Justice: Writing the Unlived Life
These workshops have been and can be taught in many different formats and time schedules. Each section stands on its own, or can be taught as part of the whole, whether in private workshops, conferences, or retreats, or in a semester-long university course. It treats writing across the genres, using multicultural and interdisciplinary materials.
While it is named a writing course and certainly has that focus—it also offers powerful tools for activists and social change agents in many settings; for self-transformation; for building community; for diversity training; for healing; for leaving writer’s block way behind; for developing tools to write and speak the truth in its fullness; for integrating the parts of the self.
Full descriptions of Re-Dream a Just World; Place and Exile / Borders and Crossings; and Yearning and Justice: Writing the Unlived Life can be found at Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World.