Adair Lara Photo


Praise from Students

Comments from Adair’s Students (Unnamed because I have not taken the time to ask them for permission)


**************
"Find a teacher you like and take EVERYTHING they teach." You would be her. You got me writing. You and class assignments got me sitting down to "the place where writing can occur" almost everyday and it's fucking beautiful and I thank you.
**************
We just broke out a bottle of champagne. This morning I got a UPS delivery of galleys for the August issue of The Sun magazine with my little contribution all set up so I can make corrections. So it looks like I'll be in that issue. And late this afternoon I got an email from the editor of NurseWeek saying that my article on the medical mission to Guatemala is in the south central edition May 14. She'll send me copies. Check is on the way. This is lovely, just lovely.”
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Now I go through my days thinking about angles and epiphanies, and they make exact sense to me. I look at previous work in my mind, and notice what has those elements and what doesn’t.
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My experience of you is that you're able to be kind with people and still hold them to a high standard of good writing. I give feedback a lot in my work as a consultant and coach, and I love seeing it so well done. I loved learning the difference between scene and summary. (I was blind but now can see!) It gives me hope and a sense of power to be able to recognize which is which and which works when. I also loved writing (and reading) the lists of love/hate/always--it helps convince me that I have enough colorful details to write a readable book.
**************

During this class, I have produced over 125 pages of new text**************
The first few weeks of class, I didn’t feel that I had the skills to edit someone else’s piece. I could sense when something wasn’t working in a piece, but couldn’t articulate it. I feel that I can now more easily pinpoint what isn’t working in a piece and in turn, I find it easier to pinpoint what isn’t working in my own essay… although it’s not always easy to fix!
**************
The tone exercise you gave us in the form of a rant or riff was especially helpful. It really supercharged my writing where it may have been only mildly entertaining. I plan to use it this secret weapon from now on when the situation calls for it.
**************
I’ve learned the importance of structure over style. How to focus on tension and resolution to propel a story forward. How to get rid of details that may sound nice but have no other purpose. How to move stuff around to draw out the tension and maintain interest. How, especially, to rely on concrete actions and observations instead of summary.
**************
Boy was I pissed at you when you gave us an assignment last Thursday night. I thought, how could she ruin my vacation? I worked all Friday night on it so I wouldn’t have to take my computer down to Carmel with me but as brought it along anyway. All I’ve been doing is writing. I realized what you have been hoping we will find out, which is that writing is something you do everyday. It is healing me because it takes my focus and puts it on a tiny screen where the answers can appear out of nowhere it seems, where the action and emotion are a half step away and hence can be understood with more clarity that if I kept them bottled up inside.
**************
The first night of class, you looked me in the eye and told me you’d enjoyed my piece on Italy, that you thought I could sell it. You were so direct and specific that I couldn’t brush it off as your being nice or trying to make polite conversation. It set the tone for the next nine weeks.
P.S. One of my favorite parts was when Roger called “tone” a bunch of crap and then a few weeks later came up with that lovely piece about flowers that was all tone.

**************
I’ve learned the importance of structure over style. How to focus on tension and resolution to propel a story forward. How to get rid of details that may sound nice but have no other purpose. How to move stuff around to draw out the tension and maintain interest. How, especially, to rely on concrete actions and observations instead of summary.
**************
The tone exercise you gave us in the form of a rant or riff was especially helpful. It really supercharged my writing where it may have been only mildly entertaining. I plan to use it this secret weapon from now on when the situation calls for it.
**************
You were always able to find something redeeming in our work and communicate it with enthusiasm. It was often your faith that something coherent and interesting could be wrested from what seemed like hopeless drivel that gave me the strength to rewrite a piece.
**************
I’ll be in Chronicle's H&G section this Saturday, Insight on Sunday and Food in a couple weeks. I'm also in “The Walker Within", an anthology published by Walking Magazine (just published last month). I know you enjoy walking
and might get a kick out that book. It's kind of like a "Chicken Soup for the Sole". Anyhow, I feel like I owe my accomplishments to you. Your class helped me more than anything else I've ever done,
**************
A good class should leave you more addicted to writing than ever. Yours did.
**************

It was often your faith that something coherent and interesting could be wrested from what seemed like hopeless drivel that gave me the strength to rewrite a piece.”
**************
You foster an atmosphere that is my ideal of what a writing class should be--both great crits and support. It felt like a family campfire or an ancient storytelling circle, where everyone shared the stories of their lives.
**************

Each of the elements you ask about—in-class discussions, critiques, email partners, on-line critiques—has contributed to a process I think of as shedding my academic habits of mind. I think my writing has benefited, and I know that my own teaching of writing will benefit from the experience.
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I think you're REALLY talented at seeing what the (or A) structure can be in a piece that has even subtle problems. I've picked up some of that ability just by watching you go (especially in the first class) and by trying to analyze my own pieces with that in mind (Is this best order I
can think of? What are the other possibilities?).
**************

Although you dislike the word “literally” I believe you have literally changed my life. You have changed the way I look at situations, at people, at the absurd, at the profound, at the past, at the moment, at memories, at family, and at myself.

I was impressed by how much the writing level in the class improved in a short time
**************

Our individual conference was a powerful moment. When I met with you, I was groping in the dark. The light Switch was on a far wall. You listened to me talk confusedly about my memoir and got me to see in what direction I needed to go.
**************
As I prepare for becoming a mother, I think that the greatest gift you’ve given me, Adair, is to show me that writing and motherhood can be combined. I was always afraid that becoming a mother would take me away from writing. I don’t think so anymore. IN fact I’ve learned in this class that I can use any life situation, any adversity that comes my way in my writing because conflict is the genesis of all writing. What a powerful discovery-to welcome what life gives me and shape it into art/”
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The first night of class, you looked me in the eye and told me you’d enjoyed my piece on Italy, that you thought I could sell it. You were so direct and specific that I couldn’t brush it off as your being nice or trying to make polite conversation. It set the tone for the next nine weeks.
**************
There's so much stuff out there to read. Books and
books on writing. Bad mags. It goes on an on.
Having you cull and focus and select is worth the price of the session in
itself.
**************
I’ve learned that I can write crappy stuff and not be embarrassed by it
**************.
Each week I’ve felt as if every word you said and point you made went straight inside of me.
**************.

It helped in class when Adair mentioned building the tension first before going into back story (the guys only talk about their personal lives when hanging by their fingernails from the ledge of a burning building, etc.).
**************.
No matter how much I cherish part of a story or how good it might be, sometimes it just has to be chopped for the story to advance, even if raccoons must be sacrificed.
At other times, it’s worth admitting that something just can’t get better and abandoning it altogether (no use “polishing dirt”)
**************

The story recipe Adair provided is like an answer to a long prayer. “I wanted X, and so I Y, and then that didn’t work, so I… etc.” It gives me something to hang all of my collateral from and has helped me get past road blocks.
**************
Writing partners are a marvelous resource:
Having someone who can objectively and positively review my stuff and provide feedback is terrific. Suddenly things that were not obvious to me become clear as day with feedback, and it’s inspiring, and I get to read what they write, which along with being plain fun, shows me different styles, points of view, etc. I have also learned that lovers should not be asked to comment on stories. Rather dangerous and not recommended.
**************
I came in for a lark and found that I love it so that
it occupies a lot of my thinking during the day. I am
appreciating what people around me are saying so much
more, I examine strangers on the street and wonder
about them rather than seeing them in just a glance
and just as immediately forgetting them. So, bottom
line I have benefited from the class in ways I hadn't
expected and am already looking forward to March.
**************

Fantastic class! The best I’ve taken!

**************
. I appreciate your enthusiasm, candor, & most importantly, your honesty—somehow you pull it off. I have been in classes where the instructors are overly effusive and it does not feel authentic or useful. I have also been barraged with incapacitating criticism that has been minimally helpful, has thwarted my efforts & bruised my tenuous writer’s ego. It is hard to strike the balance (now I also know when I am using a cliché), but you manage it.
**************
I found the in-class exercises useful, especially the ones that pretty much guaranteed immediate success, i.e., "Add three sentences to this sentence,"
"remove unnecessary adverbs and adjectives." It's cool to see writing improve so quickly like that.
**************

I dug up stuff I'd put away as crap and found out it wasn't so bad
I also have been reading published work lately with a writer's eye for good images, dialogue, problem/solution, epiphany, and overall
structure. Reading has become a more active and engaging experience. **************

Students write about the class

Yellow Lines
(memoir of Adair's class, put to music)
By Josh Coleman

I remember the first time that I saw them The day I got my paper back
They were just like rays of sunshine Running straight across the tracks Well I didn't even ask her
What these yeller lines are for
I counted them up like they was money nd they numbered 24

YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES
MAKE YOU FEEL SMART MAKE YA FEEL FINE MAKE MUNI RUN ON TIME YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES CHANGE DIET ROOT BEER INTO WINE HOW I LOVE THEM YELLOW LINES
Well it was just a few weeks later
I saw something that give me a fright The only thing there was on my paper Was my own words in black and white I told myself not to panic
There must be a reason to see
Maybe there was a shutdown
At the highliter factory
That night I felt pretty lousy
Till I saw what the cure must be I went and dug out my own pen
Now my paper's as yellow as a lemon on a tree
YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES
MAKE YOUR EGO STRETCH AND SHINE MAKE YOUR HEAD SWELL UP WITH PRIDE YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES GONNA MAKE A STRONG MAN WHINE "TEACHER, WHERE'S MY YELLOW LINES?"

Well I realized what was the problem I needed more strength to my tone I was badly in need of an angle
My epiphanies could sure use a hone My papers were full of problems With no solutions in sight
I saw all of these answers
And my papers still came back white

YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES HOW THEY MAKE A FELLA PINE

#####
FOR THOSE GOOD OL YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES GONNA MAKE A MEAN MAN KIND MAKE AN UPTIGHT ONE UNWIND MAKE A BROKEN CHURCH BELL CHIME MAKE A SLEAZEBALL LOSE HIS SLIME MAKE A BLIND MAN TELL TIME

"HEY TEACHER
WHERE'S MY YELLOW LINES?"

#####
Stacy Appel 5115/'76

WRITING CLASS JOURNAL

March 20
Writing class with Adair begins tomorrow. I'm so thrilled. I've written my first piece for class. I call it "Grocers° List."
GR_OCERY LIST
Eggs_
Bananas.
Milk
Bread.
Diet Coke.
Paper towels.
Sudafed.
And cheese.
Well. That’s it. Hope she likes it. I can't wait to write morel
March 21
First class was terrific. Love her squirrel slippers. Love her haircut. Didn't have to read, (hank God. One of the other students. Eileen, read her piece. Similar to mine but about 100 times better. She wrote about pineapple, and anchovies. Anchovies, for God's sake! Why didn't 11lrink of that? My piece is stupid and boring. I’ll never be a writer.
March 2R
Got back Adair's critique of my piece. She crossed out " Sudafed`: says it belongs in a different piece. But I think she liked it! She wrote, "Good detail, has possibilities. Expand on your theme and emphasize first person' Maybe l can do this after ail!
000015 Next assignment is on memory and imagination. Here's what I wrote:
THE GROCERY STORE
It was a summer afternoon in Bethesda, Maryland, and I was about 5 years old and had long, brown hair, and it was about 80 degrees. My mother took me shopping with her to Safeway, which was air-conditioned_ Right in the middle of the aisle with the vegetables, my mother exclaimed, "Damn! I've forgotten the list"
In a soft, shy voice J whispered into her ear, "Eggs. Bananas. Milk, bread, paper towels." When we got home, she yelled at Inc for not reminding her to get Diet Coke and cheese. It was still about 80 degrees. T never forgot it.

April 4
I'm so proud. I read my piece in class, and they seemed to love it. Except 1 :forgot to have an angle and epiphany. And it was kind of over-written and trite. But Adair said it was very moving and had strong images. She loved the part about the heat.
April 18
The weeks are flying by. Forgot to write in my journal because I'm so busy writing other stuff. We've learned all about angles_ and set-up, and epiphanies, and I think I've really got it now. This week we wrote a "topical piece". Here's mine:
JESSICA AND ME
Jessica Dubrow's plane crashed. They say it may have been overloaded with supplies. Which reminds me of the time I went to the grocery, and they put everything in one bag. It was very heavy. The bag ripped on the way out to the parking lot. I stood there looking at the mess: broken eggs spilling over crushed bananas, cans of Diet Coke rolling away on the asphalt, the waxed carton of milk leaking all over everything_
I realized, that moment in the parking lot, that if we lighten our loads we have a better chance of making it to our destination, which in this case was my car. J think Jessica would know exactly what I mean.
12=
I'm an utter failure. My writing partner liked the topical piece, but she likes everything_ Adair said my epiphany was a little thin. Maybe [ should give up this first-person thing and write poetry. I'm going to try redoing my earlier woe, since this week we're doing rewrites. I couldn't think up a new piece to save my life_
May 2
Success at last! Adair loved it, my writing partner loved it, and the class loved it. Here's my rewrite:

THE SHOPPING LIST by Stacy Appel
Farm fresh eggs. Bananas, slightly green. Low-fat milk. Rye bread A six-pack of Diet Coke. Brie. I needed these things. A lot.

Not bad, if I do say so myself I took out the bit about the paper towels, even (though I really liked it. It didn't seem to frt. I’ll use it later, in some other piece. [ love writing)
May 9
Dear Editor: May 9, 1996
Grocery shopping is a universal activity, wouldn't you agree? Enclosed is a brief piece about grocery shopping in today's confusing world. Please consider publishing this piece in your magazine. I think h is particularly geared to the home and family angle your magazine presents so well. Enclosed is a SASE for your convenience.
Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely_
Stacy Appel
May 16
The last class. I've learned so much. My head is full of the wonderful pieces my classmates have written, and I will remember Adair's encouragement and wisdom for years to come. Got my firs( rejection slip; guess I'm a real writer now. Gotta go. I'm working on a new little piece about paper towels and Sudafed.


Pieces about class all

Stacy Appel
WRITING CLASS JOURNAL

March 20
Writing class with Adair begins tomorrow. I'm so thrilled. I've written my first piece for class. I call it "Grocery List.” "
GROCERY LIST
Eggs_
Bananas.
Milk
Bread.
Diet Coke.
Paper towels.
Sudafed.
And cheese.
Well. That’s it. Hope she likes it. I can't wait to write morel
March 21
First class was terrific. Love her squirrel slippers. Love her haircut. Didn't have to read, (thank God. One of the other students. Eileen, read her piece. Similar to mine but about 100 times better. She wrote about pineapple, and anchovies. Anchovies, for God's sake! Why didn't 11lrink of that? My piece is stupid and boring. I’ll never be a writer.
March 2R
Got back Adair's critique of my piece. She crossed out " Sudafed`: says it belongs in a different piece. But I think she liked it! She wrote, "Good detail, has possibilities. Expand on your theme and emphasize first person' Maybe l can do this after ail!
000015 Next assignment is on memory and imagination. Here's what I wrote:
THE GROCERY STORE
It was a summer afternoon in Bethesda, Maryland, and I was about 5 years old and had long, brown hair, and it was about 80 degrees. My mother took me shopping with her to Safeway, which was air-conditioned_ Right in the middle of the aisle with the vegetables, my mother exclaimed, "Damn! I've forgotten the list"
In a soft, shy voice J whispered into her ear, "Eggs. Bananas. Milk, bread, paper towels." When we got home, she yelled at Inc for not reminding her to get Diet Coke and cheese. It was still about 80 degrees. T never forgot it.

April 4
I'm so proud. I read my piece in class, and they seemed to love it. Except 1 :forgot to have an angle and epiphany. And it was kind of over-written and trite. But Adair said it was very moving and had strong images. She loved the part about the heat.
April 18
The weeks are flying by. Forgot to write in my journal because I'm so busy writing other stuff. We've learned all about angles_ and set-up, and epiphanies, and I think I've really got it now. This week we wrote a "topical piece". Here's mine:
JESSICA AND ME
Jessica Dubrow's plane crashed. They say it may have been overloaded with supplies. Which reminds me of the time I went to the grocery, and they put everything in one bag. It was very heavy. The bag ripped on the way out to the parking lot. I stood there looking at the mess: broken eggs spilling over crushed bananas, cans of Diet Coke rolling away on the asphalt, the waxed carton of milk leaking all over everything_
I realized, that moment in the parking lot, that if we lighten our loads we have a better chance of making it to our destination, which in this case was my car. J think Jessica would know exactly what I mean.
12=
I'm an utter failure. My writing partner liked the topical piece, but she likes everything_ Adair said my epiphany was a little thin. Maybe [ should give up this first-person thing and write poetry. I'm going to try redoing my earlier woe, since this week we're doing rewrites. I couldn't think up a new piece to save my life_
May 2
Success at last! Adair loved it, my writing partner loved it, and the class loved it. Here's my rewrite:

THE SHOPPING LIST by Stacy Appel
Farm fresh eggs. Bananas, slightly green. Low-fat milk. Rye bread A six-pack of Diet Coke. Brie. I needed these things. A lot.

Not bad, if I do say so myself I took out the bit about the paper towels, even (though I really liked it. It didn't seem to frt. I’ll use it later, in some other piece. [ love writing)
May 9
Dear Editor: May 9, 1996
Grocery shopping is a universal activity, wouldn't you agree? Enclosed is a brief piece about grocery shopping in today's confusing world. Please consider publishing this piece in your magazine. I think h is particularly geared to the home and family angle your magazine presents so well. Enclosed is a SASE for your convenience.
Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely_
Stacy Appel
May 16
The last class. I've learned so much. My head is full of the wonderful pieces my classmates have written, and I will remember Adair's encouragement and wisdom for years to come. Got my firs( rejection slip; guess I'm a real writer now. Gotta go. I'm working on a new little piece about paper towels and Sudafed.


The Last Hurrah

Hank Martinson
Damn. This learning to write business stands a really good chance of screwing up my writing. At sixty-one, do I have time to actually learn how to write and still have a few days left to get anything written? Yesterday morning, as I was happily cranking out the material, I was thinking, “it’s about time I get an agent”. This morning, having been to writing class last night, all I can think about is “it’s probably time to get an angle”. An angle? Son of a bitch! Who even knew about an angle?
Now my fingers are frozen. They refuse to dance over the keyboard: No angle? No story. So I had better stop obsessing about an angle and just do the class assignment. Besides, I’ve got the princess of the entire class as my writing partner this week – the only published person in the class (other than the teacher) – so I don’t want to screw this up.
The assignment is to talk about what is in our purse. See what I mean? This learning to write business is for chicks. Would Hemingway have described what he was carrying around in his purse? Never! But I got dispensation to describe what’s in my pockets. So even if it’s going to destroy my interest in, not to mention my ability to, ever write another word, here goes…
The first thing you need to understand about what’s in my pockets is that I don’t use the two in the back. Everything has to go in the front two or stay at home.
Now, if you find yourself asking “Why is that?” and thinking to yourself, “That’s really fascinating, I can hardly wait to read the rest of this personal essay fraught with imagery from the author’s own life”, I might have found an angle.
Lacking any likelihood of that, the reason I don’t use the back pockets is this: I used to go around with a huge, lumpy wallet in my left back pocket. It looked and felt like a hand grenade. As it turns out, it was more of a time bomb than a grenade. After years of sitting on about a hundred credit cards, receipts from decades long gone, driver’s license, insurance cards, etc. my psychotic nerve (a nerve which runs from the tip of you nose, through your eyeball, around your neck, across your shoulder, down your back, through you genitals via your sphincter, wraps several times around your thigh and calf and finally ends at the tip of your big toe), became inflamed to roughly two thousand degrees Fahrenheit and I was practically unable to breath, much less walk, for two months. I have finally gotten over the psyatica but I still, unfortunately, have a huge indentation in my left cheek where the wallet used to be.
Nowadays, my wallet is very slim and located in my right front pocket. It has a tight money clip on the outside, slots for one debit card, one credit card and one driver’s license and a cunning little pocket that you can squeeze open which will hold two, maybe three business cards plus my “frequent reader” card from Books, Inc.
Also in my right front pocket is my new stubby pen. You see, a man, at least a man without a purse, who tends to wear pocketless t-shirts, cannot carry a pen or pencil around in his pants or it might stab him in the thigh. Until class last evening, I needed to have a pen with me at all times so I could jot down the fascinating things that occurred to me during the day or note things I had observed which no one had ever observed before. That’s when I was thinking about becoming a writer. I spent hours at Flax shopping for this stubby pen – it looks like it might have belonged to Flash Gordon, defender of the universe. You could set up a trick photo and claim this stubby little guy was the flying cigar of Gordon’s archenemy, Ming, the merciless monarch of Mongo. Pull it open and the writing tip pops out. Snap it shut and the writing tip retracts. Plus, at just over two inches it doesn’t create any confusion about whether I’m carrying or gun in my khakis or just happy to see you.
Everything else I carry around with me, except for two particularly crucial items, is also in the right front pocket: typically keys and any change I might have accumulated. Nothing. Nothing at all, save those two particularly crucial items (which must remain unnamed to create suspense) goes in the left pocket. Even if I pick up a huge uncut diamond lying on the ground or happen to need a Swiss Army knife that day, those would have to go in the right hand pocket.
If you are now on the edge of your seat, asking yourself “What in God’s name could he possibly have in that other pocket? I can’t stand the suspense.” Then perhaps my writing career has a fighting chance. But I somehow doubt it.
Let’s cut to the chase, the climax of this story, shall we? Here in my left front pocket is my very slim notebook. A Moleskin©, the exact model Hemingway used to carry around to jot down his very curt, masculine thoughts and manly feelings. Once crucial to my life as a writer, I won’t be needing this particular accoutrement after last night’s class, but it has contoured nicely to my mid-thigh and I might hang on to it; it can’t weigh more than a half an ounce.
The other item sanctioned real estate in my left front pocket is, of course, my cell phone. But, through your own deduction and no cunning foreshadowing of my own, you will have guessed that. What you can’t have possibly guessed is the back-story that goes along with this particular cell phone and makes it a cell phone unlike any other cell phone in the world. You see, I have recently retired…
The reason nothing can be in there with this particular cell phone is that, as a retired person, I had to pay for it out of my own wallet (which is in the other pocket) and I don’t want anything scratching it or pressing against its little micro chips.
If you are currently a wage earner and your employer provides you with a cell phone, you have several things to look forward to in your retirement. Generally, the term “looking forward” is reserved for happy events, things that are worth waiting for. That wouldn’t be the case here.
Once you retire, you will probably have to buy your own cell phone. WARNING: Do not, under any circumstances, go to the cell phone store on a weekend; it will be swarming, God knows why, with teenagers. There are so many makes and models of phones to choose from. It’s daunting. In shopping for your cell phone, interestingly, the feature that gets the most play has nothing whatsoever to do with a telephone. (In marketing this is called “barrowed interest” in writing, I’m hoping to God, this might be known as an “angle”.) This feature has nothing to do with the clarity of the reception. Nothing to do with the coverage – as in can you really get a signal with it and if so can you hear what the person on the other end of the line is trying to convey?
This much-touted feature, of course, is the camera. Who decided to do that? To put a camera in a telephone? Did they do it just because it was possible? With that rationale why don’t they put a toaster oven in your clock radio? On second thought, someone probably has. But if you’re like me, you already own a camera and the jig is up about surreptitiously using your phone to photograph girls at the gym high on endorphins and aglow with perspiration. (Men are pigs, aren’t they?) In most cases the camera works about as well as the phone. While many of the phones are free (after rebate) when you sign up for one of the service plans, here’s my advice: go for the make and model all the teenagers wish to God they could have but can’t afford. It’ll make you feel superior, like Cathy Bates in “Fried Green Tomatoes” when those tacky teenage girls nabbed her parking spot and she just plowed right into them and smashed up their daddy’s car because she had better insurance. Feeling superior to anyone, even a teenager, is important for retired folk.
And there you have it, my friends. My last writing assignment. My final hope for authorship. The scintillating story of “what’s in my pockets”. Completely free of any angle. Completely barren of any pathos. The last hurrah of a very short-lived career in writing.

-----Original Message-----
From: Margee Robinson
To: Adair Lara
Sent: 3/29/2002 3:29 PM
Subject: Writing Class Piece

Hi Adair,

I have copied my "Writing Class" piece into this email as you
requested. If you wanted it as an attachment, let me know and I'll
resend. I think it showed great restraint on my part to wait until
today to send it instead of sending it right after class. - Margee
Robinson

Dear Martha,

Writing class began at 6:45 PM, March 14. Due to a last minute
cancellation I was accepted into class at 6:47 PM, March 14. At 6:49,
after a frantic change of clothes, I set off to class, driving a bit
more dangerously than usual.

This saga began in January where in a fit of self-improvement, writing
wise, I emailed local writer Adair Lara for information about her
writing classes. I considered just doing this step mighty good. No
real writing...but writing for information, an indication my low
standards. I received a reply about a week later saying the class was
full, as was the next one. She did however want to see a writing
sample, and if qualified would put me on the waiting list. Terror
struck. If I had known I would actually have to send a piece of writing
I can assure you I never would have inquired. Now I had to produce a
sample mighty fast. If I took a year to send a sample, I figured it
said way too much about my writing habits. I revised a short piece,
still hysterical. Lucky I had that little piece that took months to
make presentable. As I'm hysterically writing, I'm thinking, here is a
writer who, at the least, can produce 2 columns a week. She might not
have much patience for my lack of speed...or is that a lack of something
else. I would love to have a column that comes out once a year. I like
a deadline. My finger hovered over the send button for a long time and
finally in a burst of optimism, pressed send. Maybe it was a burst of
"screw it". The first piece of writing, sample or otherwise, to be
submitted anywhere was jettisoned into cyberspace. And then I waited.
I checked my email regularly, Very regularly. And then my Sally Field
moment came...she liked it, she really liked it. A few encouraging
words, a full class, a place on the waiting list. I didn't have to
write yet. How perfect was this?

With possibility in the air I went shopping. That’s pretty much the
first thing I like to do when starting a new project. Actually, it
doesn’t have to be new project. I’ve wanted an Oxford English
Dictionary for a long time. With the chance of a writing class on the
horizon, want became necessity. In order to make space for the OED my
desk needed to be cleared, a perfect time to reorganize my notes. Notes
sound a bit more substantive than the reality of piles of papers of
every size and shape, each with tidbits of writing, crammed onto a shelf
in no particular order. It was clear that I needed a better system if I
was going to be in a class. I bought file folders, including some
accordion shaped ones, because they came in the best colors. Those file
folders certainly helped, but required the purchase of a plastic
portable file drawer in order to contain them. My dictionary arrived and
it consumed the entire area of the desk, not occupied by the computer.
It was impossible to pick up and open without breaking my wrist. I
needed to purchase a stand to hold the dictionary.

I tackled my virtual desktop next. I’m mortified to report that I had
labeled varying versions of one short piece, "Final/Not", "Final Draft",
"Final #1", there were two of these, "Final # 3,4 and 7". No indication
to what happened to #2,5 and 6". It is clear I got pretty desperate in
figuring out my system because all of a sudden there was a "Final Draft
#13". There must be some software that I could buy that would number
things automatically and keep me out of the loop. I planned to go
shopping again soon.

I shopped for words too. In a lovely new little notebook, with a
vintage photo of the Eiffel tower on front, I started accumulating words
that might find their way into my writing, just as soon as I started
writing.

As March 14 approached, I was disappointed that apparently the class was
full and I didn’t get in. But still, no writing required. I would have
time to get the bookstand for my dictionary. I leisurely opened my email
on the evening of March 14, all hope gone. There was an email from Adair
Lara. A cancellation! Could I respond immediately and come to the first
class? It was sent at 8 am. It was 5:40 PM. I replied, leaving an
email and voice mail message. "Was I too late, love to come, can’t wait,
so happy etc." And then I waited. At 6:45,the starting time of the
class, I put on old paint-stained pants and a torn flannel shirt. At
6:47 Adair Lara called. "Just got your message, come on over, park in my
driveway", a very special favor in San Francisco. I was in the class
and arriving late, no psychic preparedness, no new pen, no new notebook,
and no new shoes for the first night of class. And now I have to write…a
lot. I'm hysterical again. Of course any sensible person would be
working on a piece right now. You can see my problem. Maybe the store
with bookstands is still open. I better go check.

Lynne Jerome
Going to a Place I’d Never Go

It wasn't that I'd never go there. It was the terms under which I was there that made it all so strange. I'd decided to take a writing class. This in itself wasn't unusual; I'd just finished a writing class at the college I work for. As a staff member, I'm eligible for one course tuition free each semester. Last September as I was walking the blue carpeted hall toward my office I passed a woman I was certain I'd seen before, but couldn't place. I continued walking until she disappeared into the bathroom and then doubled back to catch her on her return trip and sure enough, it was Adair Lara, a local newspaper columnist, whose columns I'd loved and who had been a guest teacher one night in a writing class I had taken at a bookstore in Malin several years hack. I introduced myself and we shook hands and l found out that she was here to teach the first day of her undergraduate creative nonfiction class that would begin in about two hours. I'd had no idea! After wishing her well I ran to my office, made a flurry of phone calls to line up after school care for my kids and alert my husband that we'd be home late, got the forms I'd needed from the registrar and department offices and by the start of class was sitting in a chair at the table, a notebook and the required texts in front of me.

But tonight I was skulking about that same Malin bookstore I'd taken the class in, eyeing the clerks to sec if I could figure out who had student registration duty for the class that was about to begin. At the end of last semester, after loving everything about the class, I pulled together my courage and asked Adair if I could be a sort of TA or provide any other service I was capable of (baking cookies, scrubbing floors, knitting socks?) in trade for the reg fees so I could be in the class. She graciously accepted.

We left the terms of the trade undefined, but in the intervening weeks until the class started, 1 mused about organizational systems I could design for her; ways to efficiently handle the large volumes of paper teaching a writing course necessarily generated. Whenever I remembered the ensuing chaos in the group when she handed back our drafts or gave us photocopied pieces to read, the shuffling of the paper and the predictable chatter, "where's page 27" "does anyone else have extra page 5's?" "I didn't get my cover sheet back" would make my pulse quicken. One night during a reading for students and faculty at the college, she had turned a page to find the next page missing. Out in the audience, I seized up in my seat. I stopped breathing as she vamped, telling the audience what she would have been reading to us at that point in the story. Meanwhile, someone shuffled through the pile she had left on her seat and found the missing page. My heart rate didn't slow til sometime later that night.

So I knew there were myriad ways I could help and didn't really worry about pinning down the details until a few days before class. I emailed to ask if there was anything I could do ahead of time and what I should do about checking in. She replied that she would let me know how I could help and to just "come in after the bookstore person leaves." My mind raced. I was going to just crash the course? What if they closed a door and I couldn't get in? What if the bookstore personnel asked for proof of registration?

I got to the store early to scope out the scene. For the entire hour-long drive there, I kept admonishing myself not to walk straight to the register, with my arms in the air and turn myself in. I was standing by a display near the door when Adair came up, "I see you skulking around here!" We said hello and hugged, chatted a bit and I said, "So I'll just mosey in after a bit?" "Oh yeah," she said, "just wait til the clerk is out of the room" She went to get her coffee and I positioned myself in the travel section, outside the classroom entryway, and watched the clerk check off names and hand out name tags from behind a book about Exciting Getaways to the Caribbean. I heard Adair begin talking while everyone settled down and after about ten minutes, the clerk walked toward the front counter with some papers in her hand, and I slipped in the door and over to one of two empty seats off to the right that I'd seen from my post. It was a room full of middle-aged, nicely groomed white people—all women except for one man. Everyone had bright blue nametags. Everyone looked like they'd paid to be here.

I opened my notebook and started writing. Instead of taking notes on what Adair was saying, I was jotting down my lines for when the clerk came in and interrupted the class by asking what I was doing there_ I considered: I'm Adair's cousin, visiting from Iowa. Or, I'm a student from Mills, where she taught last semester, and I'm doing an article for the school newspaper. Finally, I'm her assistant, taking notes for her—she wants to turn this into a book and she can't very well teach and take notes at the same time.

Then a young man, also missing a blue nametag, took the empty seat next to me. I wondered what he was doing here. What were the chances that he had signed up to take this course? Maybe he was someone's son? Could he be a fellow imposter—dropping in because it looked interesting while he'd been shopping for books? A few times, he seemed to laugh at inappropriate moments causing me to be even more suspicious. Maybe if the clerk came in and asked now, I could just say, "I'm with him" and see what his answer was!

As the class continued, I got taken in by what Adair said and started to forget my registration worries. When we went around the room saying our names and reasons for being in the class, I introduced myself as legitimately as anyone had before me. I also learned that the man next to me was indeed someone's son—Adair's! And I thanked my stars I hadn't embarrassed myself by passing him a note asking if he was a fellow illegal. When Adair announced the assignments for the coming week, as usual, several people raised hands with questions. Were there five topics to write about or just four? When were the 4-page assignments due? Were we supposed to send our pages to our writing partners or to Adair? Then neighbors began talking, trying to clarify the instructions for one another. As the noise level escalated, I felt my familiar racing heart. On the way home I hummed to myself as I devised a filing system to contain the fifty pieces of paper that would be turned in next week and every week after that for the next seven weeks.


I was a writer that did not write. While I watched others flail about with
their creativity, I calmly assured myself that I was merely a diamond in the
rough and when I finally decided to grace the outside world with a few pages
of prose, the accolades would be mine for the taking. I failed to grace
much more than a grocery list over the years, surrendering hopes of
consequent acclaim.
On one unsuspecting Wednesday afternoon, an email popped up on my computer
from Adair Lara, a real live writer person offering a class to little old me
and I took it as a sign. Several other emails had popped up from the bank
regarding sales ratios and the like, but holding no cosmic significance for
me, they were promptly deleted. I continued to bask in the glow of my
potential until an unfortunate pinprick of reality burst my Pulitzer-bound
balloon. I would most likely have to write something to get into the class.
I highlighted the email and dragged it towards delete. As I began to slowly
raise my finger off the mouse, I heard a little voice say "Stop. Not this
time!" I spun around wildly, half-expecting to see a goldly-illuminated
Roma Downey, her eyes pooling, begging me to share my god given talents with
the world in her blessed brogue. Instead my corneas were met with the stark
blaze of a fluorescent light fixture as I realized the voice was just the
temp in the next cubicle in a heated but covert game of Tomb Raider. "Stop
or I'm going to crush you bastards" she muttered. The disappointment of
absent angels notwithstanding, I opted to view the timing as evidence still
of a fumbling fate struggling to get a foothold on my path.
I rifled through my old college assignments to excavate any piece that would
pass for recent, freeing me from the burden of actually having to, of all
things, write, but my movie review of "The Forbidden Dance is Lambada"
seemed to fall short of my hopes. Weeks passed until I was, fortunately for
me, shamed into writing something for a reading at my Artist's Way Art
Opening, a group I joined to unblock my creativity that turned out to be
real sticklers for working on your craft. I searched for a topic that would
reveal my genius and insight into the human condition, but as I was always
taught to write what you know, I landed uncomfortably on the chilling story
of my recently diagnosed digestive disorder... inevitably a crowd pleaser. I
scrambled to pull the piece together the night of the event, mowing through
the very M&M's I was renouncing on page after page, hand writing the tail
end as I bounded down my steps and into the waiting taxi, reviving my
signature "in the cab conclusion." After the adrenaline drained from my head
that night, and I began formulating sentences again and retaining coherent
thoughts, I realized I now had a sample to submit for the class. I
considering brushing it up a bit; at the very least replacing the chocolate
saliva dribbled sheets for freshly typed prose. I stuffed it into an
envelope and wished it the best, sending it off to a real person for the
first time.
Twenty fours later, I combed my email for Adair's response. "Well, I know
she must be busy, but I have a life, too," I said wrapping another band
around my softball sized rubber-band ball at work. I decided to take a long
walk around the floor, socializing with the resident office slackers in an
attempt to distract myself. Ten whole minutes later, I rounded my gray tweed
covered cubicle and shook off my screen saver. "You have got to be kidding
me!" I yelped as I furiously clicked on my "send and receive" tab. After
getting off the line with our computer tech support to rule out server
errors, I phoned my mother for commiseration.
"That damn lady hasn't gotten back to me. Doesn't she know that all I'm
clinging to is your praise about my letters from camp at this point...I
mean, what with the penmanship contest wins no longer coming in...doesn't
she realize what's riding on this?"
"She sounds like a busy lady, honey. I wouldn't worry about it. She
probably doesn't have your job flexibility. Isn't she a columnist for a
major newspaper?"
"Oh, yeah, o.k., sure...but did you birth her from your loins!?" I cried
into the receiver before slamming it down.
I flung my head on my keyboard, considering sucking my finger as a last
resort for self-soothing when I heard a faint ding from my computer. I
looked up and a newly bolded message from "alara@sfgate" glared at me from
the screen. I gulped a hard gulp and hummed Gloria Gayner's anthem in my
head.
I slowly clicked open the message and gasped.
"It's a wonderful sample and you're in the class."
I began printing multiple copies as my fingers flew across the phone keypad.
"Mommy, mommy...she likes me...she really likes me!"
"Who? Oh...well what happened to 'that damn lady'?"
"...a real official writer from the San Francisco Chronicle, a paper which I
don't really read all that often but I hear is quite reputable, thinks I'm
wonderful..."
"I think she meant your piece dear. Better not let on that your sample is
the only stuff you've got. Now, did you need anything else 'cause I have to
bring your father his meatloaf."
The next day as I faced the same mundane crowded commute, still averting my
eyes from the elderly and physically impaired to remain securely seated, I
beamed with a new sense of importance and purpose. I was a writer, and
apparently, to hear my pal Adair tell it, a not too shabby one at that. I
pictured my much anticipated arrival into the class and imagined how
difficult it might be for her to hide her favoritism, as I was certain
"wonderful" was reserved for only the cream of this semester's crop...for
those who could write so poignantly and passionately, with just the right
dash of merriment, about such wrenching, soulful topics as being sick. Being
sick. Those two words hung ominously in my thoughts until I felt a cold
chill rise up towards my neck and an acid burn start bubbling in my gut.
All color then drained from my face. She thought I was sick! Here I was
mentally laying out brightly colored book jackets, when she thought she was
only filling her Make A Wish quota for the quarter. My god, I had gotten a
pity place in her class because I was unable to ingest wheat. I felt faint
and rested my head against an elderly woman's walker in the aisle.
Once I recovered, I decided, at the very least, I could finally meet my
Personal Essay-type peers. Other young struggling folks like myself,
bolding exploring the "known", who would also surely find my contention that
Cream of Mushroom soup's aftertaste resembles Captn' Crunch cereal to be
noteworthy. We'd all still be living like college kids in a Real World
reality, surviving on our wits when the temp pool went dry, and I imagined
us huddled around a café's wobbly Formica 4 top fashioning our own remedial
round table. On the first day of class, I raced up the stairs of Adair's big
yellow Victorian and burst through the door with expectant glee. I stopped
short in the foyer, facing a colorful, nicely furnished living room filled
with a buzzing crowd. Perplexed, I resisted the temptation to pull out my
email to go over the address again and reveal my shock, but there had to be
a mistake. These were...adults. People with furniture and established credit
and undoubtedly, things they had written! Real writer people cramped on two
couches...looking at me and my ever so subtly post-pubescent puss slinking
into a folding chair, all of us thinking the same thing: "You, my dear, do
not belong here." I desperately sized up the room, hoping for more obvious
misfits in the crowd, landing half-heartedly on a much older gentleman with
thick glasses named Woody squished against the sofa arm. "Well, maybe he
doesn't belong either then," I weakly consoled myself. I shifted awkwardly
on the cold steel chair, imagining how I'd inevitably be pulled aside
quietly after class, where it might be suggested that I seek out a less
rigorous, more appropriate course, especially for someone of my weakened
constitution. I considered bolting out of the window after a bathroom break,
but dragging in the seven bags I brought with me would arouse suspicion and
call more attention to my questionable presence.
Adair brushed back the thick sweep of her short honey-colored hair,
bare-footed and comfortable, as I contemplated faking some kind of
gluten-related seizure. She went over some introductory topics and then,
with all the anxiety-eliciting power of a pop quiz, asked a few of us to
read. "Oh, here we go," I thought, "it wasn't bad enough having to endure
the already obvious awkwardness. Now I get to have verbal confirmation
outing my displacement. "Poor little novice. Let's all take a moment to
chortle at her sophomoric use of language and fetal epiphanies, shall we,"
they'd snicker. I slid further down my chair. First up, Woody cleared his
throat and scooted to the sofa's edge, shifting his pages closer to his
face. He began to read, recounting the horrors of mustard plaster steamed
to his chest as a child, and we all laughed with delight and
recognition...all of us (even if, say, one had no idea what mustard plaster
was). A few more people read, sharing stories and insights from their lives,
with which we could all empathize or embrace, softening our own anxieties
for a few moments. Their gazes then shifted and it was my turn to read. I
unfolded my crumpled pages and started to slowly recite the words I knew
only too well, my heart thumping louder than my voice. My volume began to
rise, along with my confidence, as I soaked up their audible acceptance.
These adults were laughing at my words, my stories, my thoughts, and not
only were they not my Mom, I seriously doubted, unless money had exchanged
hands, that they even knew her! They wrote me post-reading "valentines" that
said things like "this piece really rocks" and "you're a very funny writer"
and I figured, hey, I think I can probably settle in here for awhile after
all. Most importantly, though, wedged between these two cramped couches, I
began to realize the power of writing. It would be the great equalizer,
shedding us of clothes, calendars, and discomfort and I knew that in this
room of strangers....adults...people...I had found a world where I finally
belonged.
COVER LETTER:
Erik Meers
Managing Editor, PAPER Magazine
365 Broadway, 6th Fl.
New York, NY 10013
July 16, 2001

Dear Erik,
After a long day of eye-blurring editing, as you sink into your sofa
with a carton of Crunch 'n Munch, do you want to be greeted by "When I first
found out I had herpes, I was devastated!"?
Me, neither.
Unfortunately, recent drug advertising on TV has soiled our few moments of
solace, and I knew the team at PAPER would be just the folks to help me out
this current abomination. I've attached an approximately 1100-word
perspective on this plague. I hope you find it to be an enjoyable read and
take comfort that its benefits are free from the following common side
effects: dizziness, dry mouth, headaches, constipation, abdominal
cramping...
I started my illustrious writing career in the communications program at
Boston University. However, after college, full of piss, vinegar, and
Melrose Place, I rejected the world of advertising, copywriting
specifically, to avoid squandering my creative energies writing copy for
such doldrum clients as financial institutions. Today, as I sit in my
cubicle at California Federal, I become painfully aware of the irony.
Obviously, I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Thanks for your time and consideration.
Sara Rhodes
1254 23rd Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94122
Work: (415) 904-4685
Home: (415) 681-8214
srhodes@calfed.com


Cathy Scott on writing


BUT SOMETHING GOT IN MY WAY
She was about five-foot-seven, thin, with red hair, and beady eyes. Addicted to hand-outs, she’d circulate around our desks, plopping down one writing exercise after another. AH, THE ANTAGONIST!
“On this one,” she’d say, in her quirky voice, “imagine you’re a dinosaur. Only you’re pink, and gentle.”
Well, I was already writing my very-important manuscript. It would be an epoch of, well...epoch proportions. I didn’t have time for frivolous exercises. So I procrastinated on my assignments. I simply wouldn’t do them. I’d slide under the radar. The instructor would never know. My writing partners—busy people—would be grateful not to be inundated by my snippets. It was going to be very simple.

The Writer’s Path

First, enter the world totally believing Cap’s Kangaroo’s rah-rah that you can do anything you set your mind to. Think astronaut, paleontologist. Enjoy saying paleontologist to elementary school teachers and hope they don’t ask you to spell it. In third grade, you complete your first short story: A Horse and His Boy, five pages including the half page “THE END” with exclamation points that follow the suspenseful “and he chewed the rope – the rope to freedom!” conclusion. You take Mrs. Robinson’s advice to “just keep writing” literally and become a closet journal writer and poet. You will recall this moment as proof of your life calling a scary number of times over the next thirty years.

Start a journal in middle school for keeping track of boy crushes and injustices from the world, particularly blonde members. Welcome rainy days for writing poetry – “lyrics” really, as soon as Elton John gets his hands on these – revealing your seventh grade experiences with love and loss:

Secret Lover, Secret Lover, can you hear my desperate cries?
Come away through the door,
Away from the truth,
Away from the lies.

Arrive at college eager for freedom to select coursework and fill social calendar. Assume that campus party attendance is mandatory for freshman and oversleep any chance for Biology course credit. Decide that 8:00 a.m. is too early for a major, and who needs another doctor in this world anyway? Quit chemistry. Take German. And don’t even think about the Creative Writing Program.

Enroll in first college literature class and find out you’re the only who didn’t do the optional summer fun reading of Man and His Symbols. Wonder what a psych book is doing in literature and get lost in the crossfire of archetype references and familiar sounding books you never read in Mrs. Honeycutt’s democratically-minded English class where punctuation reigned supreme. Turn in your first paper, thrilled with the insightful psychoanalysis of your giant bicycle looming in the distance dream. Confidently pick up graded paper the next week, unrecognizable now through bold, red strokes shouting your need to write longer sentences and use bigger words. Finish semester with handwritten gobbledy-gook comparing Paradise Lost and A Winter’s Tale written in a 2:00 a.m. tequila haze that makes no sense by 9:00 a.m. class. Get first A on assignment.

Spend adult career writing for short attention span executives; slimming paragraphs down to bullets, bullets down to executive summaries, and summaries down to top-line conclusions that all come down to this: your company so sucks that you really need us to fix your problems. Scatter jargon with pages of acronyms, and assorted MBA’isms: outline objectives, determine process, analyze findings, and summarize conclusions. Get better at blaming client management but end the engagement before you actually have to write in complete sentences.

Eventually, you give in to the force that is pushing you, screaming at you to stop the Google-searching factoid collection (that no one reads) you’ve called a career and write the book that’s been haunting you for two years. Get pregnant first, relieved to put off lack of talent for the whole world to see. Your accountant, Sherwin will ask, in his thick Brooklyn accent, what happened this year? did you stop getting assignments? to which you’ll mumble something about three kids and different direction as self-explanatory. Once acknowledged, you find that writing is a force stronger than the professional definition of yourself that carried you through college and beyond for reasons that you can barely fathom at this point.

One year goes by. “How’s your book?” people continue to ask. Over and over again. Bask in journaling process and stream of consciousness recordings. Know that the wisdom will sound so good in black and white. It doesn’t.

Think there might be a correct way to write a book, even one about yourself. You decide this idea has merit and you: 1) outline the process, 2) analyze the sources, 3) determine best strategy for moving ahead. Attend your first weekend seminar with a promising sounding title of “First Person Writing That Sells.” Think 6 hours is fun, why not go for 30? Panic attacks begin two weeks before class and continue for the next twelve, accompanied by severe homework guilt on Tuesday mornings. Fun little diatribes turn to serious critiques. How do these people have so much material? Wonder at what point you can call yourself a writer.

Hide your writing journal on lap at kids’ soccer games; rely on other moms to give you answers to the “how many goals did I score?” quiz at the end. Struggle to make sense of idea fragments through pageful drawings of happy faces (with tongues) used to amuse your 1-year old in same soccer matches. At home, you are interrupted by constant humming of “I love you, You love me,” while toddler tugs at your leg and 10-year-old screams from downstairs for piano books that she KNOWS you HAD last week. Your moment of inspiration comes out of nowhere, and you drag along your still screaming 1-year old, pretending to calm her without losing the tiny thread of enlightened prose, as you look for just one of your notebooks in the scattered piles. Settle for a used envelope and a crayon. Recycle it before transcribing it.

You carry and fill multiple journals and purse-sized notebooks with partially realized class assignments designed to bring out the writer in you, things like: obsessions and smells, describe your nose, and what does your junk drawer say about you? Realize that your weekly obsession is trying to figure out something to say for these assignments. Lose sleep, dream writing, drink coffee, ignore friends. Switch to stretchier clothes and looser sweaters that hide the effects of also ignoring exercise.

You sit in your office, grabbing the quiet time to dash off a few thoughts before the Tuesday class countdown begins. Your seven-year old son walks into the multi-pile, no surface area desktop you call a home office, and you realize you’re still in pajamas and haven’t brushed your teeth. But he sure looks proud of his Mom. Then he asks, in his sweet, direct tone, “Mommy, are you ever going to have a job again?”


At night, before you get started on that homework, you decide to clear out the towering stack of New Yorkers by your bedside, reading just the fiction before surrendering to the fact you will never finish them before the new batch arrives. One hour later, you throw down the magazines in disgust, knowing you don’t have a thimbleful of their talent, so how in the world will you ever get published? Notice the Mitch Ablom book peeking out from the bottom of the nightstand and think there might be hope after all.

You attend your weekly come-to-Jesus sessions for which you’ve paid good money, realizing the piece you brought cannot be read out loud: your dialogue is full of floating heads and unrealized conflict resolution and it ‘tells’ more than it ‘shows’. Push it to the back of your notebook, with the growing stack of “work in process” assignments you’ve promised yourself to complete as soon as class is over.

Continue with anxiety attacks, humiliation, frustration, but don’t stop, convinced by the memory of Mrs. Robinson that you are doing exactly what you should be doing. And besides, you need an answer to the casually thrown question “are you done with your book?,” which is kind of like when your parents asked if you got a ‘100’ on your Chem exam. Am I Done?? “Well, about how much of it do you think you’ve written - 25%?”

“I’m taking a writing class.”


March 3. 1999

Adair Lara
97 Scott Street
San Francisco, CA 94 117

Dear Adair:

Enclosed is the first piece I wrote for our writing club after your class. You gave me a wonderful push toward exploring first person writing. 1 am struggling to fit it into my life in a major way. Just as you said I am finding it very hard and hence very time consuming. But it is so much fun that I want to "go for it". My class in Spanish keeps hogging the time I have for practice, so I'm trying to convince myself to elbow Spanish out of the way and write - in English. The exchanges between me and my writing partner are dwindling since we are both too busy to keep up the daily pace . Our club has been a nice motivator though. It sure has livened up my mail. I am hoping we will continue it in some fashion.

On a day when i was too strapped for time to write a Mist person piece, I sent Dick the notes I took during your class. He liked them so much that he sent them on to a friend. So just in case you might be able to make use of them in some way, I am taking the liberty of e mailing them to you by way of a kind of thank you. Please do what you like with them. I will take no offense if you hit Delete.

I hope that your Brazilian adventures met all your expectations and that I will be reading about them soon in your column.

Sincerely,
Pat Malmstrom <twinservices@j un o com>

Marc, 1999
Taking a Chance on Chance
Pat Malmstrom
Taking a Chance on Chance
by Pat Malmstrom
When the extension catalog came in the mail I let it sit on the bench in my bedroom for a few days before I looked through it to find a Spanish conversation class. In my sabbatical from administering a non profit organization I was planning fun for the right side of my brain. Learning Spanish would lead me back toward childhood when learning was not linear and time ran in circles like the clock.
But after I'd found the Spanish course I wanted to register for, I idly flipped on from the "S" courses all the way back to the "Ws". I couldn't look up from the pages until I had read the descriptions for every writing course listed. "What is going on here?" I asked myself. "Haven't you just finished writing a book? Aren't you just sick of having computer eye-glaze and desk chair back-ache? Isn't your in-box overflowing with unanswered business mail?" "Yes," I answered. "But look, I argued, "not all of these courses are about business and book writing." "Here's one on first person writing with Adair Lara. "1 love reading Adair's column. I've heard her read at Black Oak bookstore. I know she'll make me laugh. And just maybe, she'll point the way back to the eagerness I felt as a ten year old when Sister Miriam Dolores gave us free time to write about our favorite relative."
Storm clouds loomed as I drove sleepily across the bay into the City for the Saturday class with my hands at a careful 10 and 2 o'clock on the steering wheel. I felt okay about bringing a blank notebook. After all I was just shopping around. This might not be


March 1999
Taking a Chance on Chance Pat Malmstrom

my cup of tea. I'd wait and see how things went before I decided whether or not I'd write something for Adair to review.
About 50 students were gathering in the gray classroom light ten minutes ahead of time. We filled up almost all the chairs and struggled to arrange our jackets and bags without bumping our neighbors. Adair stood behind a small desk riffling through a high stack of papers. "Oh my gosh!" I thought, startled. "Could all those be essays people have turned in today?" It turned out that they weren't from our crowd. They were offerings from our predecessors from which Adair deftly extracted examples of writing that works.
The morning flew by as Adair shared facts about good writing... Good writing is difficult. Write. That's how you learn. Don't wait until you discover a new universal truth to share with us all. It'll never happen. Be honest about your own personal struggles. That's what it takes. And, it's hard.
After lunch it was our turn to try. Adair wrote "Mother's Day" on the board, chalked a big circle around it and gave us five minutes to write clusters of our personal associations with the word. Then we had five minutes to write one paragraph incorporating some of those associations.
I wrote "When my ex husband and I started having children, the question of Mother's Day and Father's Day came up. Would we celebrate those holidays in the expected fashion - flowers for me- ties for him? We decided a resounding "No."

March 1999
Taking a Chance on Chance

Then she showed us how imagery and telling details help your reader experience what you experienced and gave us five minutes to rewrite a sentence from our paragraph. Many precious minutes went by as I struggled to find the right images. Time was up. Adair was already asking for volunteers to read their before and after sentences when the words started tumbling onto the margins of my note book. "Awash in drip drying diapers and the monsoon rains of Portland, Oregon, In that Long ago May when our first daughter, Carolyn, was born, Ed and I rejected out of hand any notion of celebrating Mother's or Father's Day. No flowers for me. No ties for him. No Hallmark cards either. "
"Whew!" I thought, " That was really hard, but I think I nailed it."
I let a couple of readings go by and then I raised my hand feeling a little shaky. My mouth went dry and my voice got hoarse, but I managed to read.
Adair looked out at the group expectantly. "Class?" she asked." Nothing. Silence. I held my breath. Finally Adair spoke. "It's really very good. You even managed to work in a kid the second time. And for that matter your first try was good, too. "
I exhaled.
As I drove home over the bridge my hands kept sliding down to the bottom of the steering wheel. Unperturbed by the heavy traffic and the storm winds jerking the car, I could have steered with my knees.



Yellow Lines
(memoir of Adair's class, put to music)
Josh Coleman

I remember the first time that I saw them The day I got my paper back
They were just like rays of sunshine Running straight across the tracks Well I didn't even ask her
What these yeller lines are for
I counted them up like they was money and they numbered 24

YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES
MAKE YOU FEEL SMART MAKE YA FEEL FINE MAKE MUNI RUN ON TIME YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES CHANGE DIET ROOT BEER INTO WINE HOW I LOVE THEM YELLOW LINES
Well it was just a few weeks later
I saw something that give me a fright The only thing there was on my paper Was my own words in black and white I told myself not to panic
There must be a reason to see
Maybe there was a shutdown
At the highliter factory
That night I felt pretty lousy
Till I saw what the cure must be I went and dug out my own pen
Now my paper's as yellow as a lemon on a tree
YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES
MAKE YOUR EGO STRETCH AND SHINE MAKE YOUR HEAD SWELL UP WITH PRIDE YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES GONNA MAKE A STRONG MAN WHINE "TEACHER, WHERE'S MY YELLOW LINES?"

Well I realized what was the problem I needed more strength to my tone I was badly in need of an angle
My epiphanies could sure use a hone My papers were full of problems With no solutions in sight
I saw all of these answers
And my papers still came back white

YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES HOW THEY MAKE A FELLA PINE
FOR THOSE GOOD OL YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES YELLOW LINES GONNA MAKE A MEAN MAN KIND MAKE AN UPTIGHT ONE UNWIND MAKE A BROKEN CHURCH BELL CHIME MAKE A SLEAZEBALL LOSE HIS SLIME MAKE A BLIND MAN TELL TIME

"HEY TEACHER
WHERE'S MY YELLOW LINES?"

Establishing Trust and Encouraging One Another

Sally Sanger

I participate in a writing group that meets once a month in San Francisco. We meet tonight for the third time. I am very glad to be in the group, but I find, on the whole, however, that I feel shy about sharing with the group material I have written. This feeling puts a damper on my participation and reasons for being there (here). I have considered dropping out of the group because of these feelings, but after discussing them with my husband, we decided perhaps this is a challenge I need to meet for my own personal growth, and that opening up the discussion within the group may be worthwhile, not only for me but for the rest of the group as well.

I am afraid of being shot down. My husband says a beginning writer is like a tender green shoot that is fragile, and that one must be very careful to choose a safe place and trustworthy people with whom to share ones work, in order to continue growing.

In our writing class last Spring, I was able to turn in some of my most personal and best work to the teacher alone. I trusted her because she set the tone for emphasizing what works, for encouraging us, and for highlighting the positive. Occasionally one or the other of us would make a remark in class that might discourage the writer of work under discussion. In those instances, almost immediately our teacher would intervene, countering any negative feedback, and setting us on the right course again, of On parental jargon) "emphasizing the positive and ignoring the negative." On the whole,
however, taking the cue from our teacher, we were very good about mentioning what we liked and why.

I hope we are able to continue in our writing group this method of encouraging one another in our different writing styles and subjects. My husband and I have a friend who meets with a group of writers, also all women, that has been together for many years. This summer, in fact, they rented a house together in Cape Cod for a whole month, to devote to writing and encouraging one another. I hope we are able to develop such a long standing group.

But now we are just getting started. I hope we grow to feel safe sharing with each other our writing efforts, knowing that we will treat each other and our work with respect, sensitivity, and confidentiality. Part of that will be taking care in our comments about one another's writing, to say what we like and why, honestly. Another part will be not gossiping about each other. I must be as careful as anyone else, and if I have said anything to offend anyone in the past, I am sorry. None of us is perfect, of course, but I hope that if any of us is negatively critical of another's work, the rest of us will realize what is
happening and work to set the discussion in a positive light, especially in these early months of our group, so as to develop respect and confidence in one another.

As we grow to trust each other, it may be that after we have learned to praise the good, we will be able to and even appreciate comments on what does not work. But I for one am just in the tender shoot stage of writing, and cannot bear a lot of negative criticism. How do you feel?



ADAIR LARA PROGRAM EVALUATION
I. Do more analysis of process.
2. You opened some windows for me into a kind of writing that has intrigued me for a long time but which 1'd done nothing about.
3. Each week I've felt as if every word you said and point you made went strait inside me.
4. I am forever indebted to you for your focus on angles and epiphanies. Now I go through my days thinking about those two concepts of form and structure, and they make exact sense to me. I look at previous work in my mind, and notice that what has those ingredients and what doesn't. this is stimulating stuff, and I feel as if your class gave me a short in the arm.
5. I've gone back over all my notes to help me find an angle for saying think you that wouldn't sound worn out, syrupy-sweet and full of superlatives and clichés. Not much luck yet but I've managed to jot down a few details and images that stick with me-your great hairdo that I wish I could wear but can't because my ears are too big, your funny shoes that appear to need regular feeding, your interesting house, free cokes and cute husband-oh yes, and all the writing stuff.
6. ...you have a special gift for is knowing how to critique our writing. That delicate balance of pointing out the good stuff and the stuff that isn't quite working YET. T' m going to try hard to remember that all important "YET" because as you have probably guessed, I tend to be a catastrophizer-if something isn't working out, it will NEVER work out. Skimming over essays I wrote I am a little surprised at how totally neurotic I sound in the writing. I'm not surprised at being neurotic but am very surprised at how open I am about it. Eeeek! The facade is slipping some more. Maybe it's life that needs revising and the next time you see me t might be dressed in a muumuu and have flaming red hair. Epiphany at last.
7. When you had the class respond to a few sentences I had written, they didn't evaluate it good or had but they said what they "heard". "Kid's playing in a sprinkler" or a "mother's whining voice." They each had their own experience. This impressed me and must have sunk in.
8. I also felt the visit by Joan Frank was beneficial. Her insights complimented yours. If possible I would try to have a successful freelancer talk at your classes. Listening to the pieces was helpful, but being able to jot down comments as the person read along on the physical piece itself may have made the reading more productive. Asking us to read a magazine we hope to he published in would have perhaps honed our skills. OR asking us to slip a first person piece we had read during the week that we especially liked might also serve this purpose. you could coy the ones you feel deserve it and distribute them to the rest of the class the following week.
9. My writing partner and 1 agreed to send each other an essay every weekday for two weeks, beginning the following Monday. We established no topical constraints, and vowed to utilize your model of positive and supportive feedback. I bought a yellow highlighter. The first few days were exhilarating. I wrote each rapidly each evening, completing a day's work at least the night ahead of

time. I was filled with a sense of mission and importance, knowing I had a waiting, captive, and (by definition), positive audience. I free-wrote. 1 just sat down and write it straight through, then read it once and sealed it into an envelope. I even got two days ahead of myself at one point. Though I felt some trepidation at mailed stuffed envelopes for three days before the post brought be a first essay from my partner in Alameda, the requirement of placing an essay in the mail each day was supremely motivating. 1 admired the work my writing partner, Judy, sent me, and took pleasure in commenting on it and marking the passages which really spoke to me. However, when she returned the first essay I had written, I read it with amazement. I did not remember those sentences. I had forgotten that I had written about that topic. This happened with my second, and then third, essay. Undaunted by my failing memory or the trances I must had entered during writing, I enjoyed the shock and surprise of readying my worn work. I even liked it. I read the essays to my husband and to our seventeen year old daughter, a gifted but intensely private writer. The re-read them, looked at the positive comments my partner had penciled in, and laughed over the topics and my foibles. At the beginning of the second week, I received a note from my writing partner says that an extraneous circumstance in her life would prevent her from completing the two week commitment. I was still on a roll, and had sent her a few more essays since she had written the note, but this threw a corkscrew into my momentum. I call her. The unforeseen circumstance had, by then, evaporated. We decided to complete the second week. The essays were getting harder to write. On Thursday morning of the second week, I spent two or three hours dawdling at my computer. The writing was not flowing anymore. 1 had shot my wad. I had nothing more to say that was interesting, succinct, pertinent, or remotely capable of encapsulating any wisdom or experience. Finally I finished something sub-par and dragged it off to the blue postal box on the corner. As 1 meandered home, I realized that I had not been intent on writing that day. I had been merely stalling to avoid facing a momentous task of bitter necessity, cleaning the house for weekend company. For some read now forgotten, we cried "Uncle!", and stopped after this second Thursday. Whew! Nine days of producing a complete essay each day was astonishing for me. The concept from your class of "having and angle" was one of the most helpful insights about writing that I have received and it enabled me, I believe to write these essays.
10....copying enlarges slight, so if you copy on 98%o, your margins come in a hit and you get all...
11. Preparatory exercises-to do some writing or thinking about specific exercises before the session.
12. Would like more handouts with writing exercises to practice and develop your skill in the writing process.
13.... handouts of bibliography.
14....it might have been helpful to have hand out of sample proposal & prologue & epilogue-also maybe bibliography of good memoir.
15. _.a checklist for a good memoir
16. _.like more info about definitions of memoir vs. personal essay, etc.

17_ ...the vocabulary, the first person essay structure, the understanding that it's okay not to get it right the first time, the importance of rewrites and the spontaneity of first drafts, the concept of digging deeper – all this was new and wonderfully helpful You are a kind and astute judge and I lost a lot of my fear of sharing my work as well as learning to enjoy other people's — kind of opened up my solitary world behind my typewriter_
18. I liked Philip Lopate's introduction to his anthology and think we should all be required to read it. It places us within a tradition, which is exciting.
19. I think it's important to take a break in the middle of the course, even if it has to be for two weeks. There comes a point when we have a lot of half finished work that beckon, and a week off would give time for rewrites as well as to catch our breath. It becomes increasingly hard to focus on something new with so much unfinished business trailing behind.
20. you have a great style and a wry sense of humor which demystifies writing and makes the class a lot of fun.
21....found the peer responses to be overly critical and counter-productive.
22. I liked the format of the class and most of your suggested assignments. Although I often chose to take the "or write whatever you want" option.
23. The peer response part of the class would have worked better for me if on the weeks we were reading, you had us make multiple copies of our essays so the other participants could read along.
24. Last week, when Diana read the essay about her father, I thought it sounded wonderful but most everyone else seemed to think that there were some distracting inconsistencies. After class I realized that Diana could probably read the back of a cereal box and I would think she had written something brilliant because her voice makes everything sound so important and engaging.
25. ,,,1 would have liked a few more suggestions from you of which markets might he right for our essays----especially the ones that you indicated showed promise of being publishable.
26.... my next class will be one on learning to use Excel so I can create spreadsheets and such. I'm sure that often while I am trying to create cells and columns and graphs, I will daydream myself back into your living room where I could he engaged in the wonderful stories of other people's lives and be inspired to make sense of my own.
27. I've sent out seven queries on this piece, and I've been papering the market with others. I've become addicted to having something gout out each day, and I'm working on new things constantly.
2& Among the many helpful things which you shared with us was your file of rejection letters.
29....the longer he knew her, the more of a mystery she became to him. And I think that's what keeps us going, never really knowing someone as well as I think I do, being completely surprised, wondering what else I don't know about him, this Other. I love seeing him though others' eyes and I think he feels the same about me. We always tell each other we've left the party with the best looking guy/gal in the room, marveling at our luck.

30. Finally, I'm sending the turning of the Tables to Dr. Eugene Sigler, a dentist who mirabile dictum, possesses both a sense of humor and an exquisite gentleness. Nevertheless, he lives in fear that some writer will write a slam piece on him. Just keep giving me that nitrous, I tell him, and nobody gets hurt.
31. Well, thought you might want to know that I decided to go ahead with my real name on the locket piece—must have been meant to be as had been agonizing about it even before the Chron editor called and gave me this last chance to change my mind. Called Annie Lamott as well, my sponsors—old and new, my therapists, friends, everything in my life being done by committee, you know. Almost all agreed I should plunge ahead, that it was about recognition and ownership, and that there were consequences to having been an abusive addicted parent and some of them took the form of the written word. Not only is my mother the prime minister, she and my father are the whole fucking parliament, so this will be some kind of Pyrrhic victory I suppose. At any rate, the publication date has been moved to 7/30, unless 1 get humped by someone else, so this is the Good News.
32. I have also learned a great deal about epiphany and the importance of a good-no, a great-opening line or need to "hook" the reader. Ironically, I discovered that the pieces I wrote that poked fun spoke more eloquently than the essays that were more sympathetic.
33....your point about the message needing to be universal was important and necessary for me to hear.
34. And although your class points us towards publishing as the ultimate goal, I think I've learned that the ability to express myself is the greatest prize.
35. Within the class discussion, I believe that your criticism has always been fair, true, constructive and extremely supporting. (Did I really need the extremely or the really for that matter?)
36. I went to a writer's retreat over the weekend and studied a stack of pieces I've written that don't work. I found pieces without angle or epiphany that I think I can save-and pieces that I thought were hopeless that aren't.
37. Although you dislike the word "literally" (I read that in your column recently) I believe you have literally changed my life. you have changed the way I look at situations, at people, at the absurd, at the profound, at the past, at the moment, at memorie3s, at family, and most importantly, at myself
38. I was impressed by how much the writing level in the class improved over a relatively short period of time.
39....maybe even have a class assignment of imitating an Adair Lara column.
40. Your class, and your encouragement, have been extremely important in re
establishing my confidence and my sense that I must write, even if nothing
tangible comes of it.
41. Angles are troublesome, so I'll call then angels.
42....should create a handout that defines angels....have an angel or not. 43.

Julie Gardner August 27, 2001 Class Critique
Dear Adair,
I had been toying with writing for a bit — for months actually — and had approached a few friends who write professionally to form a writer's group. I had no idea at the time what a writer's group was, but thought we would come together much the same way book clubs do on a monthly basis to share a common interest. I was itching to put my thoughts down on paper, itching to pursue something else beyond motherhood, anxious to find out if my brain still worked or if it had turned to oatmeal like my breakfast. My family had been going through a difficult time and as a result, I was carrying a heavier load than usual. I needed an outlet and a method to organize and distance myself from the chaos that was taking over my life. When my friend, Gayle, suggested your class, I thought it might provide a jumping off point. It has ... and much more.

Although you dislike the word "literally" (I read that in your column recently) I believe you have literally changed my life. You have changed the way I look at situations, at people, at the absurd, at the profound, at the past, at the moment, at memories, at family, and most importantly, at myself. That's not always a good thing for the people around me who are now subjected to my scrutiny and cynicism, but it does

least I know the way home. And when I'm asked at the next school function "What is it that you do?" I can offer up that "I am a mother and a writer" (Albeit one who needs to work on punctuation and grammar, but that's for me to know.) and watch the interviewer pique with interest rather than glaze over.
Most people have a teacher that sticks out in their mind as someone who significantly shaped their lives. I didn't. Somehow, I fell through the cracks and have spent much of my adult life wondering why and how to redeem myself Your class has made me feel as if that might yet be possible. Listening to the other students has helped improve my technique and made me more cognizant of the fact that everyone carries baggage. (Some people just happen to own Gucci while my bags are Costco specials.) . Our weekly sessions have been a course study on life as well as writing; group therapy as it were. I'll miss that. I will miss you. Prior to my becoming a student, I enjoyed reading your column and often thought you funny and talented, but you are an equally gifted teacher as well. Like a blob of clay that gets shaped into a vase (or useful pitcher — 1 couldn't resist) you have helped shape me. It's been a pleasure being a guest. As a fan, it's so nice when our Heroes do not disappoint. Thank you, Adair. I will forever feel grateful.

Sally Sanger Wordwright Unlimited

Revision Class Critique Liz Roberts

Set-up

The premise of this class is a really good one (which is why I signed up in the first place). Most of us love to write and hate to rewrite. I was frustrated with the pile of half-written essays in my hard drive (okay, so they used to be in my hard drive), and I felt paralyzed every time I looked at the titles. The exercise of going back in and fixing, rewriting, adjusting, rethinking is an important part of writing, the other half of the skill set. In fact, I'd suggest that you sort of "semi formalize" your growing curriculum – strongly recommend that your students take the rewrite class before going on to master work.

In-Class Discussions

After I took your first class, I started going to Stan Sinberg's on Monday nights for his little writing group because they're convenient (three minutes from my house) and low-key, plus they are my biggest motivator to keep writing regularly. It's a totally different set-up. He's kept it small (or more to the point, he doesn't have your reputation and has difficulty getting the group beyond four or five). We don't read aloud; rather, we bring enough copies of our pieces for everyone to read silently in class. I prefer this because

like part of a laboratory situation, with a teacher somewhere behind me who was on my side.

I wanted to comment on one other thing. I do remember very well the evening that Annie came to class at the Media Alliance and brought Sam, and I also remember Wendy Lichtman's essay about her frustration. I wanted to tell you a little of what my experience was.

As Annie tended to Sam as best she could, her stream of consciousness discussion of writing was never interrupted, and I wrote it all down to study later. She said if you have a message, send a telegram, don't clutter the end of your story with it, readers only want the depth and truth of your experience, and I wrote it down. She quoted someone who said that a writer is someone on whom nothing is lost and I wrote it down. She said writing is like driving in a fog, where you can only see to the end of your headlights but that's enough, and I wrote it down. At that time, I was absolutely dead stuck at an early structural stage of my Star Trek episode. I was desperate. After class, I went up and told her, essentially, that we were having trouble finding order in the sea of our plot. She told me that when you're writing a screenplay you have points at the end of each act that you write to. I went back to my partner, Karen, and said let's try it that way. We did, and our structure fell into place.

Not only did Sam not interfere with my learning from Annie, it seemed to me that he was intimately blended into her art and her way of understanding writing and understanding herself as a writer; he was a part of her and a part of what she was saying just as much as her hair or her alcoholism or the garden she made for Elizabeth. The forbidden word took its place on the blackboard, lest, we were led to suspect, all hell would break loose.
"Bees." Often pointed to throughout he evening, but never said. It was pointed to when an image was needed to personify and contain the demons of writing. Sam and his mortal fear of bees became metaphor f for all of the canyons and dark hallways and scary things that hide under the bed of a writer's efforts.

I don't mean to be sentimental. It's not that Annie wasn't exasperated, I could see that she was. And its not that I didn't regret the misfortune of having forgotten to bring a catcher's mitt to class on the off chance that a small, two-year old body might soon be flung in my direction by an exhausted, working single parent who was wondering why she never saw this coming as she slammed her locker door shut, late for Algebra in the 36th grade.
June 15, 1994 Dear Adair,

I'm writing this in the form of a letter even though I'm going to hand it to you at class and it doesn't have the magic alchemic addition of a stamp with spit on the back glued the side of the envelope. I hope it delivers my thoughts anyway.

First of all, here's the book you loaned me. I didn't finish it, so I will buy another copy. The first pages I did read are certainly energetic and invite me to read more. Thanks, and I'm flattered that you thought of my piece in relationship to this book. It will be interesting to me on that level. I need some examples of narrative farm for this kind of childhood stuff. I'm always worried it will be boring to people.

The group was very good, surprisingly good, and that of course sparks me from complacency. I am one of those writers that writes fast, fast as I can type (8Owpm with many mistakes), and has to go deeper, go deeper, write draft after draft to get wherever there is, so what I sought was some sensibility, some focus, and I do feel that I got that.

Oh yes, and you are the kind of person that inspires people to want to write letters, good letters to them. That is unusual. I don't quite know what that quality is, good listener? That people want you to think they are great letter writers? It's not a frump quality, I promise you. So I hope it's okay to write occasionally. Also, when we get some decent equipment I'll call you and see if you will still he available, for a half hour radio conversation.

Regards{
P.S. I wasn't sure that you heard me because the class had just started last week, but I was really embarrassed and uncomfortable that Susan what's her name approached you apparently insinuating that I had said that you'd commented favorably about her book. I did not say that to her, and certainly did not suggest that she bother you. I had mentioned that you had talked about "some book on writing" and that I didn't remember the title. I had brought it with me to ask you if it was the one you spoke of. I just wanted to clear that up with you because I left last week feeling yucky and unsure that you understood what happened. Obviously a pushy chick. I hope that is not a requisite quality for getting published. I now have to interview her and Act Really Nice.


Janet Madonna
EVALUATION
I'm sad the class is drawing to a close. It has
been a revealing experience for me. But once I realized I couldn't just gloss over real
emotion with a sarcastic comment, the writing, particularly the revisions, became more difficult for me. I'm not sure there has been enough space and time between the problems my kids and I have been through to want to involve them in my writing and dig deeper at this time.
I have thoroughly appreciated your encouragement and respect for my ideas even though my skill level is below the group's. I have a gut feeling about some of the things I want to write, but feel weak in the mechanics of putting it all together. I know if I want to effectively write, I need to spend way more time reading publications and finding out what's out there.
The class has been well-organized, and your willingness to share information and pass along tips has been great. I will miss Thursday nights!
Box 1867
ph/fax 707-9351008
Junehud@aol.com
5-21-98
Dear Adair:
Tonight is the last night of class and since I am going to have my "fifteen minutes of fame" I decided I should give you a "Hallmark Moment"— a thank you note to the best teacher in the whole wide world. (That sounds hyperbolic but I mean it seriously.)
Skimming over the essays I wrote I am a little surprised at how totally neurotic I sound in the writing. I'm not surprised at being neurotic but am very surprised at how open I was about it. Eeeeeks! The facade is slipping some more. Maybe it's my LIFE that needs revising and the next time you see me I might be dressed in a muumuu and have flaming red hair. Epiphany at last.
Thanks for everything.

How I've Grown as a Writer, by
Dear Adair,

You and the community of the class have helped me a good deal.


I feel better able to circle stuff on my pages and note where it sounds clunky, where I could expand, and what (still in early stages) is unnecessary.

The community of the group is great and we keep our focus on the writing; other groups I have been in devolve into chatting. One group is now just three women with brunch once a month. We're a Not Writing Group.
You arc so full of writing ideas, ways of seeing, different approaches into a piece - it's very fabulous. You're also a very strong writer as well as teacher - an uncommon mix. Usually its one or the other.

I worry that since you are such a good sergeant, I will continually struggle to be my own sergeant (how hideously New Age!). Where will I come up with all those ideas, all your energy? Who gets to be your Adair? You are the best teacher I've ever had. No one's ever grabbed my attention before. One of my formers is also my former English professor and advisor. I told him about you and he responded, "writing class sounds great, sounds like Adair can get in under the remnants of your old anti-critical radar.

Page 2 of 2

-eep at it, writing takes so much unglamorous labor to achieve the glamour. handy mnemonic device:
I still worry that my voice and tone are a bit off the mainstream, and I'll have to look harder for places to publish. I know they're out there, but they're probably not The Sacramento Bee, or the Contra Costa Times.

It will be hard not coming to your house every Thursday. I got this whole ritual down where I'd go first to Joel's work, lie on the floor in his
office, and listen to him complain about how what he has is shit, or how he hasn't written it. Of course it turns out to be dead brill, which is why I usually remain on the floor. Then we have a drink or a coffee and come to your place. I guess that's what a good writing group should do, build some ritual and community into this lonely, wonderful, drab and joyful thing we do on our own.

The Adair I got to meet was warm, and brusque, and funny - I'll miss you Sarge.

Shucks ma'am, Linda
la kilby
shockwave.com * 650 Townsend * SF, 94103 T: 415 503 2402 * F: 415 621 0745


NoveDL


Sr LV
worked

Tremendous effort on your art--really came across that you cared worked on our hat took each one of us seriously. Evidenced in your ornaments o each al US
on our pieces, in class, a u when encouraging the _t e
others to be constructive.

Handouts were thoughtful and useful. There's a ream knack in knowing what to give students, and not confusing quantity with quality. I’ve cot files fu- of Than dorts from other teachers that I've never locked at, and that overwhelmed me, instead of teaching me.


Appreciated the way you conveyed that writing is scary a bit e most powerful thing

Appreciated the way you mace me, and us, feel sate and accepted. Writing is a very, very personal. indicate
hing, if you do it rant. I t -+nk tohe a writer who is worth reading, you_ _, = to be willing, and able, to r a down into your essence and be brave enough to spit it out on the page, You erect c „ taught, and allowed as to do this, with each other. This is a group of people I would not have opened up with easily, and by class' era, 1 think we were all leaking pretty easily with each ether.

I think that most things come dean to tole tanci-nos and the intangibles.
Yost of all, I appreciated your encouragement. No one's s ever told me I was a -natural writer, at least no one 1 ever trusted to know that they were talking about.


Cecilia Worth Adair Lara March 9, 2000

Approx 5300 words

(Assignment: growth as a writer)
Way back a million years ago when I first started writing, I lived on top of a mountain called Mount Innocence. From the window of my thatched hut, I overlooked the Valley of Writing Principles. One day I packed bread and sausage, took up my walking staff and my keyboard, gave Irrelevance and Mediocrity a good-by kiss and set out to search for the holy grail of Perfect Writing. As I descended to the Valley I was amazed to discover that it was not the sunny land I had viewed from Mount Innocence but a dense and complex wilderness.
Can reaching the valley floor, the first thing I noticed were two signs, each guarding a path that disappeared into the wilderness. While I could easily see that the paths were separate from each other, I also detected a subtle, though definite, relationship between them. One path, marked, Ending, stood in a sparsely planted patch of Healthy Restraint. The other route, by which I chose to enter, logically enough, was labeled Beginning and wound through a garden rich in Savory First Sentences.
Almost immediately I came upon a pool whose shimmering depths invited me to Jump Right In. I did and surfaced smack in the middle of The Great Forest of Motion and Events, surrounded by Flashbacks. In every direction Concrete Details fluttered down from the trees, arranging themselves into Scenes.
Further on, the path entered a meadow thick with Adjectives and

2

Adverbs, surrounded by borders of Exhaustive Descriptions, all in full bloom and in every hue and size. I wanted to lie down, cover myself with them, never leave. At the path's edge rested a scythe, urging me to eliminate most of them and move on.
Several times, I became bogged down in the Quick Sands of Revision, attempting to cross them too early. Before I could add to the clichés, dangling modifiers and passive sentences that I could see sinking out of sight, I had to take the warning signs seriously, First Drafts First.
Cn and on I tramped, all the time searching for Tone. Often i t flitted in and out of sight, hiding behind Subjects that sprouted alongside the path, their Emotional Relationships resonating too closely with Tone itself.
Once, rounding a corner, I came upon the Cataracts of Epiphany. Some of the changes that this torrent had made in the terrain were obvious and stunning; others so subtle that the effect on me was gentle as a breeze.
All too often I lost my way. Or I found myself retracing the same route. Or I discovered that I had got turned around and was traveling backwards. I needed an Organizing Principle, an Angle to let me know exactly where I was going. Angles were elusive, though. Many hid themselves in the The Quick Sands of Revision. Sometimes I rounded an unexpected turn in the road, only to have a full grown Angle jump out and reveal itself to me.
Daily I pulled from my pocket the famous and well worn Adair Lara Directives map. To my frustration and dismay, the map often changed its appearance before my very eyes, some areas fading, others brightening, many mixing and mingling with each other until their definitions were

3

indistinct. Just often enough to tease me, briefly visible though frequently unclear, there appeared on the map, threading its way through the valley, a Theme With Universal Appeal. Unobscured by Dean-End Tributaries, this thread led directly to the mountain on the other side of the valley, the Pinnacle of Published Works, on whose slopes lived famous writers, their lungs accustomed to the rarefied air of Mastery and Success.
Days of bad travel were few but terrible. blank walls impossible to penetrate. At these times, seeing neither Problem nor Solution, I became depressed and frightened. What if I wasn't in the right valley after all? Maybe I should return to my thatched hut. Worst of all was the fog that billowed round me, that thinned but seldom lifted, the Mists Of Not Showing Myself In My Writing. How little I know, I moaned, slogging through the Swamps of Self-Editing, bogged down in Framing, mired in Wordiness.
Then, just when I was losing my Set-Up, the great Chronicler of Memoir materialized by my side. Showing Without Telling that I was about to have a Breakthrough, she gently turned me around. Whereupon, with seemingly no effort or warning, I emerged into a little clearing illuminated by the Light of Comprehension.
Looking over my journey from atop the prickly, sweet, crunchy surfaces of at least Three out of Five Senses, I realized how many territories in the Valley of Writing I had explored and could name. Gaining familiarity with the topography counted for something.
And there was that one unchanging thing, the knowing that I would either explode or wither away if I did not remain immersed in the magic of language and communication. I could never go back. To take one baby

4

step into the fog and reveal myself in a single sentence, to combine motion and dialogue, to be interesting, not nice or careful, to be truthful, though not necessarily accurate, to persist in writing when the Mother of Memoir no longer visited regularly, to unite with other writers as traveling companions: this was my future.
I threw back my head, held my lap-top aloft. I n the orchards, plump Nouns and Verbs hung ripe for the picking.


November 2, 1993 Dear Adair:

I have only two true regrets about this class: first, that it is ending, and second, that I didn't do more writing for it. I'm sorry it's over because I thought the class was extremely valuable. The second is more a personal problem—although I wonder if it's not related to a comment I could make about the class. What about requiring that students write three (or four) days a week? I think that to me, at least, that would seem less daunting, more approachable. But this may be simply a personal problem, because I suspect many people did manage to make the everyday writing a habit.


I found it very instructive to hear about your work habits, your frustrations as well as your successes. There is, of course, the fantasy that "real writers" have no difficulties at all—and that becomes a very handy way to discourage oneself.

The materials you passed out were great—good practical examples of writing that works, and in almost all cases, most inspirational. I especially enjoyed Joan Frank's thoughts, the article about memory and imagination, and Joe Bob Briggs's piece (though I wasn't able to put his advice into practice).

Now here's a few thoughts on some things I didn't like—but I'm really stretching to find them. Perhaps I have felt a little frustrated with the critique/discussion of pieces in class. With such a multitude of opinions, I have not known sometimes which point of view to listen to. And Of course, that may be your style, and after all, it's crucial to keep encouraging people and to point out what they've done well. But nonetheless,
Your comments and observations on people's work were insightful and keen, helpful and kind. Your general attitude toward your students' efforts is encouraging, nonjudgmental and accepting. This is precisely what I need–both to hear from a writing teacher and to adopt myself.
Actually, if I were to be "painfully honest," I'd admit that I have one more regret.
Anyway, thanks for a superb class! Sincerely,

Laure Oliver
P.S. Please let me know if you begin offering another class! Also, did you/will you review and comment on our writing samples? I'd love to see your detailed thoughts on it--even though its about a person uncomfortably close to home, I'd still like to see if I could work it into publishable shape.

Caroline Koch to me
More options Feb 9 (2 days ago) Hi, Adair,

Another great class tonight!


THANKS FOR response! yes, think I can help you a lot with that. Anne and I spent two hours yesterday on hers--you might ask her about it. I charge $100 for these private deals, but when it's time spent on arc I think well worth it.
I have so loved having you in the class, by the way.


On 2/2/06, Kimberley Kwok <kimkwok@sbcglobal.net wrote:
Hi, Adair,

Funny you should ask.


See you on Tuesday for the PAR-TEE. Flog on.

Adair Lara <adair.lara@gmail.com wrote:
I would love to have an email from each of you saying what you think
you have learned, and what you are still not clear on, and how you
think your writing has changed

if you have time

cheers


Adair,

and Radar (aka: Walks On Keyboards)

Hi Adair,

Good thing selling writing doesn't require "mastering" it first :-P

Barbara

what I have learned:
importance of scene
how to create time and place
how to give my writing a pulse of highs and lows
how dialog adds to a piece
subtext

what I am still not clear on:
still need to know how to wrap it up (ending) so it doesn't sound
contrived

how my writing has changed:
old: bad
new: better :-)

how to use angle
better organized
more thou Dear Adair,

This experience has been intoxicating for me. The energy in our group has been amazing.. Having writing partners every week, getting feedback line-by-line from them and then from the entire group, and being able to e-mail questions back & forth was very helpful. I think because we were in your home also made it a much safer environment to allow ourselves to be so open and vulnerable with all of our raw materials and emotions. I look forward to our reunion as well as our next class together.

Mary

650 712 9358
650 468 5528 cell
Freelance Writer
ght given to voice
tie back ending

Thanks, Adair! I loved your class and your kind encouragement!
Dear Adair:

Things not clear on - things like writing what you
are feeling in the moment you are writing about and
when those feelings are unecessary to include. Need
some help and clarification on weaknesses.

I have loved every moment of your classes and look
forward to them all week but I will do some of this revue in the
break I will have in February. I feel as though I am
just beginning to grasp it. I don't know whether my
writing has improved, I don't feel either objective or
secure enough to make that judgement.

I came in for a lark and found that I love it so that
it occupies a lot of my thinking during the day. I am
appreciating what people around me are saying so much
more, I examine strangers on the street and wonder
about them rather than seeing them in just a glance
and just as immediately forgetting them. So, bottom
line I have benefited from the class in ways I hadn't
expected and am already looking forward to March.
Thanks,
Marcia Armstrong

have just signed a megamillions contract as the new 'dior' face and that skeezy little kate moss can kiss my skinny white ass. wow. what can i say? adair lara knows a thing or two about writing. i'm not sure what because i missed a lot of classes and never finished any of the homework assignments but what do i care? after taking her class i'm skinny, beautiful and soon to be rich and famous. how does she do it?

sorry. couldn't resist. will get back to you with the real deal report card by monday.

On 2/5/06, Adair Lara <adair.lara@gmail.com wrote:
THIS ISso rich and detailed! and heartening, too. thanks!
maybe come a bit earlier, at 5:52?

On 2/3/06, Margee Robinson <robinsonworks@sbcglobal.net wrote:
Gee, If I had only known...

I found the emphasis on structure in this class helped me to analyze my
writing in terms that defined what I was doing, or not doing, as was
usually the case. I have begun to understand the use of image and detail in
a way I didn't before.

I had thought I knew about tone, but now I know it a lot better.


I learned so much about scene, but it is still an area that I need help. Or
maybe need more practice. I have been looking over your handout on scenes
and if I used that when writing, it would be a good prompt. As a matter of
fact, all the handouts were so good and I realize that I should have gone
back to them more often when writing.

Although I am clearer about detail and image, I feel I need more work in
that area. What is too much, what is too little. I can find details
distracting, can take me away from my story and others too. I haven't found
a good balance yet. Perhaps just need more practice.

This was a terrific class. I think with the foundation of the first class I
was able to move faster and get more done. Some of what I learned in the
first class sunk in deeper and started to become automatic. A great
feeling.

So, your report card is A+ for teaching and a D+ for xeroxing, which is
coming right along.

See you at 6:01 on Tuesday



From: Adair Lara <adair.lara@gmail.com
Date: Thu, 2 Feb 2006 12:03:22 -0800
To: fall2005classb@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [fall2005classB] did I mention that those who send me my report card

get back a file with all the assignments for the class on it, so you
can go back (guiltily) and do what you missed?


2. Further to that... re: Report card

What I’ve learned: Greater skill at handling scene and dialogue. Better able to recognize what pops out. Better at cutting
What not clear on: We don’t know what we don’t know! It think I need to work on editing, editing, cutting my darlings. And I need more work on beats and structure. And how to subtly work in back-story as action proceeds.

How I think my writing has changed: I have more confidence. It’s getting tighter and more dramatic.

Fantastic class! The best I’ve taken!


3. So if you send me the class assignment list, I’ll take it with me and use it for exercises.


4. I just looked at the Kilimanjaro story you asked about. Ach! What have I learned in your class? Enough to know I need to revise it before I can let it out of my sight. I’ll do that as an exercise in Guatemala and send it to you when I return.

Anne

Class a reports

You found the structure “recipe” helpful for a short piece, and learned the importance of structure over style, to use Jim’s tidy phrase.
Jim
“How to get rid of details that may sound nice but have no other purpose. How to move stuff around to increase tension and interest. How to rely on concrete actions or observations rather than summary.”
“Rather than simply free writing, I’m starting to think about story arcs.
I’ve learned to ask: What is this piece about? What happens?
Beats; moving from one pole to the other; epiphany/moment of change
Structure—“writing is not just stringing together nice words.”
A turning point that anchors the story
Using a model as a template
Death to adverbs
I am getting better at seeing what works and what doesn’t
I am more aware of tone, POV, and thinking ahead: what goes in this story and what in the next.
I can revise in response to feedback
I am beginning to get emotion in my writing

Here’s what people felt they still struggle with:

Developing a piece overall
Ways to end one

Using dialogue to convey emotion rather than exposition

Letting more heat and dirt and mess come in earlier

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED


ANALYZE WHAT WORKS

* * *

The second paragraph heightens the tension between danger and sensuality, confinement and belonging.
So far, we know we are in the hands of someone who is worth reading simply for the joy of her sensuous writing. And we suspect that there will be breakthroughs, possibly dangerous ones that bore down to her core and “split my heart down its seam.”
In the third paragraph, we find where we are in time, and probably where we are in space when we hear her Southern speech. We know we should get ready for some spiritual stuff, but given her informal tone with the Virgin Mary, we don’t expect it to be too stuffy or religious. We know it will be big and frightening, but that her heart remains intact and that she appreciates the danger and intrusion because of what they yielded.
She doesn’t so much start or end anywhere, as describe the bee phenomenon of that summer as a metaphor for what is about to happen to her. Then she places herself next to them, gives us some further hints and a preview of her own very likable, intriguing, and trustworthy voice, and lets us loose on the fun.

WHAT WORKS: stacked and multi-sensory images, the power and mystery of the bees, the tension between yearning after them and having a swarm of bees in her bedroom, her openness and vulnerability, and the promise that her world is about to explode, and the sense that she will overcome danger and difficulty to find a whole new life of possibilities and “honey seeping out for me to taste.”

WHAT I’VE LEARNED
Asking the questions:
What is this piece about?
What is the problem?
Using detail and images to slow down the piece and focus a particular part of it, and also to show emotion
Problem to solution, problem to solution
Thinking of the piece as a movie and watching what would happen on the screen
Nobody cares about anything except the emotions. We don’t read for information. If you don’t focus them nicely, there’s no point in reading.
The bare-bones structuring tool:
I WANTED…
THE FIRST THING I DID TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN WAS…
BUT SOMETHING GOT IN THE WAY. IT WAS…
I HAD TO TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT, SO I…
BUT SOMETHING ELSE GOT IN THE WAY…
SO I…
ALL THE TIME I HAD BEEN THINKING I WANTED….
BUT I REALIZED I REALLY WANTED…
I GOT IT, OR I DIDN’T, OR I REALIZED I DIDN’T WANT IT, SO I…
Everything in the piece has to be in the service of driving it forward.



I WANT MORE OF…
More about structuring. Even though I know what to do, I don’t always do it. I want to get this into my bones.
More illustration of the bare-bones structuring tool above.
Taking specific pieces and showing the arc. Where do we start? What is the problem? What happens? What are the beats? I would love it if we all read a short piece, then diagramed the arc in class.

Carol Costello
The Soul of Selling


What have I gained/learned so far in this class.

1. You have to write all the time. I am still not good about a fixed writing time (time of day as well as duration). I tend to write less frequently and long stretches. When I have sustained daily practice it has paid off well.
2. Work on multiple pieces a t once! I am working on so many that I don’t have enough time to go back to most of them. I need to try to focus down. Right now my subject (‘my book’) is my whole life. Often, when I sit down to move a piece forward (by adding a second ‘chapter’ for instance, I find I urgently want to write about an experience twenty years earlier (or later). Still, this is not as bad as writer’s block.
3. I am learning to listen better when others are reading their work. Somehow it is easier for me to focus on a piece by reading it than listening, although I am fully aware of the rewards of the latter.
4. Story is a series of emotions.
5. The emotional truth is the story. The incidents don’t have to be ‘true’.
6. Start where the emotion is the strongest. Most people start too early in the story.
7. All of the above about emotions being true and crucial and non-negotiable, I loved the ‘story by the numbers”: I wanted…so I…but…
8. Use all five senses.
9. Read a lot and a lot of different stuff. Get quotes, images, stray musings into your journal.
10. Keeping doing it!

What I want to work on more:

Dear Comrades,

What I have learned and how I have applied it:

Get the Words on Paper:
Writers are people who put words on paper. Editing the words before they land on paper greatly diminishes their chances of ever arriving. Just write it and accept that some amount of it will be embarrassing junk. Just “keep the channel open” as Martha Graham said to Agnes DeMille (from one of my favorite quotes on creativity, below*). Also, I have to dedicate the time to writing or everything else in my life is more important.


Choosing where to begin the story in time:

Editing:
No matter how much I cherish part of a story or how good it might be, sometimes it just has to be chopped for the story to advance, even if raccoons must be sacrificed.

Point of View:
Pick one and stick to it if you are writing in the first person. (“describing flipping my blond hair back when I can’t even see it”)

Using dialogue to convey emotion rather than exposition:
Dialogue’s only purpose is to convey emotion. It’s not a play – I don’t have to say, “Gee, Hank, look at that red car over there…”

Letting more heat and dirt and mess come in earlier:
It’s all about emotion and tension, Baby. Readers want a mess and a mystery, and fast!

Structure! Structure! Structure!
As Trixie Delight said, “We ain’t nothing without good structure!” The story recipe Adair provided is like an answer to a long prayer. “I wanted X, and so I Y, and then that didn’t work, so I… etc.” It gives me something to hang all of my collateral from and has helped me get past road blocks.

Writing partners are a marvelous resource:



What I am still struggling with:

All of the above.
When I signed up for this class, I wanted a reason to write and an expectation that I would. More than anything else, what I've got out of the class so far is a desire to write better.

Specifically:

1. I've learned that good writing, at least for me, is hard. I know that sounds trite, but it also means not giving up on a piece or an idea just because it's not working the first time. Practically, this means I've learned to slow down. I don't have to get an entire piece out before I run out of motivation. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.

2. I've learned about the importance of detail, conflict, tension, and starting a story in the right place. I've learned how to better structure a simple piece using story arcs. What I'm struggling with is how to translate these ideas into better stories. What's the right pacing? How much detail is enough? How much is too much? How do I most effectively use conflict? How do I build the tension without slowing the piece down too much?

34. I've learned I'm not good at listening and responding


5. I've learned to pay more attention when I'm reading. I'm looking more now to see how an author sets up the structure in a piece. I'm looking for the conflict, the turning points, the epiphany.

7

Hi all,

I have learned that I’ve been starting a lot of my pieces “when the alarm clock goes off.” Okay, I don’t start my stuff exactly when an alarm clock goes off, but it’s my nature to start at the beginning and plough through. For example, in the “Winners” piece about Megan and her cheerleading squad not making it to Regionals in 2003, I started at the beginning – like before the competition. Well, actually, I started while watching the Canada geese fly in formation which made me think of how the girls on the cheerleading squad all stand in formation.

Now I know that I can jump in right when the action starts, and this will be a valuable device for me to use in all of my pieces.

I know that I can start the above piece I just referred to right when we’re at the competition watching – start with a bang and put a little back story in.

The piece that I’m planning to share in class tonight is another example of something I’ve attempted to write a couple of times. I always want to start even before the box of Christmas ornaments get thrown off the cliff at the City Dump in Oregon and then go from there. The story always seems to go on and on – not that it was a bad story or anything – it just didn’t quite work because it was always too long.

It wasn’t until we talked about “epiphanies” that I had my own epiphany (for real!). Hey, I don’t have to start before or even when the box gets thrown off the cliff. I can start the story much later, like before the important stuff happens! I don’t want to say too much because I’m reading this first draft in class tonight. I’ve already gotten some great feedback from Robert and Chris.

Last week, I actually SAW that I was repetitive in just that one page I read and that there’s a lot I can delete and change to make the writing stronger. Also, I learned how to emphasize the important stuff more and de-emphasize the rest.

I have also learned something else besides angles and structure (something I still need to work on, but that light is flashing now!) and epiphanies and stuff like that.

I have learned that I really do want to do this thing called writing – even if it kills me. I get really mad at myself when I don’t have time to complete the assignments, like I didn’t rewrite a piece four times and send it to my partner this week like I should have. I write in bits and pieces whenever I can.

I learned that I wouldn’t be in this class at all if I didn’t want to be a better writer and that yes, I am crazy enough to want to pursue this thing called writing.


I also just learned that it’s 5:36 p.m. and if I don’t get moving, I’m not going to make it to class on time.

See you in class. We’ll miss you Rita. Sorry to hear about your Mom, and we’ll be here for you upon your return.

Melody



Original Message-----
From: Rlsngrl@aol.com [mailto:Rlsngrl@aol.com]
Sent: Sat 3/12/2005 4:21 AM
To: Lara, Adair
Cc:
Subject: Thanks for a wonderfully intense class
Dear Adair,
Hi, Adair,
I meant to come up to you on Wednesday to THANK YOU for a wonderful class, but then I got into a conversation with someone, we started walking towards our cars.....
Anyway, just wanted to tell you I really enjoyed the class and got a lot out of it. You are a wonderful teacher.
Best regards,
Sally


Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment. - Rumi
________________________________________
Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Small Business - Try our new resources site!
Your class was exhausting, but extremely valuable for me. I appreciate all the hard work you put into it as well as your tough-minded approach to writing. It was a pleasure learning from a pro.

Thanks again.

Hi Adair -

Just finished sending my regrets about this evening to the group list
and
wanted to tell you how much I appreciated the class. What I said in the
group message is true: I think I've learned more than I can put in
words.
I want to say thank you for your organized approach, your brilliant
explanation of the craft of short essays writing and the way you gave
feedback.
class is a terrific idea. I saved most of your assignments for
later, as exercises to do. Found I wanted to spend most of my time revising
what I had already written. Your exercises showed us how to expand, adding
depth and detailed images; how to examine under microscope and cut. Also
appreciated emphasis on epiphanies, but again will do exercises later. In my
files on your classes, I have sections on "Angles," "Epiphanies," "Image and
Detail," Revising" and "Tone." .
Liked writing partnerships, the ones that worked. Could have used more.
Hope we can continue some even after class is over. Enjoyed "in-class" a
lot. Talented group of women. (: Good teacher (:
After four of your classes, am finally learning to take comments, neg. and
pos., in person and in writing, without crawling under a rock; try not to
take them personally. Appreciate being told the positive first, then
constructive criticism, including negative comments; easier to hear then. Am
learning to sift out what I can use. Group is terrific for this. (And some
obvious therapy; sorry about all the emotion. Good for me, not sure about
for others.)
It's interesting to see your comments and suggestions, and that of others, on
everybody's work, but also liked and miss highlighting. Highlighting is
pure, positive. In highlighted versions what to leave out is obvious. In
email, your initial comments usually are positive, but in the body of work
sometimes negative, (for example, DON'T NEED bugs me.) Usually agree with
your comments, sometimes not, on my work and others'. Appreciated opinions of
several.
Goal of five finished pieces was too many to expect. What I have so far is
two (one new, one old) finished pieces (or close to), and several others
still in process. A revision class could go on indefinitely, but a writing
group will pick up where class leaves off.
Many thanks, to you and to the class.
Enjoy your cruise!
Sally Sanger
Wordwright Unlimited

Revision Class Critique
Liz Roberts

Set-up

The premise of this class is a really good one (which is why I signed up in the first place). Most of us love to write and hate to rewrite. I was frustrated with the pile of half-written essays in my hard drive (okay, so they used to be in my hard drive), and I felt paralyzed every time I looked at the titles. The exercise of going back in and fixing, rewriting, adjusting, rethinking is an important part of writing, the other half of the skill set. In fact,.

In-Class Discussions

After I took your first class, I started going to Stan Sinberg’s on Monday nights for his little writing group because they’re convenient (three minutes from my house) and low-key, plus they are my biggest motivator to keep writing regularly. It’s a totally different set-up. He’s kept it small (or more to the point, he doesn’t have your reputation and has difficulty getting the group beyond four or five). However, I know you’ve thought this through pretty carefully and are committed to your method. Because there are so few of us, everyone is critiqued every time – again, not possible in your class, and with good reason. The discussions themselves follow along the same lines as the critiques in your class with perhaps a little less focus on “that reminds me of when my older brother beat me up on a regular basis.” (I think you handled that issue very well.) The global point of view is also terrific. I’ve watched in awe as pieces have taken on new, wonderful shapes because listeners have focused on something the writer hardly noticed.
Assignments

All your assignments have been excellent and very challenging. If I were you, I’d make a big, hairy deal out of the importance of doing the assignments right up front, before people sign up. You may have done this; I can’t remember. Do it more. This is not an easy class. Time commitments are necessary to make the most of it. As you can tell, I’m feeling bad because I didn’t get the most out of the class. This is not your fault – just one of those “life/timing” things. Still, there may be some nimno out there who thinks s/he can just show up once a week and still make progress. So, don’t let up on the assignments; just make sure prospective students know they’re a core part of the program.

Writing Partners

Also good . . . if people are willing to participate, and have time for it. I found the online thing a little overwhelming. Every time someone sends out an essay, I feel as though I’m being asked to spend a serious amount of time reading and critiquing. Multiply that by the number of essays and comments that have been showing up daily, and it has gotten to the point at which I skip that message (or those many messages) and resolve to get to them later when I have time. Which I never do. This may be a personal problem – I don’t think everyone else is having the same issue. But if you are going to continue the online component, I’d make expectations clear up front. OR – set up guidelines about how and when to submit, how to respond and so forth. The online discussion seemed to take on a life of its own – which may be a very good thing; I just wasn’t in a place to deal with it.

Another thing is class chemistry . . . over which you have almost no control, of course. I’ve had a difficult time blending in with this group. I really don’t have much in common with most of the women; at another time, I’d have made more of an effort, and it would have been better. (I’m not completely unsocialized, after all.) But again, it’s the time and energy commitment thing. I can’t overemphasize the importance of people taking the class seriously. I’ve seen fabulous things happen to some women this go-round because they really dug in and did the work.
Hi Adair,

I found the in-class exercises useful, especially the ones that pretty much
guaranteed immediate success, ie., "add three sentences to this sentence,"
"remove unnecessary adverbs and adjectives." It's cool to see writing
improve so quickly like that.

I enjoyed the specific writing assignments a great deal (when I managed to
carve out time to do them): add images, add three sentences, write 10
epiphanies (even though I hated that one too--but you're right about it
bringing me to grips with important questions/issues). Much more useful to
me than "revise a piece and send it to your partner." I guess I'm a natural
integrator and focusser; I'd rather learn the components of good writing by
concentrating on them one by one than try to synthesize everything at once.
Especially at the beginning of the course. Minor note about the precis
assignment: I've had to do that twice now--once in your class and once in a
science writing class. I don't have trouble doing it, but both times, I've
felt befuddled about what the point is...to find out if there's a natural
flow to the story? It would have helped me if you had said what the goal
was (I should have asked, but I must have had a brain fart or something),
or what the precis can tell a person (or maybe I get it more than I realize
I get it and if there had been major logical problems, i would have noticed
and that was the point.)

The handouts are terrific. They always pushed me a bit or opened up
something a bit for me. You have so many pearls of wisdom in them:

"Often the beginning of a piece is the polar opposite of its end--if you
know the end, you can find the beginning that way." (Also useful for
checking the problem/solution aspect, I note.)


I loved your mini-lectures on the topic of the evening--I doubt you realize
how much insight and wisdom you provide. Similar to handouts, but
multi-sensory enhances the message delivery: I HEAR you saying, "Those
little darlings? I keep them all--in a special file." Also, the discussions
definitely gave me new ideas and pushed me in new directions. For example,
despite the fact that I'm the one who sent around that dating911 thing, it
wouldn't have occurred to me to send those relationship pieces there. Seems


Liked the e-mail element in general. Interesting to see different people's
responses to the same pieces. Disliked the maddening listserver aspect
that allowed me to see only some of the messages. It's an unnecessary
contrivance, given that it's a closed list.

Writing partners didn't work so well for me in this class. Fine when it was
people with whom I felt comfortable. Counterproductive when it was someone
who pushed my buttons (see below).

OK, now to the totally bizarre and unexpected and disturbing part... I had
a really hard time with some of the other people in the class, partly
because of the general personal dynamics (ie, some of the other women push
my buttons) and partly because of the nature of the discussions (especially
before Linda sparked that "e-discussion," consisting of your e-mail and
then my e-mail). And by the way--I appreciated your light and inspired
touch in response to that: the "writing partners" handout. Anyway,
sometimes I felt like I was at a support group (and I felt like one person
in particular drove the group there); other times I wondered what people
were doing there because it didn't seem like they were interested in
receiving feedback ("My husband likes it this way."); other times I felt
like I was in Adair's twilight zone writing class because for some reason,
the rules had inexplicably shifted (see next graph).

There was a period of time in which I didn't want to read, didn't want to
send my writing partners anything, and didn't want to say anything. I was
leaving class feeling pretty drained and irritated. I think the shock value
for me was particularly bad because I was expecting to have a similar
reaction as I did to the last group. There, I didn't particularly connect
with or identify with, but I thought that everyone provided valuable
feedback and was pretty smart. (God, I can be so judgmental. You know,
that's what probably really de-railed me about this, I think--that suddenly
this class was bringing out the worst reactions in me. So I wasn't
particularly enjoying the evening, and then I was going home and raking
myself over the coals about how intolerant and snobby I can be.) In this
group of people, I don't feel particularly safe or like I particularly WANT
some people's comments. (Presumably because they seem so off base to me,
and because I lack good will and respect toward the people making them.)
Also, I don't think some people want mine or anyone's. It's like we're on
completely different wavelengths with our lives (that's a euphemism for "I
just don't like a couple of the women much, and they really BUG me") and
with our writing and with what we're doing there.

So anyway, as far as constructive suggestions...it helped that you reminded
people to focus on the writing, though there are still major unwelcome
breaches in that (mostly in private e-mails, I guess, now that I think
about it). Do I need someone to tell me that my family isn't nearly as bad
as I think it is? For one thing, DUH. That's the whole damn point of that
therapy essay. Does this woman not realize that she thinks my family isn't
really so bad because of what I WROTE? Does she think I'm a complete
retard--that I don't realize what I realize, and I don't realize what I put
in the essay??? And so WHAT if I think my family is horrible anyway? I
digress along yet another annoyed tangent. You get the picture. I get
irritated. Then I get irritated that I'm irritated because I'm making a
million judgments about someone else. (like that SHE must be an idiot--both
intellectually and emotionally).

OK, have I explained that enough?

Anyway, I was trying to be constructive. I think that really sticking to
the guidelines about feedback would help. I also think that fairly strict
time constraints would help. Or maybe not strict time constraints, but an
eye on the clock if the discussion is going in some general psychological
direction instead of sticking to the work. If people want to take time to
talk about their issues, then at least let it not carve into other people's
reading time. We once spent almost an hour on someone's essay. And we were
not talking about the essay most of the time.

OK, so rules and time. I think those things would help. Also, I doubt you
want to do this, but the whole experience made me think that it would be
nice if there was some way to screen people personality-wise. Not that you
necessarily had the same reaction to people as I did anyway--but I think
that there probably really were SOME screenable characteristics, as my
reaction lined up pretty well with those of several other people in the
class. Just seems like there were two people who set off a handful of
others, and that's a shame. Or maybe the rest of us should get over it. But
anyway, it interfered with my ability to enjoy and plug into the class.

I feel a bit uncomfortable about sending this, but I suppose it's my honest
response. Hope it's useful.

And please say SOMETHING in response to this so I don't completely regret
mailing it.

Evi
Sally and Lynn. Didn't get a strong vibe one way or the other about
Priscilla until she left. I think she was expecting a journalism class, not
a personal writing class--so communication somewhere must have gone a bit
haywire.

Sally: She's the one who I think got people on the track of not saying,
"HELLO, WHERE IS THE CONFLICT IN THIS PIECE?" Also the one who kept
commenting on the content. Get Rosemary to tell you about Sally's helpful
hints to enliven her marriage (a response to the Jerry Seinfeld proposal).
Plus--and this is just me (though of course, it's not just me--it's me and
at least several other members of the class. But it is a personality
thing)--I had a hard time with that super sentimental streak. Anyway, I
kept thinking, "can she really be this dumb?" And then I felt bad because
sometimes she was being so NICE. But it was like we were on completely
different wavelengths--about writing and about life. And I just felt like
she didn't understand what I was trying to do with my work, and didn't want
to hear anyone's suggestions about hers. As I said, I don't think it would
have bothered me so much if I didn't feel like it skewed the entire process
of critiquing. (Ie, people weren't saying really obvious stuff. Either they
weren't saying stuff OR I am totally off on my impressions OR I am about a
million times smarter than everyone, which I know is not true because at
least you and Rosemary have many writing suggestion IQ points on me.)

Lynn: DON'T LECTURE ME ABOUT INCEST. DON'T LECture ABOUT BEING SICK. All
the arrows pointed to her. No matter what anyone was talking about, she'd
make it be about her. I quickly (like in about 30 seconds) got sick of the
pedantic stuff and the victim stuff. AND, again, I felt like she affected
the critiquing process in a bizarre way. I don't think anyone ever said,
"It's not your job to explain everything about incest. It's your job to
tell your personal story." So again with her, her personality quirks had a
pretty disruptive effects not only on how I felt (ie,
uncomfortable--because more than with anyone else discussing any touchy
topic, I had an extremely hard time finding the space to comment on her
WRITING without commenting on her EXPERIENCE. ANd I don't know what she did
to make that happen, but I think she created that dynamic.)--ok, not only
on how I felt, but also on the content of the critiquing from everyone.

How's that for detail? I have veered significantly from my studently role,
I feel.

About screening--I look forward to hearing what you have to say. I know I
would have picked up on Lynn's stuff in a brief initial interaction,
because I did. Sally--not sure about, though if I had seen her writing, I
would have known there was probably some trouble brewing. So anyway, I'm
curious about your thoughts.

> I've very glad to read this. I appreciate all your comments here,
>but esp the one about personalities. tell me the students people had
>problems with--sally, priscilla, lynn? and I'll write back, with more
>thoughts on screening personalities----------
>> From: Evelyn Strauss[SMTP:estrauss@nasw.org]
>> Sent: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 10:52 AM
>> To: alara@sfgate.com
>> Subject: class critique
>>
>> Hi Adair,
>>
>> I found the in-class exercises useful, especially the ones that pretty
>> much
>> guaranteed immediate success, ie., "add three sentences to this sentence,"
>> "remove unnecessary adverbs and adjectives." It's cool to see writing
>> improve so quickly like that.
>>
>> I enjoyed the specific writing assignments a great deal (when I managed to
>> carve out time to do them): add images, add three sentences, write 10
>> epiphanies (even though I hated that one too--but you're right about it
>> bringing me to grips with important questions/issues). Much more useful to
>> me than "revise a piece and send it to your partner." I guess I'm a
>> natural
>> integrator and focusserMinor note about the precis
>> assignment: I've had to do that twice now--once in your class and once in
>> a
>> science writing class. I don't have trouble doing it, but both times, I've
>> felt befuddled about what the point is...to find out if there's a natural
>> flow to the story? It would have helped me if you had said what the goal
>> was (I should have asked, but I must have had a brain fart or something),
>> or what the precis can tell a person (or maybe I get it more than I
>> realize
>> I get it and if there had been major logical problems, i would have
>> noticed
>> and that was the point.)
>>
>> By the way--your enthusiasm about expunging unnecessary adjectives and
>> adverbs just inspired me to do my own assignment with the anorexia piece
>> I'm wrapping up. Every time I see an adverb, I ask myself, "Is there a
>> better verb I could use--one that would allow me to ditch the adverb." For
>> example, I just changed "moved cautiously" to "crept."
>>
>> The handouts are terrific. They always pushed me a bit or opened up
>> something a bit for me. You have so many pearls of wisdom in them:
>>
>> "Often the beginning of a piece is the polar opposite of its end--if you
>> know the end, you can find the beginning that way." (Also useful for
>> checking the problem/solution aspect, I note.)
>>
>> "Two simple questions can help: SIt back, look over thepiece, and ask
>> yourself:'What, really, is going on here?' Then: 'And how do I feel about
>> it?'"
>>
>> And I really appreciate you addressing the psychological, as well as the
>> technical side of things. It hadn't registered til last night that I had
>> avoided reading the "Publication" handout. I was going through the pile, I
>> saw that one, and I felt guilty that you had put it together and I had
>> failed to read it. But then I realized why I hadn't read it because just
>> the title made my stomach turn over. So, (being me) I thought, "what's
>> this
>> about?" and dove in. Felt so much better afterward. I knew I much
>> preferred a writing life in which editors came to me (I have never written
>> a query in my entire two year career), but I didn't realize how much I
>> didn't want to set myself up for rejection. Reading those first two pages
>> made me feel both relieved (because they made me laugh at myself by
>> identifying with your cab-driving friend Bob) and also provided a new MO:
>> "But you can decide that you are going to start collecting rejection
>> slips,
>> and not allow yourself to be discouraged until you have, say, collected a
>> hundred of them." Perhaps I will put them in a big bowl and every week
>> pull
>> one out, and whoever it's addressed to will get $25 worth of free dry
>> cleaning.
>>
>> I loved your mini-lectures on the topic of the evening--I doubt you
>> realize
>> how much insight and wisdom you provide. Similar to handouts, but
>> multi-sensory enhances the message delivery: I HEAR you saying, "Those
>> little darlings? I keep them all--in a special file." Also, the
>> discussions
>> definitely gave me new ideas and pushed me in new directions. For example,
>> despite the fact that I'm the one who sent around that dating911 thing, it
>> wouldn't have occurred to me to send those relationship pieces there.
>> Seems
>> like the in-class stuff pulled me out of various ruts, in terms of WHAT to
>> write (never thought of doing a rant) as well as where to send it, etc.
>>
>> Oh--one element that you might want to do more with: general structure. I
>> think you're REALLY talented at seeing what the (or A) structure can be in
>> a piece that has even subtle problems. I've picked up some of that ability
>> just by watching you go (especially in the first class) and by really
>> trying to analyze my own pieces with that in mind (Is this the best order
>> I
>> can think of? What are the other possibilities?). But it still feels
>> pretty
>> fuzzy to me and I would have loved additional guidance on that issue.
>>
>> Liked the e-mail element in general. Interesting to see different people's
>> responses to the same pieces. Disliked the maddening listserver aspect
>> that allowed me to see only some of the messages. It's an unnecessary
>> contrivance, given that it's a closed list.
>>
>> Writing partners didn't work so well for me in this class. Fine when it
>> was
>> people with whom I felt comfortable. Counterproductive when it was someone
>> who pushed my buttons (see below).
>>
>> OK, now to the totally bizarre and unexpected and disturbing part... I had
>> a really hard time with some of the other people in the class, partly
>> because of the general personal dynamics (ie, some of the other women push
>> my buttons) and partly because of the nature of the discussions
>> (especially
>> before Linda sparked that "e-discussion," consisting of your e-mail and
>> then my e-mail). And by the way--I appreciated your light and inspired
>> touch in response to that: the "writing partners" handout. Anyway,
>> sometimes I felt like I was at a support group (and I felt like one person
>> in particular drove the group there); other times I wondered what people
>> were doing there because it didn't seem like they were interested in
>> receiving feedback ("My husband likes it this way."); other times I felt
>> like I was in Adair's twilight zone writing class because for some reason,
>> the rules had inexplicably shifted (see next graph).
>>
>> I lost confidence in the critiquing process when people read stuff with no
>> problem, no tension--just ABOUT something--and no one said anything. I'm
>> not sure how that evolved, but I think that, early on, someone (like maybe
>> you--or maybe it was Rosemary) tried to tell someone that there was no
>> real
>> story and it was received (the passive voice really is quite useful
>> sometimes) poorly. Maybe that made people nervous about bringing it up
>> again? Maybe you decided that some people just aren't going to get it?
>> (I'm
>> not proud of these thoughts, but they're what have gone through my head.)
>> The poor reception certainly made me think it was futile, so then I was
>> torn. On one hand, I thought, "You gotta say something, regardless of how
>> this person takes it." ANd on the other hand, I thought, "Why bother?
>> Especially if I'm going to be the only one pointing it out." So I mostly
>> shut up, which I'm still not sure was the right thing to do. Despite the
>> fact that I've got a hypothesis about what happened and why, it still
>> fouled me up because I wasn't sure I could trust the process when I saw
>> that part of it break down. What weren't you and the others telling me
>> about my stuff? I know people are going to vary in their reactions to
>> comments, and there's no controlling that, and I just have to deal with my
>> aggravation at encountering strong resistance. But regardless of people's
>> reactions, I would have felt more secure if everything was at least being
>> SAID. Very early in the class, the feedback felt incredibly erratic to me
>> in terms of sticking to the stuff we were trying to learn. (Not just
>> problem/solution--but that was the most glaring example in several
>> pieces.)
>>
>> There was a period of time in which I didn't want to read, didn't want to
>> send my writing partners anything, and didn't want to say anything. I was
>> leaving class feeling pretty drained and irritated. I think the shock
>> value
>> for me was particularly bad because I was expecting to have a similar
>> reaction as I did to the last group. There, I didn't particularly connect
>> with or identify with, but I thought that everyone provided valuable
>> feedback and was pretty smart. (God, I can be so judgmental. You know,
>> that's what probably really de-railed me about this, I think--that
>> suddenly
>> this class was bringing out the worst reactions in me. So I wasn't
>> particularly enjoying the evening, and then I was going home and raking
>> myself over the coals about how intolerant and snobby I can be.) In this
>> group of people, I don't feel particularly safe or like I particularly
>> WANT
>> some people's comments. (Presumably because they seem so off base to me,
>> and because I lack good will and respect toward the people making them.)
>> Also, I don't think some people want mine or anyone's. It's like we're on
>> completely different wavelengths with our lives (that's a euphemism for "I
>> just don't like a couple of the women much, and they really BUG me") and
>> with our writing and with what we're doing there.
>>
>> So anyway, as far as constructive suggestions...it helped that you
>> reminded
>> people to focus on the writing, though there are still major unwelcome
>> breaches in that (mostly in private e-mails, I guess, now that I think
>> about it). Do I need someone to tell me that my family isn't nearly as bad
>> as I think it is? For one thing, DUH. That's the whole damn point of that
>> therapy essay. Does this woman not realize that she thinks my family isn't
>> really so bad because of what I WROTE? Does she think I'm a complete
>> retard--that I don't realize what I realize, and I don't realize what I
>> put
>> in the essay??? And so WHAT if I think my family is horrible anyway? I
>> digress along yet another annoyed tangent. You get the picture. I get
>> irritated. Then I get irritated that I'm irritated because I'm making a
>> million judgments about someone else. (like that SHE must be an
>> idiot--both
>> intellectually and emotionally).
>>
>> OK, have I explained that enough?
>>
>> Anyway, I was trying to be constructive. I think that really sticking to
>> the guidelines about feedback would help. I also think that fairly strict
>> time constraints would help. Or maybe not strict time constraints, but an
>> eye on the clock if the discussion is going in some general psychological
>> direction instead of sticking to the work. If people want to take time to
>> talk about their issues, then at least let it not carve into other
>> people's
>> reading time. We once spent almost an hour on someone's essay. And we were
>> not talking about the essay most of the time.
>>
>> OK, so rules and time. I think those things would help. Also, I doubt you
>> want to do this, but the whole experience made me think that it would be
>> nice if there was some way to screen people personality-wise. Not that you
>> necessarily had the same reaction to people as I did anyway--but I think
>> that there probably really were SOME screenable characteristics, as my
>> reaction lined up pretty well with those of several other people in the
>> class. Just seems like there were two people who set off a handful of
>> others, and that's a shame. Or maybe the rest of us should get over it.
>> But
>> anyway, it interfered with my ability to enjoy and plug into the class.
>>
>> I feel a bit uncomfortable about sending this, but I suppose it's my
>> honest
>> response. Hope it's useful.
>>
>> And please say SOMETHING in response to this so I don't completely regret
>> mailing it.
>>
>> Evi
>>
>>
>> Evelyn Strauss
>> Correspondent, Science Magazine and
>> Freelance science and health writer
>>
>> estrauss@nasw.org
>>
Since it's a revision class...One thing I do when my more rational parts
tell me I'm probably done, but my hypercritical tendencies (and the fact
that I've received contradictory suggestions from different readers) are
hanging me up...Read the piece as if it's in the magazine where I imagine
it. See if anything about it feels jarring or unpolished. If not, it's
ready to go, even though I could piddle with it forever, and even though
many sections don't work perfectly for every reader.

Adair:

The Revision Class was an ideal next step for me in my evolution as a confident writer . . . or is that an oxymoron? While I move with great confirmation in action, I am often slow to downright inert in my creative life. This class began just as my first class with you finished and it was perfect because I was making progress and reluctant to let go of the support and encouragement that only a roomful of writers can provide.

Of all aspects of the class - homework, handouts, writing partners, e-mail - I found the actual class time itself to be the most useful. Hearing all the examples around the room of how to demonstrate - or not to - made it palpable in my mind.


The problems I had with the class involved the lack of time in my own life to cover all the bases. I’ve been told I spread myself too thin and this may be a perfect example. It was difficult for me to keep up with the assignments, keep communication with my partner, continue work on my revisions and still offer constructive online critiques for everyone’s work. I feel badly about not keeping up this end of it as much as some others. This is what happens when your work and personal e-mail are in one mailbox.

The atmosphere of the revision class was a matter of much discussion outside the class by some members. Priscilla Burgess wrote me a long message about why she was not returning to class and though I was sorry she felt the way she did, I could not agree. I do believe there were some folks who were not open to criticism and while I did find it odd, I only felt it was a personal matter. A few of us had to wonder though, what made them sign up for the course in the first place. Ultimately, I am too self-absorbed and mostly focused on my own shortcomings for this matter to have affected my enthusiasm for the class.

I liked the idea of us choosing our own due dates even though I failed to meet them. Even now, as I pack frantically for a weeklong business trip, I hope to get some of my revisions to you, albeit terribly late. I’m reluctant to mention the fact that I was going through a rough time in my personal life during the classes (a painful breakup of a long relationship) only because it sounds too close to an excuse. I do want to mention it, however, because Thursday nights were such a haven for me - place where I could truly be myself and be with others who were like-minded. I really forgot about all my outside problems when I was there. The fact that I have made connections that are bound to grow is the most valuable thing I take away from your classes. I will be now attending Tuesday night meetings with the original group and am looking forward to picking up again the structure and community.

Also, I thought most of the handouts were helpful in demonstrating your point. I have kept them all and will refer to when stuck for inspiration, example and ideas. (The “Thanks For Stopping” essay by Jack Handey being my favorite.)

The Writing Partner aspect was a little weird for me. I liked that you had a ‘keeper’ poking you in the ribs but it was hard to get used to a different individual every week, their styles and viewpoints and taking that into consideration. I like having a steady.
So, I’m ready to fly on my own for a while now. At some point in the future, you’ll be hearing from me hopefully, to celebrate my successes in publishing and possibly, as a student again. Now, if I could just get rid of that journalist in me, I could let Heather go and see what she can do.

Thanks again for sharing your home and your wisdom!

Heather

It was probably the wrong time for me to take this class but I'm
grateful for all that I learned. And, believe me, that was plenty. The
whole revision process is exciting, frustrating, and, I'm convinced,
wonderfully freeing. I took the class hoping to be prodded back into
writing after a year of being swallowed whole by a stressful job. The class
didn't liberate me but became one more thing that added to the lack of
oxygen in my life. The main problem was that I didn't have sufficient
numbers of essays in the drawer to revise. Moving into the class three
weeks late didn't help. That's just the personal harangue before I say
that it's been a fabulous class. As always, Adair, you did an extraordinary
job of preparing for this class, giving quick clear edits to the submitted
pieces, and directing class discussions .
Here's my feedback on the points you wanted us to evaluate:
In class discussions -- this was the least successful part for me, though I
enjoyed the work and talent of the other class members. I often felt
unprepared and ill equiped to add legitimate comments. "Wow how fabulous"
didn't seem to be what these women were driving some distance to hear.
What I did like a great deal were all guidelines and general points on the
topics surrounding revision. And how can you not love the sense of common
purpose the group fostered.
Assignments -- Terrific exercises, every one of them. I had trouble doing
them, trying to support my writing partner, andadvancing at all on my own
projects within the scraps of free time I found in a single week. Some of
them, still undone, I plan to tackle after the class is over because I get
how useful they are. The epiphany one, in particular, was useful in
generating the germs for other essays.
Writing partners -- Great concept. I was a bust as a partner for all the
reasons listed above. Still, I plan to try after the class is over to do
the real writing partner task -- 500 or more words daily or, realistically,
4 or 5 times a week with a partner. I am completely won over by the
concept.



More on the in class discussions (nancy brenner)


e-mail. I think I love it more than the ATM. It is ideal for this sort of
thing. First of all, most of us are writing for things that want to appear
in print not in sound. So the opportunity to read and reread essays is so
beneficial. The opportunity to read and reread the comments of others was
equally so. Also beneficial is the opportunity to deal with e-messages when
it is convenient.

A thought: Could class discussions evolve around essays submitted first on
e-mail? The responses might be more focused. And sometimes the pieces read
out loud benefit or suffer from the reading skill of the writer.

Handouts. Bless you. There's so much stuff out there to read. Books and
books on writing. Bad mags. It goes on an on.
Having you cull and focus and select is worth the price of the session in
itself. I've quoted the Anne Lamotte quote
"Don't say this doesn't work for me unless it's a toaster."

I've come away knowing so much more. Revising and cleaning up my business
emails is even fun. I have one piece that I'm not ashamed to send out.
Sent it around last night to my kids for their scrutiny and permission.
First in was wonderful Amanda who really was the only one I worried about.
I have a couple of other starts. May even have a mini in before the gates
close. I'm about the leave my job (September 29) to free lance. One of the
reasons is so that I will have more time to see if I can keep going, getting
better. So though it may seem as though I have little to show for the
class, tain't so. Thanks, thanks, thanks. N.

Hi Adair. I would have written a critique, even if you hadn't bribed us with an extension. I would like to still hand in one more piece for a response, though, since you offered.

Adair—First of all, I found this class, and the Master Class before it, to be immensely valuable to me. In-class—I found the opening discussions, and the hand-outs that accompanied them for the most part, to be very useful. Fosusing in on angles, leads, problem/solution (This one I sometimes bristle at, because I think there are other structures, and yet I also see the usefulness of it as a tool.) really helped get me thinking as a writer. I really enjoyed hearing my classmates’ work. The discipline of listening and thinking about the stories as writing helped me in my own revisions. I felt a little frustrated at times when our discussions seemed to veer off the writing and into generalized discussion of (for example) incest. My sense is that you are aware of such veerings, and that you look for opportunities to redirect. Sometimes, as we have discussed on-line, it seemed some people really didn’t want to hear suggestions about how to improve their work. But I’m not sure there’s much you can do other than what you do now: politely, firmly, redirect.
Very much appreciated how you used the "complaint" about group dynamics to open up a discussion, and how you then followed that up with the hand-outs about critiques and responses.
Hand-outs are all, btw, very useful, and fun. The packet on publication a great read in itself, with the sample rejections and queries.
I appreciated last week’s longer discussion of editor-writer dynamics, and your willingness to take the time for it. If anything, I would like more on this. Will try to attend one of your friend Janis’s one-day seminars when she does it again.
Also really like that you assigned us the activity of sending stuff out. So important.
Assignments. Didn’t do all of them, because I was trying to work on particular pieces, trying to meet the course goal of 5 publishable pieces. But love your list of assignments and will return to it.
The adding sentences and images stuff provides very good exercise, especially for the analytically-bent. I must say "concrete and specific" thousands of times over a school year. But the phrase is an abstraction and the exercise makes it real.
Email partners—Great idea. Doesn’t always pan out, as we would expect. Rotating for a two-month class is probably the best way to do it, but of course I found sometimes that it was a good match and not good at other times. Evi and I are going to try going steady after class is over, doing the 500 word-a-day thing. So I’m grateful to have found a good match to continue with.

Absolutely hold the line on this when people want to wiggle out.
Giving feedback hones your self-revising skills.
So thanks. And thanks for letting me in, even when it was full!

From: Lynn Befera [SMTP:lbefera@pacbell.net]
To: revisionclass@egroups.com
Cc:

Subject: Re: [revisionclass] important reminder
Sent: 7/27/2000 5:10 PM Importance: Normal
ear adair:
sorry this has taken me so long to respond, but here goes:
I think 6 or more pieces not realistic, I'm very grateful
for 2 and 3 woduld be too much to hope for. I'm a slow, unfocused writer,
however, so maybe that's just me.
In-class was interesting, some very sensitive and well thought out comments
and some not so sensitive comments. My skin is slowly getting thicker, so
tried to take what I liked and leave the rest. Many comments were useful,
however. And I was impressed with the level of writing--intimidatingly
talented writers. I also enjoyed the testosterone-free zone--something
freeing about not having male energy. Anyway, I felt safe enough to read a
really difficult piece that seems to freak men out, in my experience. I
didn't have to educate them.
Writing partners were a big bust for me, only because of my rather
embarrassing struggle with my new/old computers that refuse to talk to each
other. I did stay connected as best I could, however, to the class, even
though I couldn't possibly comment or sometimes even read all the material.
It was often overwhelming to receive 50 emails in the space of a few
days--many of them just short emails from one partner to another that didn't
involve anyone else. I'm not sure how to change that. I am still finding my
way online.
Handouts always helpful, esp. after class is over. I can read them at my
leisure, whenever that is, as well as help myself remember the focus of the
homework for the next week. I liked the specificity of them, as well.
The assignments also interesting, challenging, sweat-inducing. They made me
stretch even more than I did in college writing classes. And the information
about publishing is really priceless, some of which I knew from the school of
hard knocks, but some of which is useful to know from an insider's pov, both
as a writer as well as an editor. Deadlines also really important, otherwise
I never would have done anything. I know this is something I need to work
on--even one page/day. Ann LaMott said if you write one page/day, by the end
of the year you've got a book. Or, at least a shitty first draft, anyway.
The formation of the revision online group may lead to an independent
group--it will be interesting how that all plays out. As a solitary writer,
it's not in my nature to seek people out to be writing partners, which I know
would be enormously helpful, so it was a good idea to just pair us up as well
as form a group, arbitrarily. Now it's up to us.
Most of all, I appreciated how you really seem to get what I'm trying to say,
your skill and intuition. It means everything. Really. Thank you for
teaching this class and for inviting me to join.
Adair Lara wrote:
> all papers are due by the last meeting, which is next Thursday, July 28.
> HOWEVER: I am very interested in getting detailed evaluations of this
> class,as it is my first revision class. Like to hear about in-class, about
> assingments, writing partners, the whole e-mail elements, and handouts. so
> anyone giving me a detailed evaluation (one page or more) can submit one
> paper late.
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Life's too short to send boring email. Let SuperSig come to the rescue.
> http://click.egroups.com/1/6809/5/_/_/_/964029207/
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
> revisionclass-unsubscribe@egroups.com

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Hi Adair:

I didn't know whether I'd make it to tonight's class, but in the end
decided not to. I'm going in for my 3rd (and hopefully final) in vitro
tomorrow very early, and I'm basically a hormonal nightmare right now.

I just wanted to say that the revision class was really great for me. I
set my goal at revising 5 chapters of my memoir and did it!! Having you
as my primary audience was a great motivator. You encourage me and your
comments always make a lot of sense. It was very scary to "come out" to
the class about the subject matter, but the support has been tremendous.
You foster an atmosphere that is my ideal of what a writing class should
be--both great crit and support. It felt like a family campfire or an
ancient storytelling circle, where everyone shared the stories of their
lives.


I wanted to add that as a result of your classes, I think I've become a
better reader as well as a writer, which is a bonus I wasn't expecting.
I feel much more confident about commenting on another writer's work. I
also have been reading published work lately with a writer's eye for
good images, dialogue, problem/solution, epiphany, and overall
structure. Reading has become a more active and engaging experience.

I'd love to be in your fall class, so please put me on the waiting
list. Also, does your previous offer of reading pieces for a fee still
stand? Let me know and what you would charge to read a longer piece
such as my chapters--I think it should be more than the $35 for an
essay.

Many thanks,

Mary

Dear Adair,
Hard writing this because I liked your teaching and insight as always, but
I found this class to be less helpful than the other two I've taken.
Why? Besides the obvious of wanting to like everyone in the group, there's
this thing about trust. didn't trust the group to have the same common
goal and humbleness.
Felt like people were at different places in wanting critique. That some
people wanted to be told "It's great" and that's it. One fellow classmate
when we were paring down unneccessary words muttered to me after I'd tried
to show her how strong a sentence could be with adverbs and extra cut out,
"well why don't I delete the whole sentence? will THAT be strong enough
for you?" Another when I suggested she come out and say that her husband
had a breakdown, and that "going away to rest" was vague and confusing
said, "But that's not nice".
I didn't come to class to be nice. I came to learn how to read my stuff
more critically and to learn how to edit. Don't feel that everyone shared
that goal. Don't know how you figure that out as a teacher either, since
some will click and others not, but maybe as you have more advanced classes
would it help to be really strict with common goals?
After a while I stopped critiquing the way I normally would; I began to
critique the way it felt the motion of the group and specific people wanted
me to. For some I didn't know what to say, since I had no trust in the
group goals, and that my gut had proved me wrong, so I shut up more, or
"made nice" more.
that was frustrating. we did try to steer back to a place of more critique
on the writing, but it didn't seem to stay there.
so I dunno.
I also have Bay Area Writers and they rock (and thanks again for
them). From this class I met three new people who's writing I respect, and
who did do good critiques (Rosemary, Evi and Jeannette). Heather and Mary
are already family. The rest of the group felt like a bit of a bust. I
liked Nancy' Bs enthusiasm, but she never gave line by line edits and
critiques, I would have liked to know what of my writing worked, what
needed shoring up, and what can be cut.
so, there you go Sarge. I'm sure I'll need rejuvenating and loving kicks
again soon, but will take a break for a few months and see how it
goes. working a day job and two writing groups was a tad masochistic.
love and peace and I still owe you an essay I think!
Now, back to crits so I can ride the tall horse of righteousness...
linda

la kilby
shockwave.com * 650 Townsend * SF, 94103
T: 415 503 2402 * F: 415 621 0745


Hi, Adair—
Thanks for a great class. I wanted to drop you a short note because I had a bit of an epiphany while sitting in your living room one Wednesday night, and I wanted to follow up with some quick questions.

What they liked:

I have a better understanding of the elements of an essay. I have
learned about showing rather than telling when writing, writing
descriptively and incorporating the five senses. I knew these elements
of writing from past writing courses, but now feel they are more deeply
ingrained. I feel that I have the skill to go back to a piece and
improve it by adding a few descriptive words or phrases.

After four of your classes, am finally learning to take comments, neg. and
pos., in person and in writing, without crawling under a rock; try not to
take them personally. Appreciate being told the positive first, then
constructive criticism, including negative comments; easier to hear then. Am
learning to sift out what I can use. Group is terrific for this. . In
email, your initial comments usually are positive, but in the body of work
sometimes negative, (for example, DON'T NEED bugs me.) Usually agree with
your comments, sometimes not, on my work and others'. Appreciated opinions of
several.
I found the in-class exercises useful, especially the ones that pretty much
guaranteed immediate success, i.e., "Add three sentences to this sentence,"
"remove unnecessary adverbs and adjectives." It's cool to see writing
improve so quickly like that. I loved your mini-lectures on the topic of the evening--I doubt you realize
how much insight and wisdom you provide. Similar to handouts, but
multi-sensory enhances the message delivery: I HEAR you saying, "Those
little darlings? I keep them all--in a special file." Also, the discussions
definitely gave me new ideas and pushed me in new directions. For example,
despite the fact that I'm the one who sent around that dating911 thing, it
wouldn't have occurred to me to send those relationship pieces there. Seems
like the in-class stuff pulled me out of various ruts, in terms of WHAT to
write (never thought of doing a rant) as well as where to send it, etc.
one element that you might want to do more with: general structure. I
think you're REALLY talented at seeing what the (or A) structure can be in
a piece that has even subtle problems. I've picked up some of that ability
just by watching you go (especially in the first class) and by really
trying to analyze my own pieces with that in mind (Is this the best order I
can think of? What are the other possibilities?). But it still feels pretty
fuzzy to me and I would have loved additional guidance on that issue.

I liked the idea of us choosing our own due dates even though I failed to meet them.
Thursday nights were such a haven for me - place where I could truly be myself and be with others who were like-minded. I really forgot about all my outside problems when I was there. The fact that I have made connections that are bound to grow is the most valuable thing I take away from your classes. I will be now attending Tuesday night meetings with the original group and am looking forward to picking up again the structure and community.
Each of the elements you ask about—in-class discussions, critiques, email partners, on-line critiques—has contributed to a process I think of as shedding my academic habits of mind. I think my writing has benefited, and I know that my own teaching of writing will benefit from the experience.
I found the opening discussions, and the handouts that accompanied them for the most part, to be very useful. Focusing in on angles, leads, problem/solution (This one I sometimes bristle at, because I think there are other structures, and yet I also see the usefulness of it as a tool.) really helped get me thinking as a writer. I really enjoyed hearing my classmates’ work. The discipline of listening and thinking about the stories as writing helped me in my own revisions. Also really like that you assigned us the activity of sending stuff out. So important.

This was the perfect class for me--I dug up stuff I'd put away as crap and
found out it wasn't so bad, and the other stuff that I was stuck on also
found new life. You foster an atmosphere that is my ideal of what a writing class should
be--both great crits and support. It felt like a family campfire or an
ancient storytelling circle, where everyone shared the stories of their
lives. The handouts and class structure were exceptional. I never knew how to
revise before, and now I've got a firm grip on the process. I like that
we revised on a macro and micro level--both expanding material and then
digging into sentences. as a result of your classes, I think I've become a
better reader as well as a writer, which is a bonus I wasn't expecting.
I feel much more confidant about commenting on another writer's work. I
also have been reading published work lately with a writer's eye for
good images, dialogue, problem/solution, epiphany, and overall
structure. Reading has become a more active and engaging experience.

. "Find a teacher you like and take EVERYTHING they teach." You would be her. you
got me writing. you and class assignments got me sitting down to "the
place where writing can occur" almost everyday and it's fucking beautiful
and I thank you.



Tell us more about your stumbling blocks and challenges.

Keeping it writerly, and inside the class.

!.

Negative:
I wrestle with the obligation to review others’ writing

The problems I had with the class involved the lack of time in my own life to cover all the bases. I’ve been told I spread myself too thin and this may be a perfect example. It was difficult for me to keep up with the assignments, keep communication with my partner, continue work on my revisions and still offer constructive online critiques for everyone’s work. I feel badly about not keeping up this end of it as much as some others. This is what happens when your work and personal e-mail are in one mailbox.

The separation of the work from the writer is a learned skill on both the
giving and receiving side. You've got it down, but most of us are still
clumsy. Most people in that group are by nature generous and kind. And
just fumbling along in their own development as writers, they err on the
side of praise. But, oh lordie, praise is more important than food. The
danger in writing groups always seems to me to be
the risk of derailing the writer's original intent or fragile little seed of
excitement. You, again, do a great job of protecting the writer while
showing how something can grow and even bloom in a new direction. But
occasionally I can see a certain facial expression or hear a tone of voice
that lets me know that the writer is responding politely and holding her
piece tightly against her chest.

I think 6 or more pieces not realistic, I'm very grateful
for 2 and 3 would be too much to hope for. I'm a slow, unfocused writer,
however, so maybe that's just me.
Felt like people were at different places in wanting critique. That some
people wanted to be told "It's great" and that's it. One fellow classmate
when we were paring down unnecessary words muttered to me after I'd tried
to show her how strong a sentence could be with adverbs and extra cut out,
"well why don't I delete the whole sentence? will THAT be strong enough
for you?" Another when I suggested she come out and say that her husband
had a breakdown, and that "going away to rest" was vague and confusing
said, "But that's not nice". didn't come to class to be nice. I came to learn how to read my stuff
more critically and to learn how to edit. Don't feel that everyone shared
that goal. Don't know how you figure that out as a teacher either, since
some will click and others not, but maybe as you have more advanced classes
would it help to be really strict with common goals?
no feedback from reader, no response to extra assignments handed in, missing handouts, chair not comfy,
suggestions for improvement:

Only rotate writing partners every two weeks, giving people
more time to work together before shifting. partners and who-is-presenting. We waste time resolving that each week

Every few weeks, instead of adding more homework assignmentsFor those with no undone
assignments, give them an optional writing exercise.

Goal of five finished pieces was too many to expect. What I have so far is
two (one new, one old) finished pieces (or close to), and several others
still in process.
I don’t think you can overemphasize the “kill your darlings” lesson.
one element that you might want to do more with: general structure. I
think you're REALLY talented at seeing what the (or A) structure can be in
a piece that has even subtle problems. I've picked up some of that ability
just by watching you go (especially in the first class) and by really
trying to analyze my own pieces with that in mind (Is this the best order I
can think of? What are the other possibilities?). But it still feels pretty
fuzzy to me and I would have loved additional guidance on that issue.
Could class discussions evolve around essays submitted first on
e-mail? The responses might be more focused. And sometimes the pieces read
out loud benefit or suffer from the reading skill of the writer.

.

It helped that you reminded people to focus on the writing. Do I need someone to tell me that my family isn't nearly as bad as I think it is? For one thing, DUH. That's the whole damn point of that
therapy essay. Does this woman not realize that she thinks my family isn't
really so bad because of what I WROTE?

tell me what works, and why.

The first few weeks of class, I didn’t feel that I had the skills to
edit someone else’s piece. I could sense when something wasn’t working
in a piece, but couldn’t articulate it. I feel that I can now more easily
pinpoint what isn’t working in a piece and in turn, I find it easier to
pinpoint what isn’t working in my own essay… although it’s not always
easy to fix!


In terms of critique content, I find it most helpful when listeners tell me where they got stuck, lost, bored.
I’ve watched in awe as pieces have taken on new, wonderful shapes because listeners have focused on something the writer hardly noticed.

I lost confidence in the critiquing process when people read stuff with no
problem, no tension--just ABOUT something--and no one said anything. I'm
not sure how that evolved, but I think that, early on, someone (like maybe
you--or maybe it was Rosemary) tried to tell someone that there was no real
story and it was received (the passive voice really is quite useful
sometimes) poorly. Maybe that made people nervous about bringing it up
again? Maybe you decided that some people just aren't going to get it? (I'm
not proud of these thoughts, but they're what have gone through my head.)
The poor reception certainly made me think it was futile, so then I was
torn. On one hand, I thought, "You gotta say something, regardless of how
this person takes it." And on the other hand, I thought, "Why bother?
Especially if I'm going to be the only one pointing it out." So I mostly
shut up, which I'm still not sure was the right thing to do. Despite the
fact that I've got a hypothesis about what happened and why, it still
fouled me up because I wasn't sure I could trust the process when I saw
that part of it break down. What weren't you and the others telling me
about my stuff?

In class discussions -- this was the least successful part for me, though I
enjoyed the work and talent of the other class members. I often felt unprepared and ill equipped to add legitimate comments. "Wow how fabulous"
didn't seem to be what these women were driving some distance to hear.
What I did like a great deal were all guidelines and general points on the
topics surrounding revision. And how can you not love the sense of common
purpose the group fostered.

It is such a thrill to watch works bloom as the result of the group
discussions and comments. Liz's record piece was terrific. Fun, good cast
of characters, and lightly undertaken. She has been sharing her revision
with me over the past day or two and now it is luminous.


I didn't want to get
lots of heavy critique on a scene I was particularly pleased with. At
this point, I want encouragement to keep going, and hints about what needs drawing out and what can be skipped. I am blindly confident that I can edit later.) Also, when other people present, I'm fascinated by the feedback they get, and end up learning both from reading the work and from listening to people's reactions.

I am also excited to be working with you and the class. You are inspiring. My mind is going zap, zap all the time. And that is the double-edged sword. I don't have enough time to write my memoir, which you have inspired. I think that if we critiqued like we did in your essay class where presenters read their work and we sent three valentines and then gave suggestions for improvement, it would eliminate the time spent fooling with the e-mail and the time-consuming reading beforehand. It would help me if the reader would say what they want help with and then not remark until others have made their suggestions.
. I always like the policy of the person whose work is
being critiqued holding their own comments and suggestions until the end.
Back and forth discussion about intent/result isn't really the point of
critique, I think.
Assignments and handouts:;
. All your assignments have been excellent and challenging. If I were you, I’d make a big, hairy deal out of the importance of doing the assignments right up front, before people sign up. , . I’ve seen fabulous things happen to some women this go-round because they really dug in and did the work.. I think you’ve tried to make this optional, but it’s another important part of the process. If we’re not prepared to do it, we shouldn’t be in the class. One of my very favorite essays – as yet unsold – came from being forced to write 500 words to my partner. .

My second favorite aspect of the class was the homework assignments. I found them creative and challenging. Even if I didn’t get to always complete them entirely, it would usually be enough to make the point. For example, the tone exercise you gave us in the form of a rant or riff was especially helpful. I know that my writing has strong tone but I’d never really exercised the idea of committing fully to the tone; just handing myself over to that one useless point was liberating and so much damn fun. Not only that, it really supercharged my writing where it may have been only mildly entertaining. I loved that feeling and plan to use it this secret weapon from now on when the situation calls for it.

The assignments also interesting, challenging, sweat inducing. They made me
stretch even more than I did in college writing classes. And the information
about publishing is really priceless, some of which I knew from the school of
hard knocks, but some of which is useful to know from an insider's pov, both
as a writer as well as an editor. Deadlines also really important, otherwise
I never would have done anything. I know this is something I need to work
on--even one page/day. Ann Lamott said if you write one page/day, by the end
of the year you've got a book. Or, at least a shitty first draft, anyway.

Love the in-class writing exercises. They jump start my
creative process and have rattled lose a lot of material. Wouldn't
change one thing about the feedback sessions. I vote to keep them
conversational, with classmates prepared beforehand via e-mail.

The handouts are terrific. They always pushed me a bit or opened up
something a bit for me. You have so many pearls of wisdom in them:
"Often the beginning of a piece is the polar opposite of its end--if you
know the end, you can find the beginning that way." (Also useful for
checking the problem/solution aspect, I note.)
"Two simple questions can help: Sit back, look over the piece, and ask
yourself: ‘What, really, is going on here?' Then: 'And how do I feel about
it?'"
And I really appreciate you addressing the psychological, as well as the
technical side of things. It hadn't registered till last night that I had
avoided reading the "Publication" handout. I was going through the pile, I
saw that one, and I felt guilty that you had put it together and I had
failed to read it. But then I realized why I hadn't read it because just
the title made my stomach turn over. So, (being me) I thought, "what's this
about?" and dove in. Felt so much better afterward. I knew I much
preferred a writing life in which editors came to me (I have never written
a query in my entire two year career), but I didn't realize how much I
didn't want to set myself up for rejection. Reading those first two pages
made me feel both relieved (because they made me laugh at myself by
identifying with your cab-driving friend Bob) and also provided a new MO:
"But you can decide that you are going to start collecting rejection slips,
and not allow yourself to be discouraged until you have, say, collected a
hundred of them." Perhaps I will put them in a big bowl and every week pull
one out, and whoever it's addressed to will get $25 worth of free dry
cleaning.

I know writing partners are optional, but I don’t think they should be. I’ve been an absolutely terrible writing partner. I’ve responded to the work my partners have sent me, but I’ve never sent anything back. I think you’ve tried to make this optional, but it’s another important part of the process. If we’re not prepared to do it, we shouldn’t be in the class. (The last time around, I have to say this worked extremely well for me. One of my very favorite essays – as yet unsold – came from being forced to write 500 words to my partner. I was also able to fully participate with each partner every week.)
Handouts always helpful, esp. after class is over. I can read them at my
leisure, whenever that is, as well as help myself remember the focus of the
homework for the next week. I liked the specificity of them, as well.
. I have one piece that I'm not ashamed to send out.
Sent it around last night to my kids for their scrutiny and permission.

I sold a Perspective to KQED, which will air it next Thursday, Sept.
26, at 6:07 a.m., 7:37 a.m., and 11:33 p.m and repeat it the following
Sunday, Sept. 29, at 8:37 am. I highly recommend considering this outlet
for personal essays. The Perspectives editor, Mark Trautwein, responded
quickly to my email and is extremely nice. He gave me feedback, and I
submitted two rewrites before he accepted my essay.


Hi Adair,

It was great seeing you last night at Goodenough Books. I'm so glad you
finally made it out to the East Bay (and see? We DO know how to reed and
rite). Sorry I had to bolt out so quickly afterwards, but I had work to
finish up for a deadline today. Anyway, it was fun and I hope this isn't
your last trek into our neck of the woods.

You asked about my writing...it's going pretty well, or at least good
enough
to purchase my new oven that's arriving tomorrow! I'll be in the
Chronicle's H&G section this Saturday, Insight on Sunday and Food in a
couple weeks. I'm also in "The Walker Within", an anthology published
by
Walking Magazine (just published last month). I know you enjoy walking
and
might get a kick out that book. It's kind of like a "Chicken Soup for
the
Sole". Anyhow, I really feel like I owe my accomplishments to you. Your
class helped me more than anything else I've ever done, plus it
introduced
me to Terry Norton, who is now one of my dearest friends!

Take care and keep up the great work.
Eileen Mitchell
-----Original Message-----
From: Margee Robinson
To: Adair Lara
Sent: 3/29/2002 3:29 PM
Subject: Writing Class Piece

Hi Adair,

I have copied my "Writing Class" piece into this email as you
requested. If you wanted it as an attachment, let me know and I'll
resend. I think it showed great restraint on my part to wait until
today to send it instead of sending it right after class. - Margee
Robinson

Dear Martha,

Writing class began at 6:45 PM, March 14. Due to a last minute
cancellation I was accepted into class at 6:47 PM, March 14. At 6:49,
after a frantic change of clothes, I set off to class, driving a bit
more dangerously than usual.

This saga began in January where in a fit of self-improvement, writing
wise, I emailed local writer Adair Lara for information about her
writing classes. I considered just doing this step mighty good. No
real writing...but writing for information, an indication my low
standards. I received a reply about a week later saying the class was
full, as was the next one. She did however want to see a writing
sample, and if qualified would put me on the waiting list. Terror
struck. If I had known I would actually have to send a piece of writing
I can assure you I never would have inquired. Now I had to produce a
sample mighty fast. If I took a year to send a sample, I figured it
said way too much about my writing habits. I revised a short piece,
still hysterical. Lucky I had that little piece that took months to
make presentable. As I'm hysterically writing, I'm thinking, here is a
writer who, at the least, can produce 2 columns a week. She might not
have much patience for my lack of speed...or is that a lack of something
else. I would love to have a column that comes out once a year. I like
a deadline. My finger hovered over the send button for a long time and
finally in a burst of optimism, pressed send. Maybe it was a burst of
"screw it". The first piece of writing, sample or otherwise, to be
submitted anywhere was jettisoned into cyberspace. And then I waited.
I checked my email regularly, Very regularly. And then my Sally Field
moment came...she liked it, she really liked it. A few encouraging
words, a full class, a place on the waiting list. I didn't have to
write yet. How perfect was this?

With possibility in the air I went shopping. That’s pretty much the
first thing I like to do when starting a new project. Actually, it
doesn’t have to be new project. I’ve wanted an Oxford English
Dictionary for a long time. With the chance of a writing class on the
horizon, want became necessity. In order to make space for the OED my
desk needed to be cleared, a perfect time to reorganize my notes. Notes
sound a bit more substantive than the reality of piles of papers of
every size and shape, each with tidbits of writing, crammed onto a shelf
in no particular order. It was clear that I needed a better system if I
was going to be in a class. I bought file folders, including some
accordion shaped ones, because they came in the best colors. Those file
folders certainly helped, but required the purchase of a plastic
portable file drawer in order to contain them. My dictionary arrived and
it consumed the entire area of the desk, not occupied by the computer.
It was impossible to pick up and open without breaking my wrist. I
needed to purchase a stand to hold the dictionary.

I tackled my virtual desktop next. I’m mortified to report that I had
labeled varying versions of one short piece, "Final/Not", "Final Draft",
"Final #1", there were two of these, "Final # 3,4 and 7". No indication
to what happened to #2,5 and 6". It is clear I got pretty desperate in
figuring out my system because all of a sudden there was a "Final Draft
#13". There must be some software that I could buy that would number
things automatically and keep me out of the loop. I planned to go
shopping again soon.

I shopped for words too. In a lovely new little notebook, with a
vintage photo of the Eiffel tower on front, I started accumulating words
that might find their way into my writing, just as soon as I started
writing.

As March 14 approached, I was disappointed that apparently the class was
full and I didn’t get in. But still, no writing required. I would have
time to get the bookstand for my dictionary. I leisurely opened my email
on the evening of March 14, all hope gone. There was an email from Adair
Lara. A cancellation! Could I respond immediately and come to the first
class? It was sent at 8 am. It was 5:40 PM. I replied, leaving an
email and voice mail message. "Was I too late, love to come, can’t wait,
so happy etc." And then I waited. At 6:45,the starting time of the
class, I put on old paint-stained pants and a torn flannel shirt. At
6:47 Adair Lara called. "Just got your message, come on over, park in my
driveway", a very special favor in San Francisco. I was in the class
and arriving late, no psychic preparedness, no new pen, no new notebook,
and no new shoes for the first night of class. And now I have to write…a
lot. I'm hysterical again. Of course any sensible person would be
working on a piece right now. You can see my problem. Maybe the store
with bookstands is still open. I better go check.

Hi Adair,

It was great seeing you last night at Goodenough Books. I'm so glad you
finally made it out to the East Bay (and see? We DO know how to reed and
rite). Sorry I had to bolt out so quickly afterwards, but I had work to
finish up for a deadline today. Anyway, it was fun and I hope this isn't
your last trek into our neck of the woods.

You asked about my writing...it's going pretty well, or at least good
enough
to purchase my new oven that's arriving tomorrow! I'll be in the
Chronicle's H&G section this Saturday, Insight on Sunday and Food in a
couple weeks. I'm also in "The Walker Within", an anthology published
by
Walking Magazine (just published last month). I know you enjoy walking
and
might get a kick out that book. It's kind of like a "Chicken Soup for
the
Sole". Anyhow, I really feel like I owe my accomplishments to you. Your
class helped me more than anything else I've ever done, plus it
introduced
me to Terry Norton, who is now one of my dearest friends!

Take care and keep up the great work.
Eileen Mitchell


Students say what they’ve learned and what not

Students say what they’ve learned
I have learned that I’ve been starting a lot of my pieces “when the alarm clock goes off.” Okay, I don’t start my stuff exactly when an alarm clock goes off, but it’s my nature to start at the beginning and plough through. For example, in the “Winners” piece about Megan and her cheerleading squad not making it to Regionals in 2003, I started at the beginning – like before the competition. Well, actually, I started while watching the Canada geese fly in formation which made me think of how the girls on the cheerleading squad all stand in formation.

Now I know that I can jump in right when the action starts, and this will be a valuable device for me to use in all of my pieces.

I know that I can start the above piece I just referred to right when we’re at the competition watching – start with a bang and put a little back story in.(melody)

What have I gained/learned so far in this class.

11. You have to write all the time. I am still not good about a fixed writing time (time of day as well as duration). I tend to write less frequently and long stretches. When I have sustained daily practice it has paid off well.
12. Journaling – something I have never done – is amazingly fruitful. Another habit I have to cultivate. I sat in a restaurant and just jotted down what I observed and heard from the couple at the next table, and I have the core of a story I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
13. The writing partnerships are key; they require production. And they keep one honest; somebody is going to see what I write and see it right away. “The club of two.” This practice also needs strengthening; I have only had one partner this round who kept up his end.
14. Work on multiple pieces a t once! I am working on so many that I don’t have enough time to go back to most of them. I need to try to focus down. Right now my subject (‘my book’) is my whole life. Often, when I sit down to move a piece forward (by adding a second ‘chapter’ for instance, I find I urgently want to write about an experience twenty years earlier (or later). Still, this is not as bad as writer’s block.
15. I am learning to listen better when others are reading their work. Somehow it is easier for me to focus on a piece by reading it than listening, although I am fully aware of the rewards of the latter.
16. Story is a series of emotions.
17. The emotional truth is the story. The incidents don’t have to be ‘true’.
18. Start where the emotion is the strongest. Most people start too early in the story.
19. All of the above about emotions being true and crucial and non-negotiable, I loved the ‘story by the numbers”: I wanted…so I…but…
20. Use all five senses.
21. Read a lot and a lot of different stuff. Get quotes, images, stray musings into your journal.
22. Keeping doing it!

What I want to work on more:

1. Revision skills; mostly I think I need the discipline to do it, and the belief – confidence – that I can do it well; that it will be worth it.
2. Continued nagging to keep at it.
3. A lot of positive feedback; nothing against constructive feedback; just is encouraging to hear people say, “Wow”. Or even, “Whoa.”
4. More analysis of our work in class; that was good, both the practice as a reviewer in a feedback situation, and the comments on my own work.
5. Let’s start talking in practical terms about sending work out: How to tell when it’s ready, or at least good enough. Where to send stuff; how to tell where to send stuff.
6. It’s helpful to write in class, with a short time limit; there is a benefit from the communal effort.


Hi Adair,

It was great seeing you last night at Goodenough Books. I'm so glad you
finally made it out to the East Bay (and see? We DO know how to reed and
rite). Sorry I had to bolt out so quickly afterwards, but I had work to
finish up for a deadline today. Anyway, it was fun and I hope this isn't
your last trek into our neck of the woods.

You asked about my writing...it's going pretty well, or at least good
enough
to purchase my new oven that's arriving tomorrow! I'll be in the
Chronicle's H&G section this Saturday, Insight on Sunday and Food in a
couple weeks. I'm also in "The Walker Within", an anthology published
by
Walking Magazine (just published last month). I know you enjoy walking
and
might get a kick out that book. It's kind of like a "Chicken Soup for
the
Sole". Anyhow, I really feel like I owe my accomplishments to you. Your
class helped me more than anything else I've ever done, plus it
introduced
me to Terry Norton, who is now one of my dearest friends!

Take care and keep up the great work.
Eileen Mitchell

Hi all,

I have learned that I’ve been starting a lot of my pieces “when the alarm clock goes off.” Okay, I don’t start my stuff exactly when an alarm clock goes off, but it’s my nature to start at the beginning and plough through. For example, in the “Winners” piece about Megan and her cheerleading squad not making it to Regionals in 2003, I started at the beginning – like before the competition. Well, actually, I started while watching the Canada geese fly in formation which made me think of how the girls on the cheerleading squad all stand in formation.

Now I know that I can jump in right when the action starts, and this will be a valuable device for me to use in all of my pieces.

I know that I can start the above piece I just referred to right when we’re at the competition watching – start with a bang and put a little back story in.

The piece that I’m planning to share in class tonight is another example of something I’ve attempted to write a couple of times. I always want to start even before the box of Christmas ornaments get thrown off the cliff at the City Dump in Oregon and then go from there. The story always seems to go on and on – not that it was a bad story or anything – it just didn’t quite work because it was always too long.

It wasn’t until we talked about “epiphanies” that I had my own epiphany (for real!). Hey, I don’t have to start before or even when the box gets thrown off the cliff. I can start the story much later, like before the important stuff happens! I don’t want to say too much because I’m reading this first draft in class tonight. I’ve already gotten some great feedback from Robert and Chris.

Last week, I actually SAW that I was repetitive in just that one page I read and that there’s a lot I can delete and change to make the writing stronger. Also, I learned how to emphasize the important stuff more and de-emphasize the rest.

I have also learned something else besides angles and structure (something I still need to work on, but that light is flashing now!) and epiphanies and stuff like that.

I have learned that I really do want to do this thing called writing – even if it kills me. I get really mad at myself when I don’t have time to complete the assignments, like I didn’t rewrite a piece four times and send it to my partner this week like I should have. I write in bits and pieces whenever I can.

I learned that I wouldn’t be in this class at all if I didn’t want to be a better writer and that yes, I am crazy enough to want to pursue this thing called writing.

I have learned that my biggest problem is lack of time, and that if I really put my mind to it, I will figure out a way to make the time even if I do work more than full-time, even if I have a daughter who is a champion cheerleader (yes, the girls took first place again this past Sunday at hte Shoreline) and who has just become a teenager and has taken to moodiness and rolling her eyes a lot and who acts like I'm imposing on her space and time whenever I call to check on her (which is often, of course), even if I have a boyfriend who thinks I'm totally neglecting him and that I don't care about him anymore because I have no time for him, even if I've got older kids who are still a big part of my life... none of this matters.

If I want to be a writer, I've simply gotta do the work.

I also just learned that it’s 5:36 p.m. and if I don’t get moving, I’m not going to make it to class on time.

See you in class. We’ll miss you Rita. Sorry to hear about your Mom, and we’ll be here for you upon your return.

Melody


What have I gained/learned so far in this class.

23. You have to write all the time. I am still not good about a fixed writing time (time of day as well as duration). I tend to write less frequently and long stretches. When I have sustained daily practice it has paid off well.
24. Journaling – something I have never done – is amazingly fruitful. Another habit I have to cultivate. I sat in a restaurant and just jotted down what I observed and heard from the couple at the next table, and I have the core of a story I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
25. The writing partnerships are key; they require production. And they keep one honest; somebody is going to see what I write and see it right away. “The club of two.” This practice also needs strengthening; I have only had one partner this round who kept up his end.
26. Work on multiple pieces a t once! I am working on so many that I don’t have enough time to go back to most of them. I need to try to focus down. Right now my subject (‘my book’) is my whole life. Often, when I sit down to move a piece forward (by adding a second ‘chapter’ for instance, I find I urgently want to write about an experience twenty years earlier (or later). Still, this is not as bad as writer’s block.
27. I am learning to listen better when others are reading their work. Somehow it is easier for me to focus on a piece by reading it than listening, although I am fully aware of the rewards of the latter.
28. Story is a series of emotions.
29. The emotional truth is the story. The incidents don’t have to be ‘true’.
30. Start where the emotion is the strongest. Most people start too early in the story.
31. All of the above about emotions being true and crucial and non-negotiable, I loved the ‘story by the numbers”: I wanted…so I…but…
32. Use all five senses.
33. Read a lot and a lot of different stuff. Get quotes, images, stray musings into your journal.
34. Keeping doing it!

What I want to work on more:

7. Revision skills; mostly I think I need the discipline to do it, and the belief – confidence – that I can do it well; that it will be worth it.
8. Continued nagging to keep at it.
9. A lot of positive feedback; nothing against constructive feedback; just is encouraging to hear people say, “Wow”. Or even, “Whoa.”
10. More analysis of our work in class; that was good, both the practice as a reviewer in a feedback situation, and the comments on my own work.
11. Let’s start talking in practical terms about sending work out: How to tell when it’s ready, or at least good enough. Where to send stuff; how to tell where to send stuff.
12. It’s helpful to write in class, with a short time limit; there is a benefit from the communal effort.

 

 

 

 

Adair's Photo Album