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  • Len Joy

Do Not Go Gentle... part 2


I started my blog back in 2009 to chronicle my dual pursuit of trying to become a writer and a competitive triathlete. In last week’s post I talked about how important training was in my quest to become a better athlete. The same holds true for writing. Even a gifted natural athlete like Michael Jordan had to learn the fundamentals of the game – footwork, shooting mechanics, defense in order to become an accomplished performer.


For over fifteen years I commuted between Chicago and Phoenix where I operated an engine remanufacturing company with my brother-in-law. On those long flights I would dabble at writing stories and poems, but I didn’t know what I was doing. Didn't have the fundamentals.


Then in the summer of 2003, as we were winding down that business, I received a mailing from the The University of Chicago’s Graham School promoting their creative writing program. Before, I didn't have time for night school, but now I had no excuse not to take that course. On a whim, I signed up.


The intro course was taught by writer, Barbara Croft. She was encouraging in the sense of “Keep trying if you enjoy it, but don’t quit your day job.” After the intro I took a flash fiction course, then short story fundamentals with author, Gary Wilson, a couple of poetry classes, a screenwriting workshop and finally a sequence of novel writing classes with Patrick Somerville, who went off to Hollywood and became semi-famous as the head writer for “The Bridge” and the creator of the show “Maniac.” Maybe more than semi-famous. He’s in Wikipedia.


I started going to weeklong summer workshops. Over the next ten years I attended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Tin House Summer Workshop, Skidmore Summer Writers Institute, Norman Mailer Writers Colony, Sewanee Writers' Conference, Napa Valley Writer's Conference (each night a reading at a different vineyard with complimentary wine!) and finally Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.


I joined the Zoetrope Writers' Studio, which is an online community of writers created by Francis Ford Coppola. Zoetrope provides aspiring writers with an opportunity to share their work and receive honest feedback from other writers. In order to get feedback on your writing you have to give feedback. For every five reviews you complete, you are allowed to post a story. The critiques were helpful, but learning how to analyze other writers’ work and give useful reviews was even more important in my development as a writer.


I started participating in open mics. Chicago and Evanston provided many opportunities for writers to share their work in front of a crowd. And it’s not like stand-up comedy. The audiences were supportive. Story Club Chicago and Do Not Submit - Evanston were two of the venues I frequented. They welcome writers at all levels. It’s a fun event and hearing other writers share their stories was rewarding and entertaining.


Like any profession, the education is ongoing. I have a shelf-full of books on writing which I keep adding to. I’ll share some of my favorite craft books in another post.

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