September Creative Writing Class in Campbellford

For those who asked here is the posting for the creative writing class at the Campbellford Resource Centre. It’s an 8 week Thursday morning class running from September 22― Nov. 10 Thursdays 10 am-Noon. They didn’t include our names this year–my short fiction class is called Writing From the Inside Out. Call Grace to register: (705) 653-5161. This class is always super fun, with folks bringing homemade cookies and seeds for next year’s garden.

I taught a condensed version of this class in San Miguel de Allende in 2015 and put together some notes for prospective students about my approach to teaching writing.


“You won’t get struck by lightning if you don’t wander out into the field covered in tinfoil and old TV antennae.” – Chuck Wendig

Allen Ginsburg famously said, “First thought, best thought.”

The exercise we do draws on the idea that the story that comes out first is the one that most wants to be told. It arises from our subconscious, asking for expression. Akin to lost treasure, it’s a part of ourselves we have tucked away. The subconscious mind is vast, and because of this vastness, knows much more than we do. It’s capable of assimilating and processing inexhaustible amounts of information and then spitting them back out, first having given them form. Voila! A story.

This story is and is not about ourselves. We draw on our lived experience, as well as everything we have ever read when we write. What comes out draws on our life, our beliefs, our perception and interpretations, and yet, obviously, for many if not most of us, our main character may have little or no relation to ourselves. She or he may be a totally unfamiliar creation, springing forth fully formed, like Athena.

Athena isn’t much like her father, but she still came out of Zeus’s head.

“Buddhism taught Ginsburg to eschew rationality in favor of “ordinary” or ”spontaneous” mind, the vast sea of consciousness upon which our concepts and categories, anxieties and prohibitions, float like so much junk,” William Deresiewicz wrote in the New York Times.

At a critique workshop of 2nd or 3rd draft work, we are concerned with getting the story up to the finish line. But today, we’re about getting it out of the gates. We want to see what we’re made of. We want to open the lid on the box. We want to be fearless, and not judge ourselves or each other. We want to experience ourselves as the keepers of gorgeous woven tapestries of words. We’re working to allow the emergence of stories which already exist within us, and for which we are merely the gatekeepers.

I believe that at the very beginning, storytelling made us human, and that now, it keeps us human.

We might go so far as to say we are channeling these stories, maybe from our subconscious minds, maybe from our higher selves. I’m not that concerned with terminology. What’s important is the metaphor – the image.

Imagine yourself as a very small person (your conscious mind, your ego personality) who has access to a much larger person. Ten times as large? A hundred times as large? A thousand? Pick whichever number feels most comfortable for you. Maybe this person is a different gender than you are. Maybe he or she is older, maybe younger. It could be a spirit, or a baby. The point is, this other larger version of ourselves knows much more than we do. What does he or she know?

Well, for starters, stories. Like Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I believe story structure is hard wired into our brains. Storytelling is what makes and keeps us human.

Dozens of stories, richly detailed, brimming with emotion, with people who charm us and make us cheer or terrify us and teach us to struggle, characters who seem oddly familiar as though we knew them well a long time ago and have just, somehow, forgotten them.

And suddenly they are back, telling us their stories.

Close your eyes. Can you see them?


“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ― Toni Morrison

“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” ― Rilke

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou

“A short story writer should be brave. It’s a sad fact to acknowledge, but that’s the way it is.” ― Roberto Bolaño

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ― Sylvia Plath

“We have to be continually jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ― Virginia Woolf

“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” ― Oscar Wilde

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ― Anaïs Nin

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ― Philip Pullman

“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.” ― Edwidge Danticat

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them ― words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” ― Stephen King

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” ― Octavia E. Butler

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly ― they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” ― Aldous Huxley

“When you make music or write or create, it’s really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you’re writing about at the time.” ― Lady Gaga

“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” ― Neil Gaiman

“It didn’t occur to me that my books would be widely read at all, and that enabled me to write anything I wanted to. And even once I realized that they were being read, I still wrote as if I were writing in secret. That’s how one has to write anyway—in secret.” ― Louise Erdrich

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” ― Franz Kafka

“I am a person who thinks about the nature of the spirit when I write. I think about what can’t be known or imagined. I often sense a spirit or force or meaning beyond myself. I leave it open as to what the spirit is, but I continue to make guesses.” ― Amy Tan

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” ― Ray Bradbury

“A story is not like a road to follow…it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.” ― Alice Munro

“Write what should not be forgotten.” ― Isabel Allende

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