Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hungry for Words

I've been writing since I was 9 and generally feel like I should be teaching writing courses rather than taking them. I made an exception for Kathleen Flinn's workshop on food writing, however, because I know I have a lot to learn if I'm going to be good at it. (The other exceptions were Russell Banks on fiction and Richard Howard on translation and they were both very worthwhile.)

Kathleen Flinn (photo by Irene Flinn)
Flinn did not disappoint. She managed to fill two days with a mix of exercises, information, interaction and gossip so that time rarely lagged and everything worked together to be very helpful. In fact, it not only gave me some confidence about food writing but useful tips for blogging in general and for my fiction. In addition to the actual content, just taking a weekend for myself to focus on writing was motivational in itself. And the great plus of any event in Washington is the array of interesting characters who show up for these things; our group of 20 was no exception.

The two things I liked the most were Kathleen's focus on first lines -- I know this but never thought to apply it to blogging, for instance -- and her recommendation to storyboard any narrative, nonfiction or fiction, especially if you're stuck. I like drawing anyway, and storyboarding my exercise narrative was kind of fun. Particularly useful for food writing was her emphasis on using all five senses, starting with the introductory exercise of describing a lemon five times for each one.

For my purposes, Kathleen dwelt too much on book publishing and proposals, though that's fair enough given that she launched her career as author and speaker that way. Also, though she promised much in the way of supplementary materials, we had only a slim set in hand and when the rest arrived by e-mail it came in the form of scattered links that are anything but easy to download, piece together and use.

But that's all gravy. The main course was great. It will help me in all my writing, and gives me some food for thought for possibilities in this genre. For instance, she mentioned that culinary travel is hot right now and that's something that has considerable appeal. The field is of course very crowded, but what the heck, you carve out your niche or you don't. Beverages, another genre with great appeal for me, is also hot, she says.

In sum, it was a stimulating, worthwhile weekend and I'm grateful to Kathleen for the workshop and to Politics & Prose and the Writer's Center for bringing her to Washington.

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