Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Woman Writer: Pat Carr's Rule #1

Women writers, are you serious about publishing? The Summer Writers Conference of the International Women's Writing Guild is a nourishing scene for women writers and a place where many of us have developed publishable work. I'm grateful to Hannalore Hahn and her daughter Elizabeth Julia Stouman and the Guild's Conference crew for providing a safe place where magic happens routinely.

This year I attended Pat Carr’s class. I usually do. I like the way she guides writers and listens to their work. Pat will say, “Ah! Yes!” And she will pause to allow time for the images and dialogue, created by one precious student, to hang in the magical air.

If you know Pat, you know her Rule #1, as we fondly refer to it:

Do not write from inside the mind
of someone you have
not been!

I’m writing a novel with a twelve year old boy as a main character. As soon as I wrote this line, I thought of Pat’s rule:

Gideon watched his mother’s tongue and teeth, thinking of bees,
of the buzzing of bees, as her tongue flicked words through her teeth.

I came to Pat’s class because I wanted to ferret out these slips into a boy’s mind. To be honest, I don’t know what boys think or how boys think.

Students argue with Pat. We are used to reading great writers who write, with seeming success, from inside the minds of persons they have not been. Check out Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits and The Infinite Plan. Or Amy Tan. Be puzzled, as most of Pat’s students are at first. Is there anything wrong in these books? They held me enthralled.

When students ask why not write from inside the mind of someone you have not been, Pat tells them “Because it’s immoral.”

I don’t want men to write as if they know what a woman thinks. I get indignant. It’s like when a person of privilege says they know what poverty must be like. Oh, yeah?

Pat’s Rule #1 forces me to study closely the observable details, in memory or in creative imagination. This discipline makes my work stronger.

I rewrote the short passage from Gideon’s River as follows:

Gideon’s eyes narrowed and his head moved forward a notch toward his mother.

“Stop talking!” he yelled. “There’s spit on you tongue. Your teeth are crooked. You sound like bees buzzing.”

Now when I read books by authors who get inside the minds of characters they have not been, I see this as the breech of ethics it is. I agree with Pat.

At the conference I also took a class in how to use simple photography to enhance your writing. The pictures on this page were taken on campus at Skidmore. (I’ll let you know when my full essay about Pat Carr’s Rule #1 comes out in an e-zine.)

If you are serious about publishing, check out Jim Edwards' How to Write and Publish an E-Book in 7 days or less.

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And if you're using photography to enhance your writing, here's Tony Pages Photo Toolbox Of Creative Tools And Techniques:

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