Consorting With Writers Instead of Cattle
August 15, 2022
I took a sightseeing break from an intensive writer's workshop in Atlantic City, N.J., and discovered some cool dinosaurs at the Lumino Dino Safari at the Absecon Lighthouse. But my mission that weekend involved words, not reptiles. Photo by Peter Murphy.
It is my special joy to write about farm life for you each week. I get to share the wonder of calf birth and the sorrow and self-doubt when one of my animals dies. I want to be a better farmer, but I also want to be a better writer, so I spent last weekend with 24 other writers, the Ocean View Writing Getaway, run by Murphy Writing. Affiliated with Stockton University, this outfit cultivates and encourages writers. We met at the Atlantic City campus and stayed in college dorms.
Peter Murphy, an award-winning poet and founder of Murphy Writing, told us during the three-day workshop, "You think the work is done with your first draft, but it's more like giving birth. Hard work starts after the baby is born." He's right! In my case, a first draft is like the birth of a calf that needs to be bottle-fed or given antibiotics to survive. Even John Steinbeck didn't write perfect prose in the first draft. And I'm not John Steinbeck.
To help us become better writers, instructor, and published author Anndee Hochman taught my group how to polish our creative nonfiction while Peter Murphy taught the others about poetry – something I keep clear of.
Anndee is the author of Anatomies: A Novella and Stories, as well as Everyday Acts & Small Subversions: Women Reinventing Family, Community, and Home. Her writing has appeared everywhere, including in the New York Times Book Review. In short, she knew her stuff and was the right coach for me.
Peter welcomed all 24 writers on Thursday night and told us that this weekend would encourage new ideas and fresh writing. Wow, did he get that right!
On the first day, I decided to write about something I had never written before, something not about farming. My soul seemed to have its plan; it started me off with angry words about a personal event from the '80s. Anger by itself does not make for good writing. Anndee showed me how to set a scene and zoom in or out of it. With each assignment, my paragraph slowly grew into a "flash-biography," a detailed snapshot from my past.
On the last evening of the workshop, most of us participated in a "Story Slam," emceed by Atlantic City writer Mike Nees. Deejay KJ Butta filled the auditorium with music as writers signed up to share their stories. Fourteen writers each had five minutes to read their story or tell it from memory. Then, the audience voted on the winner. Competing with published authors, I was astonished to take second place.
If writing is like calf-birth, with my muse Anndee helping, my story jumped right up and began mooing.