One Story Workshop Day 5: Magnet Boards & Family Dinners

Dear Readers: Over this past week, One Story hosted our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally have been chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Our final write up is by Coryna Ogunseitan. Thanks, ladies, for writing up these great posts!–HT

One Story staff poses on the final night

One Story staff poses on the final night

After hours and hours of writing, reading, listening, and learning, One Story’s Summer Workshop has come to an end. The last day of the week began as usual; students were now familiar with the routine, and those who got to the Canteen early snacked and chatted with familiar friendliness. Most were thinking about the reading to take place later that evening, discussing what work they might share and different reading techniques. Students whose pieces were yet to be discussed were eager finally to showcase their writing in the morning’s workshops with Patrick Ryan and Will Allison.

After lunch, everyone gathered for Ann Napolitano’s craft lecture, which she referred to as “more of a TED Talk”. If what she meant by “like a TED Talk” was that her lecture would be more than inspiring, the comparison was spot on: Ann told workshop students about techniques by which they could process the world in order to become better writers. She advised everyone to pay attention to their internal “calibrated magnet” – inside each and every one of us is a particular set of traits or experiences that make us attracted to certain subjects or ideas. There are the best things to write about, the things that stick. Ann gave examples that ranged from the noble (like motherhood, the paramount theme in Anna Solomon’s reading Thursday night) to the grotesque (Ann once met a writer who was obsessed by newspaper articles about dead babies). She stressed that everyone who intends to write should be deeply familiar with what sticks to her magnet board, explaining that it is easy for mainstream tastes to overwhelm individual tastes when we let pop culture dominate most of our thoughts.

To illustrate each individual’s unique perspective, Ann revisited photographs she had asked students to take of “something that catches your eye”. There were sunsets, dead birds, funny notes, and dogs. She then asked everyone to write a sentence about each of five photos. When everyone read aloud, it became even clearer how particular each writer’s tastes were: while some described the image they saw in front of them, others cracked jokes and still others introduced first-person narrators. Ann emphasized that what sets a writer apart is not only what she sees in the world, but how she sees it.

After the lecture and exercise, students took a break for the afternoon. Many went to practice for the fast-approaching reading, and joked about how many glasses of wine a writer should have before getting on stage. It hardly seemed that any time had passed when writers returned, dressed up with heels and well-practiced stories, ready to culminate the effort and learning of the week.

Although many readers confessed to being anxious, no one’s nerves were obvious: everyone read smoothly and confidently from a selection of work as varied as the group itself. A vasectomy, turduckens, and being home alone were among the many rich subjects addressed. Workshop students received their fellow writers’ work, some serious, some humorous, with laughter and enthusiasm.

Once the reading had ended, the relieved students settled into their seats around the giant table set for 29 people, and, over a delicious dinner made by Runner & Stone, talked about the highlights of their weeks. As the evening winded down, everyone exchanged phone numbers, eager to keep in touch with other writers whose vision and criticism participants had appreciated. We ended the night with laughter and song, after Hannah announced that we were all now part of the One Story family.