One Story Workshop Day One: Cabinets of Wonder

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 6th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Ian, Antonia, Leah and Rudrani will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Ian Lindsay Dangla. Enjoy!–HT

Cover_PhotoLet’s call it a tradition. For the sixth time in as many years, One Story has opened our doors to twenty-two talented writers, from near and far, for the One Story Summer Workshop for Writers.

For the next week, students will hear craft lectures, attend industry panels, and of course, workshop their fiction, at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn.

We launched the week with a cocktail party on Sunday night, where students got the chance to meet their instructors, as well as the co-founders of One Story, Hannah Tinti and Maribeth Batcha. This year our students come from all over: London and Hawaii and also right here in Brooklyn. We all enjoyed getting to meet each other and then toured the Old American Can Factory, where One Story has an office alongside many other  Brooklyn presses, such as Akashic Books, Archipelago Books, Restless Books, and Ugly Duckling Presse.

The next morning, students began their first day by splitting into their respective workshops, led by One Story Contributing Editor Will Allison and One Teen Story Editor-in-chief Patrick Ryan. The workshop will be the centerpiece of each day, led by two excellent writers who are also editors, helping students share and comment on each other’s short stories and novel excerpts, and showing how to make good writing great.

After workshops and a break for lunch, One Story Editor-in-chief Hannah Tinti gave a craft lecture focused on unlocking the subconscious. Hannah highlighted tangible objects as potential keys to opening evocative content, pulsing through the depths of our minds.

During the lecture, Hannah passed around a miniature “Cabinet of Wonders,” a small box (pictured above) filled with intriguing but seemingly random artifacts. However, with some discussion the group found the beginnings of a pattern and hints of thematic unity. Hannah then explained how the act of writing mirrors the construction of a “Cabinet of Wonders.”

The literary form, whether short story, poem, or novel, is the container. The initial drafting of any work is really the search for intriguing content to put inside that container. Once the elements of a piece are all there, even if we aren’t totally sure how they fit together, we can start to probe our content, looking for a pattern. That pattern, once we find it, ultimately informs us of the subconscious roots at the foundation of our work, and reveals the thematic elements of our writing. The sooner we understand WHAT we’re writing about, Hannah said, the sooner we can focus on HOW to highlight those elements and steer our stories in the right direction.

Hannah left us with these four tips for discovering our own voices on the page:

  1. Ground Yourself in the physical (use setting & objects)
  2. Notice the details (they are what bring your fictional world to life)
  3. Follow your intuition
  4. Find the patterns in your own work

We then got a chance to explore the darker side of our subconscious minds on a group excursion to the Museum of Morbid Anatomy. We wandered the museum, picking out the objects we felt intuitively drawn to, and then completed a series of writing exercises based on those objects.**See below for pictures!

The day ended with cocktails and a panel featuring instructors Patrick Ryan and Will Allison, and moderated by Hannah. The writers discussed their different paths and how they got their first books published, what they’ve learned from years as writers and editors, and the changing landscape of the publishing industry.

Quickly, the conversation turned to craft, and particularly how to produce work when life seems hell-bent on getting in the way. Each writer had a distinct approach to the problem.

At his most disciplined, while working a full-time job, Patrick scrambled to fit in two hours of writing a day. He often woke early in the morning to work. He said it’s extremely difficult to sustain such rigid regiment for a long period of time. Will makes it a rule to spend at least thirty minutes a day writing. He finds it hard to get back into a piece if he misses a few days in a row. Hannah doesn’t like switching between writing and editing and teaching in the course of a day. When she’s writing, she tries to set aside a hefty chunk of time, often the whole day, so nothing can get in the way.

All three agreed; staying in touch with projects in a manner that works with your schedule and style is crucial to hitting a creative stride.

Our week is off to a great start. Stay tuned for more updates and tips from the One Story Summer Workshop!

 Blog Bonus: Inspiration from the Morbid Anatomy Museum:

The pictures below were all taken from the Museum of Morbid Anatomy. (Click through for larger images.) There were many strange and wonderful objects, and each one seemed to hold a story inside. Pick one, describe it, and use it in a scene. See where your imagination takes you!

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