One Story Workshop Day 4: Calvin Baker & the Writer’s Obsession

Calvin.Baker.OneStoryToday’s recap of our summer workshop is brought to you by Tony Wei-Ling.Enjoy!-HT

The fourth day of One Story’s Workshop for Writers was a marathon. We started our day with double workshop sessions with Will Allison and Patrick Ryan, followed by a meditative craft lecture on obsession and finding the themes in our own writing from Author/One Story Assistant Editor/Workshop Coordinator, Ann Napolitano.

Earlier in the week, Ann had asked all of the students to take a picture with their cell phones. During class, she projected each of these photos on a screen, and had the students use them as stepping off points for writing exercises. Together the group discussed how these pictures could unearth themes in their writing, by revealing what each author was “obsessed” with. Ann shared how over time in her own writing (of both successful and unsuccessful novels) she’s learned to pay attention to her obsessions and use them to guide her work.

“Some things are societal obsessions,” she told us. “Things trending on Twitter or among your friends and family, or in the literary world. We feel like we have to keep up with all of those trendy books, movies, shows, and you can fill up your life doing that.”  But that won’t feed our writing, Ann said. In fact what we should do instead is pay attention to what keeps us personally obsessed, what draws our eye and our attention. “Notice the patterns,” she said. “Notice what you notice.”

After a break spent exploring the neighborhood’s parks and pie shops, our writers reconvened at Park Slope’s Community Bookstore, where One Story author Calvin Baker  read from his new novel, Grace, and spent time answering questions about his writing process. (Meanwhile, the bookstore’s cat, Tiny, prowled the cheese plate.)

Calvin emphasized the trust a writer needs to have in her senses, her instincts, and her inspirations, and remembered a moment of pure creative energy that sparked the idea for his first novel (Naming the New World) upon a hilltop in rural Kenya. He stressed the need to travel and explore the world, and the importance of finding your own voice on the page. Together with One Story’s Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti, Calvin also discussed influences on his work, from the Bible to ancient mythology and philosophy.

“As a young writer, I decided to make a personal canon for myself,” he said. “And I recommend that to all writers: make the canon your own.”

Hannah agreed, and encouraged everyone in the audience to curate their own personal canon, choosing the authors that they love and the books they need to inspire their writing. She  added that she creates a reference bookshelf for each project she works on. “I’ve seen Hannah’s bookshelves, and they go up to the ceiling,” Calvin laughed.

Stay tuned for a recap of the last day of our summer workshop, including our group dinner and student reading!

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