One Story Workshop Day 1: Subvert Expectations

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally 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 Michelle Hu. Enjoy!–HT

WSDayoneHuzzah! One Story’s seventh annual Summer Workshop for Writers has begun. Writers arrived at the Old American Can Factory and began Sunday night with a cocktail reception, filling the floor with excited and nervous conversation. The room quickly became boisterous as more names were exchanged and glasses of wine and beer were consumed. Students were introduced to the One Story team and their instructors, our own Patrick Ryan and Will Allison, in preparation for the week ahead, where they’ll be attending morning workshops, craft lectures, and a variety of panels on the business of publishing. After a friendly welcome, the students went on a tour of the can factory, and visited our office, where they heard about the creation of One Story from its co-founders, Maribeth Batcha and Hannah Tinti.

The first official day of the conference began the next day with morning workshops, where Patrick and Will led in-depth discussions on stories and novel excerpts from each student. A growing familiarity between writers became apparent in the lunch that followed.

Afterwards, students gathered for the first of the Craft Lecture series with author Myla Goldberg, who began with a brief announcement about the subjectivity of writing (even after it is published). Myla focused her lecture on creating a space that allowed for productive disagreement. Lauren Groff’s “L. DeBard and Aliette,” an unusual love story that takes place in a time of illness, became an avenue to explore how Groff develops the relationship between the writer and the reader. Students took Myla’s invitation to explore ambiguity and disagreement in the story.

Reading, a process between the writer and the reader, is not one-sided, and the goal, Myla said, “is to foster collaboration with just the right amount of information.” In the lecture, students explored the ways Groff’s intentional choices create that mutual experience. The story, written in present tense, gives the characters’ experiences a real life immediacy. The choice to divulge certain details non-sequentially, however, allows her to not alienate the reader but challenge their ability to read about difficult topics. Similarly, the exclusion of details also contributes to the collaborative experience. Myla discussed the way Groff writes about sex through exclusion and how that creates moments that are at once delicate and also provocative. In what Groff chooses to not disclose, the reader is given an active role in how they experience and what they fill the moments with.

To end the lecture, Myla told the students how she makes space for writing and gave some advice. In summary: Writing is play! She reminded us that writing began before we were given the words for it. The creation of imaginary lives and worlds started with our childhood vividness. In wide arm gestures, Myla told us that writing is as active and away from the page as acting. Get an empty room, she says, and physically act out what the character is doing, grimaces and laughter alike.

Another way of looking at writing as play is through something Myla mentioned earlier in her lecture: “Subvert the expectation.” A line that applies to the hesitation most writers feel. When beginning to write it is crucial to remember to play, to subvert, and to undo expectations. She left us all with the reminder that writing is undoing as much as it is doing. But above all else, it’s fun.

After an afternoon social break with snacks and drinks, the day ended with an informal “Meet the Instructors” conversation, moderated by One Story Publisher Maribeth Batcha. Patrick Ryan and Will Allison discussed and answered questions about how they started as writers and gave some tips for the submission process. As lightening and flood warnings briefly distracted the students, it seemed as if even the weather was fortifying the duality of a writer’s life. While some took the opportunity of the thunder storm to continue talking to their peers after the event, others hugged their bags and sprinted through the river-ed streets with their heels kicked high.

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