Workshopping with Jill McCorkle

tamrawilson Uncategorized

One of the thrills of living in the “writingest state” is being a member of the North Carolina Writers Network and attending their Fall Conference. This year’s gathering in Cary brought an array of outstanding sessions and speakers: Edith Perlman, Kay Stripling Byer, D. G. Martin, Sheri Castle, Alice Osborne and many more.

I was one of the lucky souls attending Jill McCorkle’s master fiction workshop. I have long admired her work (Tending to Virginia, July 7th, Crash Diet, Creatures of Habit, Ferris Beach and more). Not too long ago I traveled nearly 100 miles to hear her read. Being in her workshop was a genuine treat.

I am happy to report that McCorkle is a generous workshop leader, very encouraging and respectful–something you don’t always find. I learned that, like many other fiction writers, she reads poetry for inspiration not only for the language but for the compression of story in a small space.

Some other nuggets of advice:
–Fiction is real life without all the boring parts.
–Take readers to where they’ve never been before.
–Every chapter or story must have a turn of events.
–The beginning of a story should be staked in the yard; tether the rest of the story to it.

McCorkle also advised us to learn when to abandon a project. Anyone who has been a writer (or artist of any kind) long enough recognizes that when a project is not moving ahead or has become boring, we should abandon it. “Recognize the horse is dead and get off the horse,” she says with a laugh, though we all know that giving up on a lengthy project is no laughing matter. Stories, poems, books become like children. We have given birth to them, they have taken on their own meaning, their own life. There’s always one more tweak we can do though we know, like human children, we must learn to let them go.

Quoting author and mentor Max Steele, McCorkle added, “You can never be the writer you want to be until you deal with your mother.”

I lost my mother ten years ago this month, though she recurs in my dreams and “talks” to me as I write certain pieces. She is part of who I am. That’s no major revelation, but what McCorkle and Steele are saying is that the parent figure cannot be your default “editor.” You must learn to turn off that voice, come to grips with the writing as it is, whether that your “mother” would approve or not. It’s part of the maturing process we experience as writer…and as human beings.