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Elaine Beale: Reading as a Writer, Writing as a Reader

Six Fridays, Sept. 6-Jan. 10 (Sept. 6, Sept. 27, Oct. 25, Nov. 22, Dec. 13, Jan. 10)  7-9:30 p.m.
$365 members/$395 non-members   Berkeley
Student Testimonials

“When we read writing we love, it transports us,” says instructor Elaine Beale.  “We travel to other places, inhabit the minds of characters vastly different from ourselves.

We are awed by beautiful language, compelling characters, marvelously constructed plots. If we want our own work to have a similar impact, we need to understand HOW published writers accomplish these things, how they “craft” their work.’

There are many ways to approach learning about craft. For example, you can read how-to books that talk about basic elements of craft for fiction writers, ie. plot, characterization, setting, dialog, point of view, etc. Or you can take a class that focuses primarily on doing your own writing and then bringing your drafts into the class in order to get critiques and feedback from the teacher and your fellow students. Or you can focus on this: READING. AND READING. AND READING SOME MORE!  Read the kinds of writing that you love and would like to learn from. Enjoy what you read the way any reader would enjoy it, by immersing yourself in the story, but then go one step further than the “normal” reader would. In addition to enjoying the story, go back and try to figure out exactly WHY you loved it. What did the writer do, specifically, that worked so well?

“In order to write well, we need to read,” says Elaine. “But more than that, we need to read as writers.”

This means paying close attention to what you’ve read. Look at the sentences carefully.  Examine the images, metaphors and symbols. Ask yourself what makes the dialogue seem so ‘real’ and descriptions so vivid.  Examine the structure: how did the novel (or memoir) maintain momentum?  What was it about a particular short story (or personal essay, or poem) that left you thinking about it for days? How did the writer ‘hook’ you at the beginning and keep you enthralled until the end?

“We’ll engage in discussions about the work of accomplished writers,” says Elaine. “These discussions will provide jumping off points for in-class exercises. We can learn from scrutinizing their work—not because we want to be copy-cats, but because we want to figure out the best ways to make our own voices stronger. We want to create ‘tool kits’ filled with our favorite tools.”

The once-a-month structure is specially designed to provide time to read recommended readings and to work on your own writing. Between classes, you’ll receive regular emails from Elaine with suggestions for exercises and food for inspiration. You’ll also have the chance to consult with Elaine when you have questions or encounter blocks.

Elaine Beale’s second novel, Another Life Altogether, was published by Random House in 2010. It received praise from the Boston Globe, Lambda Literary,  Curve Magazine, the Bay Area Reporter, and Publishers Weekly  among others, and was featured in Oprah Magazine. Elaine was the winner of the 2007 Poets and Writers California Writers Exchange Award and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. She has taught creative writing for more than a decade.


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