Sunday, July 26, 2009

Vermont College of Fine Arts July 2009 residency, and the galloping 60-second lecture

I really did mean to post from charming Montpelier, but somehow (crazy schedule? Lack of sleep? Brain overload?) I just didn't. But the intrepid Julie Larios did, on her wonderful blog, The Drift Record. See her posts with lecture notes and a picture of College Hall on the green, commentary on Good and Evil Day, and more.

But she lost the notes from my lecture.

Julie. How could you? (Only kidding--of course I know all about losing stuff. Like my mind, after one of those amazing, exhausting residencies.)

Anyway, here's the condensed version of my lecture. You must read it at a brisk clip, in the manner of 60-Second Shakespeare. Ready?
Tools and Techniques for Accessing the Inner Life of Your Novel. You think you have one mind? Wrong, you have two. Creative, critical--don't laugh. Dorothea Brande's ghost may be listening! You need both those minds--don't be fooled into killing either. What? No, no! Never bring them onstage together. Don't you read labels? Creative's tagged "draft," Critical's "revision." Get it? Look, just give yourself permission to manage them in your head. Or on paper or even (gasp!) your computer. Whatever works for you. Use any stage directions you like, that's all those organizing tools are: outlines, timelines, calendars, maps, charts, graphs, visual plotlines of all shapes and sizes. Synopses. Try a synopsis that reads like flash fiction. Fool your creative mind into cooperating. It's not against the rules, you know. Dickens outlined. Could it be he knew a thing or two? Thomas Hardy drew maps. Because honestly, it's hard to keep an entire novel in your head. Plus who said the outline had to be Roman-numeralled and indented and pretty? Who said you had to do it before you wrote the novel? Who said? Point is, you're in charge. Figure out when to use those critical mind tools and when to toss them. Remember the organizing tool is not the art form. Stop. Save yourself years of fruitless tinkering. Just take the time to figure out the creative-critical balance you need. The end.
There. Clear as feathers?


  1. Uma - I have literally torn my house apart looking for the notes from your lecture, which was so wonderful & inspiring. I urge everyone who can (current students and alumni of VCFA) to go to this site and purchase it on CD:

  2. Oh Julie I am so over it. Now I want to know what you think of the 60-second version :-) Should I deliver all my lectures in this exciting new cryptic format, do you think?

    Aaah! How long does it take to get over Residency Fatigue, anyway? I'm still missing my pink schedule.

  3. Thanks for posting this!

    Julie, the link to purchase the CDs didn't work, but I noticed that the "n" was missing in the word "children," so I found the page after adding that letter to the address. Here's the page:

  4. Thank you Lynne, for noticing. We're all still a bit dazed, you can tell.

  5. Dazed? No, no...just missing the fun! All the lectures were fabulous. What would we do without you, Uma, and Julie, and all the VCFA faculty?

  6. Very nice summary. (I do have nice notes from your lecture, but your summary is easier to follow, and easier to decipher than my handwriting.)
    Giving a lecture in this "cryptic" format? I think I'd get dizzy listening to something so fast paced. Maybe if you repeated it 10 times.

    I'm still also getting over rez fatigue.
    You can get to a link of the pink schedule through the website (current students/MFAWCYA/Residency tabs). It won't let me post the link. Note--it won't upload pink.

    I'm off to enter the inner life of my novel. I am a little "angry" with a character who is just going off and doing things I don't want, even if does make for an interesting story. I need a lecture on controlling out of control characters!

  7. Sarah I'm finding that when I feel that need to control a character I really need to listen to what the story (or my subconscious, or something) is trying to tell me.

  8. Glad it's useful, Summer, even tongue in cheek!