Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writing Stuff That Looks Like Other Stuff

Over the weekend, I went to the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference for the fourth time. It was the best conference yet. The speakers were focused and professional; the panels were alternatively funny and thought-provoking.

On Saturday, I went to a class called “Creating Fraudulent Artifacts: How to Construct Stories that Masquerade as Other Forms of Writing,” taught by Matt Vollmer, assistant professor of creative writing at Virginia Tech. The title is a mouthful. I almost skipped it. I am so glad I didn’t.

Have you ever seen a piece of paper lying on the ground and wondered what it was? Did you pick it up? If you did, what did you learn about the person who dropped the paper? Even if it's a receipt for gas, you can learn a lot about the driver depending on how much gas he put in his car.

Matt challenges his students to write short stories that pretend to be something other than a short story. What, you say. So, go think about what your grocery list says about you. Can you create a story out of that list? What do you buy? How many people are in your household? What are your favorite brands? It’s more than a brain-teaser. It’s a different way of looking at the world.

Matt said his technique is fun, subversive and liberating. It breaks up writer’s block, requires the reader to become a participant in the story, encourages experimentation and gives the writer a way to turn the ordinary into art.

I got to thinking about this. What do the emails in my span folder say about me? Can I write a “dear john” letter to a politician? Can I look at something as common as a dinner receipt and create a vignette for a novel?

To quote a losing politician from 2008, “you betcha.”