May Class Bulletin: New summer classes!!

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Lindsey Crittenden

May 15, 2015, 6:39:55 PM5/15/15

Class Bulletin

Welcome to our monthly e-newsletter including tips about writing, our favorite books about writing, what we're reading now, and the latest news about our classes.

Summer class catalog now online!  We’ve got terrific new workshops, intensives, and courses in fiction, memoir, personal essay, travel writing, landing an agent, freelancing, and much more.  Classes meet multi-weekly and in one-day and weekend intensives, and all are taught by writers published in the genre they’re teaching.  Scroll down to Note Four or go to  

 Note One: Writing Tips from Our Teachers

From Laurie Ann Doyle (Said and Unsaid:  Dialogue in Fiction and Memoir, 1 session May 17)

Dialogue can be one of a writer’s greatest pleasures. Early in a story or memoir piece, I may not be able to decide if the woman’s sweater is blood red or teal green, or if the man’s mouth is full or braces or buckteeth, but I can sure hear the person talking in my head. This speeds me down the path of discovering who they are. Here’s the thing. Great dialogue on the page may sound natural, but it is highly orchestrated. One trick. In your first draft, let the dialogue flow, any old thing coming out of the character’s mouth. Then go back and keep only the most dramatic parts of the conversation. Tension is what good dialogue is all about. Another idea. Allow silence. What people don’t say is as interesting – or maybe more so – as what they do. There are tons of great techniques for creating strong dialogue, but they all add up to one thing.  Dialogue breathes life into your story and characters.  

Note Two: In Appreciation of a Favorite Writer on Writing

From Laura Fraser (Nonfiction Storytelling: From Dramatic Beginning to the Twist at the End, 1 session May 17, and Telling Your Story: Personal Essays for Publication, 3 sessions starting May 19) 

Inside William Zinsser's uncluttered office on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, nothing mattered but the work and pleasure of writing. Everything else — publishers, agents, the demise of print, the rise of free content, anxieties about success, failure and Amazon rankings — you left at the door.  Zinsser, who died on Tuesday at the age of 92, was the author of On Writing Well and 18 other books about writing, travel, baseball and music. He was also a generous mentor to other writers. Through his books, he taught millions of people to write better by demonstrating simple, clear sentences and an authentic voice.

I had the pleasure of knowing Zinsser, as a relative. One of the things he always emphasized was how you don’t write to sell, you don’t write what your agent or your publisher wants you to write, you write for the process of finding a true story, and you write for the reader.  “The central problem in most writing is the American obsession with the finished product,” he said. “Most Americans setting out on a memoir can picture the jacket of the book — the headline, title, byline and a charming tintype of a child with a pail by the seashore,” he said. “The only thing they haven’t thought about is how to write the damn thing.”  

Zinsser encouraged me, and so many others, to write for the sake of writing. He offered us tools to write better, cutting away clutter to get to the core. He gave us permission to be ourselves on the page and to enjoy writing so our readers would enjoy it, too.  His words are a tonic in the world of content and dollars per word. When I’m itching to write, to explore without a clear plan, his advice gives me courage. He’s gone now, but his words keep coming to me at my keyboard.

Note Three: What We’re Reading Now

From Alastair Gee (From Pitch to Publication: Getting Noticed with Nonfiction Articles and Essays, 1 session starting June 6) 

Reading stories by New Yorker mainstay Janet Malcolm can be both inspiring and unsettling. Inspiring because she is one of the greatest American non-fiction writers, and her gaze is unflinching, even when it she turns it on herself. In “Depth of Field,” her 2011 profile of German photographer Thomas Struth, she describes a trip to a solar-panel factory outside Dresden, where Struth would eventually produce a monumental image of immaculate machines that suggest a perfect, 22nd-century future. Struth ends up working late, however, and rather than eliding this point, as another writer might, Malcolm tells us that she became annoyed with him. “Finally, I rather crossly left for Dresden in a taxi,” she said. “Of course, my crossness was unjustified. I had wanted to see a master photographer at work, and had just had the chance to do so.” This moment brings out the humanness of the writer as well as her subject, but it also shows that when one is laboring to create a thing of beauty or resonance – be it a photograph or a non-fiction article – the nicer emotions, such as considerateness or patience, might end up being forgotten.

The unsettling part comes out elsewhere, when Malcolm and Struth are talking in a café and Struth recalls two of his teachers, and a reference they made to Marcel Proust. Malcolm asks Struth if he has actually read Proust, and Struth admits he has not. Struth seems to feel he has made a fool of himself, and Malcolm reassures him. But she writes about their discussion anyway, and acknowledges her “journalistic opportunism.” This is another leitmotif of Malcolm’s writing: To do his or her work a journalist must win the subject’s trust, perhaps by offering to tell the subject’s story, but in the end the story belongs only to the journalist, and the trust may turn out to have been misplaced. As Malcolm pronounces in one of her books, "every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” 

For a writer studying her words, this statement can prompt dejection or, perhaps, a desire to do better.

Note Four: Upcoming Classes & Workshops

Classes are listed in chronological order, by date of first session, for the next 6 weeks.  For full descriptions and to enroll, click on each class or go to for the complete catalog

  • May 17, 2015
    10:00 am - 4:00 pm
  • May 19, 2015 - June 2, 2015
    6:30 pm - 9:30 pm
Saturday, June 13
10:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

What would you like us to include in the Grotto Class Bulletin?  What classes would you like to see offered at the Grotto?  What books about writing have been particularly useful for you?  Send your thoughts/comments/kudos & complaints to Lindsey Crittenden at 
Note Six: Subscribing & unsubscribing
And of course, if you'd like to opt out of the Grotto Class Bulletin, you can always do so at, just click on Edit my membership, and then Unsubscribe.
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