Welcome new Writers’ Program instructor Ella Martinsen Gorham! Ella is teaching Fiction: Essential Beginnings (reg# 383914) in our deadline-driven online format, starting February 9 this Winter. She sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and her upcoming course.
What sparks your creativity?
For me, new ideas begin with a state of openness to and curiosity about the outside world. I try to take note of gestures, facial features, phrases and names I come across. The shapes of clouds and trees, too. I keep journals for recording such details. When I am especially attuned to the world around me, I feel the most ready to write. It seems to trigger creative thinking.
What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation and/or inspiration to write?
It is probably the most difficult to find the time to write, given all of life’s commitments. When I find myself scarce on time, I try to set aside ten or fifteen minutes I can spare, the same time each day. It could be any time for anyone, but for me it’s early in the morning. This is my writing time, the time to shut off the inner critic and give the reins to the imagination. Once you carve out this routine, and honor it by showing up as regularly as possible, it should be easier to access the energy and the inspiration. Persistence is essential to building a productive writing practice. I also rely on walking to get the ideas churning.
What’s your favorite book and/or movie?
It’s too hard to choose one book, but I would say that reading short stories from diverse voices has been very inspiring. Short stories show a developing writer that something emotionally impactful can be achieved in ten or fifteen pages of work. Amy Hempel’s stories, such as those in the collection Reasons to Live, are especially startling and moving.
What’s your favorite quote about writing?
One I read recently and underlined is by George Saunders from A Swim in a Pond in the Rain:
“The true beauty of a story is not in its apparent conclusion but in the alteration in the mind of the reader that has occurred along the way.” Saunders explains, quoting Anton Chekhov, that stories don’t exist to solve problems (such as loneliness) but to make the reader feel them fully.
What excites you most about teaching for the Writers’ Program?
The Writers’ Program was so important to me as adult who wanted desperately to build a creative writing practice. I value the techniques I learned, and the chance to have my work discussed by peers. I’m thrilled to have the chance now to nurture the early writing of other adults. I look forward to providing my students with tools that will help them feel excited to write, including an understanding of elements of story such as character and conflict. Once they can begin to manipulate those elements, the act of writing can be so satisfying.
What do you hope your students get from your course(s)?
I want to help my students discover their own goals for their writing, and support them as they move closer to realizing those goals. I want them to believe that they have the capacity to write something that matters to them, and the power to move others emotionally with their words, their sentences. It’s about having a sense of proficiency with the practice of creative writing and some direction on how to move forward. They should also feel free from stifling expectations and not be afraid to make mistakes.
Thank you to Ella for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!