Creative Writing Conference

There aren’t many writers’ conferences in Israel, but there was one this week and there will be another next week. This week’s, in Bar Ilan University, was free and I decided to go along yesterday.

I attended all five sessions and they were excellent. The first, with Joseph Skibell and E. Ethelbert Miller discussed memoir writing. I loved the way their advice was interspersed with humorous asides. I think it was E. Ethelbert Miller who talked about being the baby of the family. He said, “Growing up, I thought my name was Shh.”

They gave us an exercise to sketch a floor plan of our first house and list five sensory details from it, and then discuss it with a partner. In a second exercise, we recalled a gift we’d received, reflecting on why it was valuable, what was symbolic about it and the stories behind it.

In the poetry session with Linda Zisquit and Joy Katz, they invited people to relate a memory. Then they told us to “write a poem about something that scares you.” Writing the poem was pretty scary in itself, as I don’t write poetry. Not only did I write it, but I read it out loud.

“We need a volunteer.
The finger is pointing at me.
“Stand up.
Turn round.
Tell us about a memory.”
“Just do it.”
I want to say, “You don’t understand.”
I want to say, “I can’t do this.”
I want to say, “I suffer from social anxiety.”
Ten thousand eyes are looking at me.
Ten thousand ears are waiting for me to talk.
“No – sorry.”
I sit down and rest my head on my knees.

In the fiction session with Evan Fallenberg and Joan Legant, we analysed a whole (three-paragraph) story by Etgar Keret and then wrote two paragraphs of our own story, starting with one of four prompts. The main advice from the session was: resist. Resist the obvious plot and resist obvious words.

In a fascinating concluding session, Etgar Keret himself was interviewed by Evan Fallenberg. I wrote down just two of the many interesting things he said.

  • In couple therapy, there’s an exercise in which one partner falls backwards and lets the other partner catch them. So, when you’re writing close your eyes, fall backwards and wait for the story to catch you. Sometimes it does. Other times you find yourself on the floor with a bump on your head.
  • Only when you’re writing can you do anything you want. You can be rude to your mother, make a lot of noise, anything. Etgar doesn’t want to compromise this freedom for any audience by making his stories more universal.

At the very end I took an awful picture with my phone.

Creative Writing Conference, 08 May, 2012

Keret is on the right and the screen shows his picture as it appears on the cover of his latest book: Suddenly, a Knock on the Door.