Taos Toolbox: Education

I think last week I promised you several in depth entries on my Taos experiences, and the forecasting went something like this: teaching, community, critiquing(kinda started), setting (done!), and writing culture and mores.

So, today let’s talk about the education. Quite frankly, this is the way in which Taos Toolbox receives its highest marks, as far as I’m concerned, and it is the way that the instructors, of course, have the most control over.

On the first morning, Walter Jon Williams, one of our teachers, went over the rationale as to why he’d started the workshop. Each morning and each afternoon, Walter and Nancy Kress gave us a lecture and some useful handouts on aspects of writing. In this way, we talked about fixing scenes, looking at narrative and plot devices, sussing out characters, and a host of other writing activities. I have a notebook full of useful suggestions. Plot breaks were also a solid technique that we learned at the workshop.

And…I’m not going to share this material with you. I’m going to suggest, instead, that you take the class. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, at the amount of overlap I noticed between learning to write fiction and learning to do tech writing. Clear, sharp writing remains the same at its core.

Of course, other things–voice, character, tone, plot, story–are all unique to the creative fiction experience, and using these items effectively and analytically is a place many writers need to go to, but often don’t know how to get there.

Nancy said something to me at the end of the week that I thought was very interesting. I paraphrase: think about your scenes before you write them and after you write them, but not too much while you’re writing them. This quote is for those of you who worried that creativity was somehow disappearing from the equations.

If I could offer the instructors any advice from my 26 years of teaching, it would be this: more homework for more hands-on attempts at the lecture material. More small group work assignments after hours (community building!). And smaller critique groups, but that’s for the next entry.

Anyway, Taos Toolbox takes analytical writing technique for creative fiction to the next level, whether that new level for you is experienced workshopper, or gifted story teller.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

One thought on “Taos Toolbox: Education”

  1. What struck me most about my Taos Toolbox experience, I think, was how straightforward the lectures were. That’s not to say I didn’t learn more in-depth tricks or benefit from discussing different story elements over an intense two weeks—I did and it helped crystallize a lot of concepts for me. But I do think you reach a certain point with craft, where there’s really nothing more to say. You either know it and use it, or you don’t. We all know we need that balance between character, plot, and emotion. And we have scenes and grammar to fashion our stories. But at a certain point, it simply comes down to doing. At Taos, I learned that I’m doing many right things in my writing, at a high level. I also learned that I need to be doing more of it. At the individual story level and across stories. As I was told in my consultation at the end of the workshop (paraphrasing), “You can write. You need to stretch yourself and see what hits.” In other words, I know the basics, even beyond, and it’s time to stop being precious about my individual projects and start producing.

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