Led by Bruce Barcott, Outside magazine contributing editor and author of The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier. Seminars vary from one-hour presentations to ten-session (weekly meetings over ten weeks) classes. Contact Bruce at WestIsBest@att.net for information on cost and scheduling.
WRITING IN PUBLIC
This seminar is intended for academics and professionals who want to reach a mass-media audience. The focus is on critical writing and the forms it takes in the popular press: book reviews, op-ed pieces, and personal essays. Writing In Public is often team-taught with my wife, Claire Dederer, whose book reviews and cultural essays appear regularly in the New York Times. We’ve worked both sides of the fence – as assigning editors and freelance writers – and use on that experience to help writers identify their areas of expertise and successfully pitch a piece. We walk through the editorial process, explain the concept of an available hole, and discuss the dynamics of op-ed writing, reviewing, and windows of opportunity. There’s a two-part emphasis on demystifying the business (lots of nuts-and-bolts information and techniques) and expanding the writer’s opportunities (you have more areas of expertise than you think). We’ve found this seminar to be especially valuable for lawyers, scientists, public policy specialists, and others who want to move their ideas and research into the larger cultural conversation.
A TALE WELL TOLD: THE POWER OF STORIES
This seminar draws on the power of a simple truth: Stories bring sense to a chaotic world. Over the past fifteen years I’ve written on an array of complex issues: environmental economics, the Clean Air Act, Western water law, eco-terrorism, Native American artifact poaching, species definition, and risk calculus. Those pieces got big play in national magazines only because they were told as stories—full narratives with engaging characters, immediate conflict, compelling story arcs, vivid scenes, underlying themes, and satisfying resolutions. “A Tale Well Told” focuses on ways to identify and use the power of story in the wider non-literary world. Organizations need a creation myth: How and why did your group come together, and what does that say about the work you’re doing today? Non-profit advocates need to understand how to present issues as stories. Narrative sits at the heart of every civil and criminal legal case, yet too few attorneys understand or utilize the strength of a story’s basic structure. The seminar touches on classic story theorists—Joseph Campbell and the power of myth, George Lakoff and the uses of language and framing—but always stays grounded in real-world cases.
NATURE WRITING: THE FIVE SENSES APPROACH
This three-part seminar focuses on nature writing in the field. At an initial evening session we’ll discuss several pieces of classic nature writing, picking paragraphs and sentences apart to investigate the creation process. We’ll also explore my own “five senses” approach to nature writing, which compels the writer to get in the water, roll in the dirt, taste the fruit, and do other personally embarrassing and literarily profitable acts. The bulk of our time will be spent on the second day, when we hit the road early and spend the day exploring a local river, forest, mountain, or wilderness area. Copious notes will be taken. You’ll take the day’s raw material and, on your own, write up a paragraph or a full piece. At the third session we’ll read and discuss the pieces, the reporting and writing that led to them, and push further into more advanced nature writing techniques.